Kirk Douglas in The Brotherhood: Corduroy in Sicily
Kirk Douglas as Frank Ginetta, Sicilian-American mob boss
Sicily, Spring 1968
Film: The Brotherhood
Release Date: December 25, 1968
Director: Martin Ritt
Costume Designer: Ruth Morley
On what would have been Kirk Douglas’ 105th birthday, today’s post recognizes a unique passion project among the prolific actor’s varied filmography. Though he’d been an uncredited producer on more than a dozen movies, Douglas had only been listed as a producer on Spartacus before he selected The Brotherhood as the next production to carry his name. Despite some valid feedback that he may not be the right visual type for the leading role of Sicilian-born gangster Frank Ginetta, Douglas welcomed the acting challenge… and the help of some dye to darken a newly grown mustache in addition to his famous coiff.
The Brotherhood has understandably invited retrospective comparisons to The Godfather, and why shouldn’t it? Both are serious Mafia sagas that focus on brothers with differing temperaments, complete with an opening wedding sequence, a flight to Sicily following a mob hit, and even a brief scene where the aging mustached don plays with a piece of fruit to the amusement of a family youngster.
Released by Paramount Pictures on Christmas 1968, the movie’s unenthusiastic critical reception and dismal box office soured the studio on organized crime output until Robert Evans took a chance on The Godfather four years later, having identified the lack of actual Italian-Americans involved in The Brotherhood‘s cast and crew among one of the many reasons for its failure.
The two men at the core of The Brotherhood‘s… well, brotherhood are Frank and his younger sibling Vince (Alex Cord), who surprises Frank at the outset of the drama when he arrives in the small Sicilian village where Frank has been living in not-so-secret hiding after his assassination of a fellow high-ranking member of the Mafia Commission back in the States. Though his wife Ida (Irene Papas) remains suspicious of newcomers as he knows her husband’s days are numbered, Frank welcomes his brother with open arms… and the “kiss of death.”
What’d He Wear?
Apropos the olive trees where he leads Vince for their climactic confrontation, Frank dresses for Sicilian small-town life in an olive brown corduroy jacket that he first wears orphaned before pairing it with matching suit trousers and an odd waistcoat on Vince’s second day in town.
Frank’s dark olive corduroy is a medium-wale, compared to the slimmer-ridged “needlecord” or “pinwale” and the wider “elephant cord”. A standard medium-wale count is 11-wale, referring to the number of distinctive corduroy ridges that can fit within an inch. (You can read more about corduroy in my latest article for Primer.)
The earthy, rugged fabric contrasts with the sharp three-piece business suits that Frank had worn for his life as a powerful New York don, when he primarily cycled through similarly cut pieces in classic glen plaid, dark slate-blue, and taupe-brown. Having originated as a favored cloth of outdoorsmen and hunters, the resilient corduroy is an appropriate choice for Frank once he’s returned to his roots in the more bucolic setting of his Sicilian homeland. Like him, corduroy balances toughness with softness.
The single-breasted, two-button suit jacket has narrow notch lapels, a welted breast pocket, patch pockets on the hips, and a single vent. The sleeves are roped at the shoulders and finished with two buttons spaced on each cuff.
Frank dresses up his attire for mornings in Sicily with a plain narrow tie in black cotton, knotted in a tight four-in-hand.
His cream-colored shirt is faintly patterned with pale ochre dots, which are only faintly visible until seeing the shirt more closely. The shirt has a narrow point collar with a gentle roll, the barrel cuffs each close through a single button, and it buttons up a plain, placket-less front.
Through this first sequence, Frank contrasts his jacket with brown lightweight wool trousers that rise to Kirk Douglas’ natural waist, where they’re held up by a wide dark brown leather belt closed through a curved dark gunmetal single-prong buckle. The trousers are rigged with two reverse pleats on each side, both positioned just behind the most forward belt loops. Finished at the bottom with turn-ups (cuffs), these trousers have side pockets and button-through back pockets.
Befitting the more rustic setting of the Sicilian countryside, Frank wears plain-toe pull-on boots with russet-brown leather uppers, the shafts extending up to mid-calf as seen when his cuffed trouser bottoms occasionally ride up and get caught on the tops of his boots. Like his corduroy suit, this footwear marks another significant variation from the more urban-friendly black penny loafers he had worn with his business suits back in New York.
Even when he was a New York don, Frank’s accessories had been relatively sparse with no pinky rings or showy watches gleaming from his hands aside from a plain gold wedding band symbolizing his marriage to Ida (Irene Papas). Representative of his serious, businesslike leadership, the only accessory he avails himself of is a pair of gold-framed eyeglasses with squared lenses and thick arms.
The suit’s matching corduroy trousers are held up by the same belt, though they differ in their details such as the flat front and plain-hemmed bottoms. These suit trousers also have on-seam side pockets and set-in back pockets.
Upon reaching the hillside celebration among the olive trees, he soon strips off his jacket and tie, reveling just in his waistcoat and open-neck shirt with the sleeves slightly rolled up, presenting similarly with how Al Pacino would be dressed as Michael Corleone on the lam in Sicily four years later in The Godfather.
Frank’s odd waistcoat (vest) is made from a dark taupe-brown self-striped cloth that looks like it may also have once belonged to a suit. The waistcoat has two welted pockets and five buttons up the front, which he wears fully fastened. The back is finished in an even darker brown satin-finished fabric with an adjustable strap that cinches the waist.
Frank’s sartorial journey from gray power suits to country-ready corduroy is an interesting inversion on how Pacino would be attired as Michael Corleone.
At the outset of The Godfather, decorated USMC hero Michael dresses in the unassuming staples of an erstwhile college man, such as his corduroy sports coat for a Christmas-time date with his girlfriend Kay. As his involvement with the Mafia grows, he graduates to full suits on-screen, including the “nice Ivy League suit” in charcoal flannel for a double mob hit. After his humbly dressed days in hiding in Sicily, Michael returns to take control of the Corleone crime family, dressing in expensive gray three-piece suits.
When he is first summoned from the town square, Frank isn’t aware of who has come to Sicily asking about him and takes all precautions. For self-protection, his driver hands him a Beretta Model 70, which Frank looks over by checking and re-inserting the magazine before pocketing the pistol.
Beretta introduced the single-action Model 70 in 1958 as an improvement on its earlier Model 1935, keeping the same .32 ACP ammunition but in a sleeker package that more resembled competing compact pistols like the Walther PPK and incorporated components from the full-size Beretta Model 1951 service pistol. Also marketed as the “Puma” in keeping with Beretta’s feline nomenclature, the Model 70 would be spun off into many different variations, mostly chambered for the smaller .22 LR cartridge, such as the Model 71 “Jaguar” that would be famously used with silencers by Mossad hit teams.
The next day, Frank has one of his men bring him his father’s shortened double-barreled shotgun when he privately meets with Vince among the olive trees. “Best grade, made in Belgium,” Frank describes. “These we call a’lupara, to kill u lupu… the wolf,” he adds before loading it with two brass shells.
As Frank explains, the lupara has an illustrious and infamous lineage among Italian criminals, including Sicilians who found the shortened barrels to be an asset while conducting their countryside vendettas or those who emigrated to the United States and benefited from their easily concealed power for executions, such as the notorious assassination of New Orleans police chief David C. Hennessy in October 1890.
The Ginetta family lupara has a full stock, though the barrels appear to be shortened to about 20 inches. Though hammerless shotguns of this type have been mass produced since the late 1870s, this particular piece is a more old-fashioned model with exposed hammers that Frank dramatically cocks before handing the weapon to his brother and imploring: “Vinnie, you gotta make the hit, they got you by the throat.”
How to Get the Look
On the run from his days as a sleek-suited gangster in New York, Frank Ginetta has taken refuge in rugged but comfortable corduroy that better suits his new life in the Sicilian hills.
- Olive-brown corduroy single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Cream ochre-dotted cotton shirt with narrow point collar, plain front, and button cuffs
- Black cotton tie
- Brown lightweight wool double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-through pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown leather belt with gunmetal single-prong buckle
- Russet-brown leather mid-calf plain-toe boots
- Gold square-framed eyeglasses
- Gold wedding ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, streaming on the Criterion Channel through the end of this month.
When one of us is gonna get it, it’s gotta happen after wine and eating with all the relations. First food, love, then… a’lupara.
A great film, and (I think) a comment on how the grinding poverty in Sicily led to a great deal of crime and mayhem in other countries. I recall Douglas discussing it on a talk show. He was proud of it, but puzzled about why it flopped when THE GODFATHER was such a monster hit. He noted that for years afterwards people remembered the “kiss of death” picture on the poster and asked if he regretted making a gay film. I find it intriguing that Douglas was so committed to projects featuring his on-screen death. Most stars, then and now, worry about alienating their fans and, of course, dealing themselves out of any sequel(s).
I’d like to suggest Sawyer from Lost. I think it’d make for an interesting post.