Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta, ambitious middleweight boxing contender
The Bronx, Summer 1941
Film: Raging Bull
Release Date: December 19, 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: John Boxer & Richard Bruno
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Jake LaMotta, the tough middleweight boxer born July 10, 1922 who was cinematically immortalized by Robert De Niro’s Oscar-winning performance in Raging Bull. Now considered one of the best movies ever made, Raging Bull was adapted by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin from LaMotta’s similarly titled autobiography, inspired by his own nickname “the Bronx Bull”.
Raging Bull spans nearly a quarter-century in the boxer’s life, beginning with his introduction to professional boxing in 1941. Having debuted that March at age 18 when he defeated Charley Makley after four rounds, LaMotta would remain undefeated until his controversial loss to Jimmy Reeves in Cleveland that September. Raging Bull takes some liberties with the timeline of LaMotta’s story, depicting the already-married middleweight spending his time outside the ring courting his future wife Vikki, portrayed by Cathy Moriarty in her Academy Award-nominated screen debut. (In reality, the couple’s courtship would have been a few years later, though they indeed met at a community pool while LaMotta was still married to his first wife. Vikki was spelled “Vickie” in Raging Bull, but I’ll stick with the real spelling for the sake of consistency.)
Scored by Artie Shaw’s hit single “Frenesi”, Jake’s brother Joey (Joe Pesci) introduces Vikki to Jake, who cajoles her into riding with him in his brand-new Packard convertible. He clumsily moves his arm around her during the sunny ride, and the Ink Spots crooning “Do I Worry?” on the radio could possibly be vocalizing Vikki’s inner monologue as she sizes up the impulsive slugger behind the wheel. As with so many young summer dates, the two engage in a round of mini golf, though Jake uses the opportunity to take a hands-on approach to fine-tuning the voluptuous Vikki’s putting methods. He slowly abandons any innocent pretense at their next stop, the LaMotta apartment in the Bronx, otherwise empty aside from the strains of Orazio Strano’s canzone “Turi Guilano” heard as he awkwardly begins putting the moves on her in the family kitchen. He continues their date through an ostensible tour of the flat, through the dining room and—well, would you look at that?—-into Jake’s bedroom.
In 1946, the 24-year-old Jake married 16-year-old Vikki, though she ended the marriage eleven years later following his increasingly abusive and controlling behavior as depicted on screen in Raging Bull.
After years of putting off even considering the project despite his friend and frequent collaborator Robert De Niro’s urging, Martin Scorsese had intended Raging Bull to be his final film project (an almost laughable thought more than 40 years and nearly 20 movies later), with he and De Niro taking an exacting approach to presenting the story. Famously a dedicated method actor, De Niro trained with the real LaMotta to look the part of a convincing boxer… and then spent four months eating his way through Europe to gain the 70 additional pounds needed to portray the older, out-of-shape LaMotta.
In addition to De Niro’s Oscar, Raging Bull‘s second Academy Award win among its eight nominations recognized editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Though she had previously worked with Scorsese for his feature debut Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) and contributed some uncredited help on Taxi Driver (1976), her Oscar-winning work for Raging Bull marked the start of the director and editor’s ongoing professional collaborations.
What’d He Wear?
The economic boom of the interwar era and Hollywood’s increasing cultural influence resulted in many leisure-oriented sartorial advances that influenced how American gentlemen dressed outside the office. A byproduct of this era was the casual “loafer jacket”, also known as a “Hollywood jacket” in tribute to its southern Californian origins, and which anticipated the infamous leisure suits that would emerge during the disco era. Unlike their safari-inspired 1970s offspring, ’40s-era loafer jackets suggested more of a tailored influence, often structured like looser and lighter sports coats but with detailing incorporating contemporary casual sensibilities.
Jake wears a two-toned loafer jacket, likely black and white, with the white portions only being the chest yokes on each side and the pointed, buttoned-down pocket flaps that droop down on each side, more similar in size to the traditional ticket pocket. The black “cran necker” (Parisian) notch lapels provide a deep contrast over these yokes, rolling to the top of a three-button front that Jake wears completely open throughout their date. In addition to the two narrow set-in pockets over each side of the chest, a patch pockets is positioned low on each hip, with a curved open-top entry. A belt hangs free across the all-black back, buttoned against the waist at each side, and the sleeves are finished with two-button cuffs.
Jake is rarely a formal dresser at this point, often wearing an open-neck shirt with his suits when most other men are in ties, so a late summer date spent mini-golfing doesn’t have him wearing anything more ceremonious than a plain white cotton crew-neck T-shirt. The year is 1941, months before American entry to World War II and more than a decade before Marlon Brando and James Dean symbolized on-screen rebellion, so short-sleeved shirts like this were still considered undershirts.
Jake’s dark trousers appear to be black wool, with double reverse-facing pleats and an era-correct long rise to De Niro’s natural waist, where he wears a black leather belt with a plain single-prong buckle. The trousers have gently slanting vertical side pockets, jetted back pockets, and a full fit through the legs down to the bottoms, finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Although more casual shoes were being pioneered like slip-on boots and G.H. Bass’s “Weejun” penny loafers, Jake wears black leather cap-toe oxfords, a more formal style of shoe that would be more appropriate with suits and ties than loafer jackets and undershirts.
Raging Bull‘s costume design credit was shared by the appropriately named John Boxer and Richard Bruno, who would continue to collaborate with Martin Scorsese in The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, and Goodfellas, all following their initial teaming for New York, New York.
How to Get the Look
The young Jake LaMotta’s streetwise swagger calls for looser, less formal clothing, which Raging Bull‘s costume designers rooted in the early ’40s for Jake and Vikki’s first date with his unique two-toned loafer jacket that adds a dressed-up insouciance to how he presents himself in everyday life.
- Black-and-white loafer jacket with cran necker notch lapels, 3-button front, short-flapped set-in chest pockets, curved-entry patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and belted back
- White cotton crew-neck short-sleeve T-shirt
- Black wool double reverse-pleated long-rise trousers with belt loops, vertical side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather belt with single-prong buckle
- Black leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
That’s a bird… it was a bird. It’s dead now, I think.