John Cassavetes as Johnny North, race car driver-turned-robber
Southern California, Spring 1960
Film: The Killers
Release Date: July 7, 1964
Director: Don Siegel
Costume Designer: Helen Colvig
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Earlier this week, I kicked off #Noirvember with a look at Burt Lancaster as the hapless and doomed “Swede” Anderson, whose murder at the start of Robert Siodmak’s seminal noir The Killers kicks off the series of flashbacks investigating what led to his decision to give in to the two armed killers.
Two decades later, the material was revisited by director Don Siegel and screenwriter Gene L. Coon, who drifted even further from Ernest Hemingway’s source material to focus on the two slick hitmen who set about learning more about the man they had been hired to kill, now reimagined as a race car driver named Johnny North.
After a crash that left him taking work as a mechanic, Johnny was recruited to be the getaway driver in a dangerous armored car robbery engineered by urbane gangster Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan). At the urging of Browning’s one-time moll, Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson), Johnny double-crosses the mob and escapes with Sheila and more than a million dollars in ill-gotten loot to the secluded Piney-Woods Motel… where an armed—and injured-armed—Browning is waiting to triple-cross him!
What’d He Wear?
The cinematography of Don Siegel’s 1964 update of The Killers may distance it from its pulpy predecessor, but the Cassavetes segment may reach its noirish heights as Johnny and Sheila drive up to the remote, neon-lit motel… unaware that the Gipper awaits inside with a silenced gat.
Johnny is uncharacteristically dressed up for the getaway, dressed in a tan thin-waled—or “needlecord”—corduroy single-breasted sport jacket with a 3/2-roll front, meaning the slim notch lapels roll over the top button and its corresponding buttonhole, presenting only the lower duo of buttons like a traditional two-button jacket. The two closely spaced dark brown woven leather buttons on each cuff are essentially smaller versions of those on the front, rigged relatively high on each sleeve.
Finished with an “old gold”-shaded satin-finished lining, the sports coat has short double side vents and flapped hip pockets on a gentle backward slant but no breast pocket.
Throughout The Killers, Johnny North only wears one tie, a narrow strip of black cotton here haphazardly knotted in a four-in-hand and previously worn for dates with Sheila that found him wearing a brown birdseye tweed jacket and a dark navy suit.
He wears a pale ecru cotton shirt with a spread collar, front placket, button cuffs, and breast pocket.
Johnny wears dark olive brown trousers, of which we see little aside from the side pockets and jetted back pockets. His dark brown leather shoes have V-front derby lacing, suggesting the same footwear he’d worn with the aforementioned tweed jacket and appropriately worn here with dark socks.
The jacket had made a fleeting appearance earlier on the eve of the robbery, when Johnny grabs it after Sheila convinces him to double-cross his boss after learning that Browning’s crew was planning to keep his cut from the heist.
Johnny wears a short-sleeved shirt vertically bar-striped in light and dark shades of blue, with the occasional purple stripe overlaying a darker blue, as well as sets of six narrower navy stripes in replace of the wider bar stripes at times. The shirt has a button-down collar, front placket, and breast pocket, and he wears it tucked into a pair of dirty cream-colored cotton jeans, sans belt.
Before the fateful race that ended his legitimate career, Sheila had gifted Johnny a silver chain-link bracelet with “Johnny the winner” engraved on the ID panel, which he continues to wear even after the crash that followed.
How to Get the Look
Corduroy is one of my favorite fall fabrics, and John Cassavetes wore it simply but effectively in the form of a well-cut sports coat that added visual interest to an otherwise commonplace kit of an off-white shirt, dark skinny tie, and tonally coordinated trousers and shoes.
- Tan pinwale corduroy cotton single-breasted 3/2-roll sport jacket with notch lapels, slanted flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and short side vents
- Pale ecru cotton shirt with spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Black cotton tie
- Dark olive brown trousers with side pockets and jetted hip pockets
- Dark brown leather derby shoes
- Dark socks
- Engraved silver chain-link ID bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, released in a Criterion Collection dual-pack with the 1946 original.
Living is dangerous.