The Italian Connection: Henry Silva’s Leather Jacket

Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)


Henry Silva as Dave Catania, swaggering Mafia hitman

New York to Milan, Spring 1972

Film: The Italian Connection
(Italian title: La mala ordina)
Release Date:
September 2, 1972
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Costume Designer: Francesco Cuppini

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Henry Silva, a screen stalwart whose credits included the Rat Pack-led Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and political thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962) before his first leading role in the jazzy noir Johnny Cool (1963). The latter set a precedent that would characterize the next decade of Silva’s career as he would star in many “poliziottesco” films like Fernando Di Leo’s The Italian Connection, released 51 years ago this month.

Also released as Manhunt in the City and Manhunt in Milan (giving some indication to its plot), The Italian Connection is typical of the poliziottesco subgenre, produced during “Years of Lead”—a period of oft-violent social and political unrest in Italy that lasted two decades from the autonomist student movement that began in the late 1960s through series of bombings and assassinations during the ’70s and ’80s. Contemporary cinematic output reflected the national mood, with cynical stories heavy on the action, corruption, and violence. As depicted by the fictional Rick Dalton’s career in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, poliziotteschi often followed the “spaghetti western” casting formula that starred American actors—typically a few years past their most significant fame—among a bevy of Europeans.

The Italian Connection centered around two New York hitmen, Dave Catania (Henry Silva) and Frank Webster (Woody Strode), sent by their boss Corso (Cyril Cusack) to murder pimp Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) in such a brutal and public manner that all of Milan will be talking about it, an intended retaliation for Luca’s supposed theft of a heroin shipment from a local don. “The Italians have a strange idea of gangsters—they imagine they’re exactly like you two,” Corso informs them. “You’ll have to dress and act like gangsters. Drink a lot, leave big tips, put your feet up on the tables. They can’t stand that in Italy.”

Dave and Frank—who would directly inspire Quentin Tarantino to craft the characters Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction—arrive in Milan, where they make contact with Eva Lalli (Luciana Paluzzi) and begin to establish themselves while looking for Luca. Paluzzi isn’t the only veteran of the James Bond series to appear in The Italian Connection, as her Thunderball co-star Adolfo Celi appears as Vito Tressoldi, the treacherous don who stole his own heroin and framed Luca. After Luca’s path of revenge results in his killing Don Vito, he calls Dave and Frank to arrange their climactic meeting in a junkyard.

What’d He Wear?

Following Corso’s orders and his own statement that “there’s life in Milan, and wherever I go, I live it up,” Dave spends much of his and Frank’s mission in Milan dressed in checked suits and ties to look the expected part of the brash American gangster. The rest of the time, he’s dressed casually but ready for action in a brown leather jacket, khaki slacks, and boldly printed sports shirts.

Dave’s dark brown leather jacket follows the asymmetrical front-zip and waist-length design of a Perfecto-style motorcycle jacket, but the overall appearance is more streamlined, lacking the straps, snaps, and pockets that characterize classic moto jackets. The broad, rounded lapels are wider than typically seen on moto jackets, a fashion-forward concession to the ’70s, closing over the chest the higher he pulls the brass-finished zipper (with a rounded pull) that extends diagonally from the center of the waistband to the upper right side of his chest. The waistband has a brown-finished snap that closes over the bottom of the zipper, and the sleeves have moto-style zip-back cuffs at the end of the set-in sleeves.

Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

Note the dramatic angle of the jacket’s asymmetrical front zip and the lack of pockets.

When Dave and Frank receive their assignment and fly from New York to Milan, Dave wears a pale-blue polyester voile shirt printed with a repeating large-scaled blue medallion motif. The material, print, and long point collar are characteristic of ’70s fashions, though the collar ends are rounded. The shirt also has a front placket and button cuffs.

Henry Silva and Woody Strode in The Italian Connection (1973)

Dave and Frank get their orders from Corso.

For the finale set in a Milan scrapyard, Dave wears another boldly printed polyester sport shirt, this one covered in a large-scale brown, orange, black, and white check with an orange-and-white floral overlay. This long-sleeved shirt also has button cuffs and a long point collar, though the collar has more conventional “sharp” points and not the rounded ends of his earlier shirt.

Woody Strode and Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

Dave’s tan flat-front trousers have full-top “frogmouth”-style front pockets but no back pockets—instead, the seat is yoked like cavalry or riding pants. Held up by a wide brown leather belt that closes through a gold-toned single-prong buckle, these mid-rise trousers have a narrow silhouette that fits close through the thighs and legs, then flares out at the plain-hemmed bottoms, albeit not to the dramatic extent of bell-bottoms.

Luciana Paluzzi, Woody Strode, and Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

Men’s boot varieties increased manifold through the late 1960s into the ’70s as formality standards dropped for both business and casual attire. Even with his suits, Dave appears to wear the same set of burnished dark-brown leather boots extending up to mid-calf with raised heels, consistent with his swaggering attitude.

Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

This rather unfortunate situation for the doomed Dave gives us the rare glimpse of his dark brown socks, which extend higher than the mid-calf shafts of his boots.

Dave’s all-gold watch appears to be a Rolex Day-Date on the three-piece “President” or “Presidential” bracelet, recognizable for its semi-circular links. The bracelet was introduced in 1956 in tandem with the Day-Date model, which was the first mass-produced wristwatch to display both the date (in a window at 3:00) and day of the week (arced across the top of the dial). Rolex initially forged its luxurious Day-Date watches in waterproof 36mm “Oyster” cases made exclusively of either 18-karat gold or platinum, the round dials framed by a fluted bezel. The bracelet earned its executive nickname nearly a decade after it was introduced, thanks to then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sported one through his administration.

The updated ref. 1803 appeared in 1958 and was the reigning Day-Date until it was discontinued in the late 1970s—assuming that Henry Silva was indeed wearing a Day-Date in The Italian Connection, it was most likely a yellow-gold ref. 1803 with a champagne-colored dial. Though there’s little to visually differentiate the ref. 1803 from later models, Paul Altieri wrote for Bob’s Watches of the ref. 1803’s “inverted pie pan” dial, encased under acrylic crystal.

Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

Clad in his golden bathrobe and tonally coordinated Rolex, Dave checks the Luger he brought to Milan. Speaking of…

The Gun

Dave’s weapon of choice is the iconic Luger P08, the German-designed semi-automatic pistol developed around the turn of the century. The pistol was developed by Georg Luger (go figure) as the “Modell 1900 Parabellum” as an improvement upon the earlier Borchardt C-93 pistol. When it was adopted for German military service in 1908, the now-outmoded 7.65x21mm Parabellum cartridge was replaced by the larger 9x19mm Parabellum, which remains a universal standard more than a century later.

Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

Dave’s Luger-powered last stand.

The Luger’s unique toggle-locked action—demonstrated by Dave when he pulls the pistol from his suitcase—adds to the Luger’s distinctive look, making it recognizable to many who aren’t otherwise well-versed in firearms. Several European militaries had adopted the Luger through the first half of the 20th century, and it may be best-known for its use by the Germans in World Wars I and II.

The Car

Dave and Frank cruise through Milan in their rented white 1967 Pontiac LeMans Spirit convertible. The LeMans was introduced as a top trim package for the Pontiac Tempest in 1961 but became its own model within two years. The LeMans was redesigned on GM’s A-body platform for ’64, which would carry through until the model was first discontinued in the early ’80s.

By 1967, the LeMans was offered in four body styles ranging from two-door convertibles and hardtop coupes to four-door sedans and station wagons. The base engine was a 230 cubic-inch I6 with two variations of a 326 cubic-inch V8 (the two-barrel 250-hp standard and the four-barrel 285-hp “High Output”) available for more performance-oriented drivers.

Available on all LeMans models but the wagons was the “Sprint” package, characterized by a four-barrel version of the 230 cubic-inch I6 engine rated between 207 and 215 horsepower as opposed to the standard 165-hp single-barrel engine. LeMans Sprint models could be mated to the “all-syncro” three-on-the-floor transmission with a Hurst shifter, though four-speed manual and two-speed automatic transmissions were also available.

Woody Strode, Luciana Paluzzi, and Henry Silva in The Italian Connection

The LeMans was again redesigned for 1968 and would be continuously produced through the 1981 model year, though the Sprint package wouldn’t last beyond ’69, as it was being regularly outsold by Pontiac’s more powerful GTO model—now a serious contender in the increasingly competitive muscle car class.

What to Imbibe

While Dave and Frank get acclimated in their Milan hotel room, Eva pours each of them a Carpano Punt e Mes red vermouth, neat—though Dave is the only one who is drinking, toasting:

To our health—and to mine!

Luciana, Paluzzi, Henry Silva, and Woody Strode in The Italian Connection (1973)

Put that away, Dave.

Punt e Mes is a longstanding Carpano offering, supposedly inspired by an 1870 order by an Italian stockbroker who ordered a half-measure of bitter—”punt e mes”—to his usual order of Carpano. Regulars to the shop soon followed the stockbroker’s order, resulting in the gesture of a raised thumb and a straight line traced upward to signal the order to the bartender.

How to Get the Look

Henry Silva in The Italian Connection (1973)

Dave Catania looks every bit the man about town in 1970s Milan, with a fashionable leather jacket and trousers just tight enough to allow him to conceal his Luger.

  • Dark brown leather moto-style jacket with broad lapels, asymmetrical zip-up front, and set-in sleeves with zip-back cuffs
  • Bold printed polyester sport shirt with long point collar, front placket, and button cuffs
  • Tan flat-front trousers with tall belt loops, frogmouth-style front pockets, yoked back with no pockets, and flared plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Dark brown leather mid-calf boots
  • Dark brown socks
  • Rolex Day-Date ref. 1803 with 18-karat yellow-gold 36mm case and champagne dial (with top day window and 3:00 date window) on gold “Presidential” three-piece semi-circular link bracelet

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie, part of the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection Blu-ray package.

The Quote

If he can’t look after his own, we’ll teach him how.


  1. Italian Crime Fan

    Silva had a much more subdued leather jacket get-up in Di Leo’s THE BOSS.

    And some pretty of-the-era clobber in the outstandingly sleazy CRY OF A PROSTITUTE. h

  2. Pingback: Peter Falk's Tuxedo in Machine Gun McCain » BAMF Style

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