Peter Falk as Charlie Adamo, ambitious gangster
San Francisco and Las Vegas, Summer 1968
Film: Machine Gun McCain
(Italian title: Gli intoccabili)
Release Date: April 1, 1969
Director: Giuliano Montaldo
Costume Designer: Enrico Sabbatini
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Born 96 years ago today on September 16, 1927, Peter Falk may be best remembered as the rumpled but indefatigable Lieutenant Columbo (to the extent that his September 16th is also observed as “Wrinkled Raincoat Day”), but Falk spending most of his screen time wearing a handsomely tailored tuxedo in the 1969 Italian crime film Machine Gun McCain illustrates how the Bronx-born actor could clean up well. (And yes, I do plan on writing about Falk’s iconic wardrobe in Columbo someday!)
Released in Italy as Gli intoccabili (translated to “The Untouchables”) and based on the Ovid Demaris novel Candyleg, Machine Gun McCain joins the subject of my prior post as a prime example of poliziottesco, an Italian crime subgenre that emerged during the nation’s violent “Years of Lead” era and typified by corruption, violence, cynicism… and American lead actors. In this case, Falk was joined by his pal and frequent collaborator John Cassavetes, who portrays the eponymous ex-bank robber opposite Falk as gangster Charlie Adamo.
Apropos Falk’s birthday today, we first see Charlie wearing his fine dinner suit during a birthday celebration in his honor, where he meets McCain’s son Jack (Pierluigi Aprà). Charlie brings it back out of his closet while awaiting a visit from Don Francesco DeMarco (Gabriele Ferzetti), who plans on investigating claims that Charlie has been abusing his power as the Mafia’s chief of West Coast operations by expanding into the still-untouchable territory of Las Vegas.
What’d He Wear?
“How lovely to see you! What an elegant tuxedo,” Charlie’s wife Joni (Florinda Bolkan) comments to Don Francesco upon his arrival in San Francisco. “What do you call this, a pair of pajamas?” Charlie grumbles in response, indicating his own dinner suit.
Charlie’s frustration is understandable, as the mafioso looks sharp in his midnight-blue wool-and-mohair tuxedo—again, a far cry from the enduring pop culture image of Peter Falk in Columbo’s wrinkled raincoat, loose tie, and scuffed shoes.
The single-button dinner jacket features a narrow silk-faced shawl collar and soft shoulders, just wide enough to emphasize a masculine silhouette. The sleeves are roped at the sleeveheads and finished with three flat navy-blue cuff-buttons that match the single front button, perfectly positioned at Falk’s natural waist. The ventless back and straight jetted hip pockets are consistent with traditional black-tie tailoring. Charlie dresses the welted breast pocket with a white linen or cotton pocket square, folded to show just a single point.
Charlie wears two formal shirts with his dinner suit. The first is a traditional white cotton evening shirt, distinguished from the other by its narrow-pleated front and a front placket with white mother-of-pearl buttons closing up the front. The shirt has a semi-spread collar and squared double (French) cuffs that he wears with his usual silver-toned links.
Charlie’s black silk bow-tie neatly echoes the color and width of his dinner jacket’s silk-faced shawl collar. This self-tying bow-tie follows the diamond-pointed “butterfly” shape, a somewhat lesser-seen (but always welcome) alternative to the classic butterfly or batwing shapes.
For the last time Charlie wears his dinner suit, he wears yet another plain white cotton evening shirt with a semi-spread collar and squared double cuffs, but this shirt has a plain-woven body (sans pleats) and a dressy covered fly front.
Charlie’s flat-front formal trousers are made from a midnight-blue mohair-blend cloth that matches his jacket, detailed with the requisite silk side-braiding—here two narrow parallel stripes that flank the trousers’ side seam from waist to the plain-hemmed bottoms. He covers the waistband with a black pleated silk cummerbund, a classic element of black tie that defines the break between shirt and trousers under the dinner jacket.
The cummerbund and his oft-buttoned jacket prevent us from seeing more of the trouser waistband—illustrating that he wears these pieces correctly—but the brief we look at Charlie without his jacket on shows that he isn’t wearing suspenders, and thus the trousers are likely either perfectly tailored to fit Falk’s waistband or they’re styled with side-tab adjusters.
Consistent with his understated and classic dinner suit, Charlie doesn’t wear an abundance of garish jewelry, only adding the sole affectation of a silver ring on his left pinky, which appears to be a trio of small diamonds arranged in an eye-shaped setting. On his left wrist, he wears a stainless steel watch on a tan leather strap.
Charlie’s black calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes and black dress socks are classic footwear with black tie.
After the McCains carry out their plan to rob the Royal, a distressed Charlie realizes he’ll be a target and arms himself with a blued Colt Python “snub-nose” revolver. Characterized by a ventilated rib along the top of the barrel, the Python was introduced in 1955 as Colt’s entry into the .357 Magnum premium revolver segment, at the time dominated by Smith & Wesson. The Python soon gained a reputation for reliability that followed through its initial fifty-year production timeline.
The first Python revolvers had six-inch barrel lengths and Colt’s newly developed “Royal Blue” finish, though the Python would soon be available in a nickel finish as well as four-inch, three-inch, and 2.5-inch barrels—the latter as featured in Peter Falk’s hands in Machine Gun McCain.
What to Imbibe
Charlie keeps some Courvoisier in his office, which he pours out for himself and Don Francesco, who describes it as “delicious.”
The youngest of the “big four” cognac houses, Courvoisier was founded in 1835 in the Parisian suburb of Bercy, where Napoleon Bonaparte had supposedly been inspired to arm his artillery companies with rations of cognac after an 1811 visit. Though Napoleon I was dead for more than a decade by the time Emmanuel Courvoisier began production, his nephew Napoleon III personally requested Courvoisier as “Official Supplier to the Imperial Court” toward the end of his reign as Emperor. In 1951, Courvoisier introduced its now-familiar wide-based bottle with a narrow neck, known as the “Josephine” bottle in tribute to Napoleon’s first wife.
How to Get the Look
- Midnight-blue wool-and-mohair tuxedo:
- Single-button dinner jacket with narrow silk-faced shawl collar, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat-front trousers with side pockets, double silk-braided side stripe, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton evening shirt with semi-spread collar, narrow-pleated front, front placket, and squared double/French cuffs
- Black silk diamond-pointed butterfly-shaped bow-tie
- Black pleated silk cummerbund
- Black calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black dress socks
- Silver pinky ring
- Stainless steel watch on tan leather strap
- White linen pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.