James Mason as Maxwell Fleury, short-tempered plantation owner
On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955
Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes
Today’s post celebrates the great James Mason, who was born 113 years ago today on May 15, 1909. Whether playing a hero or villain or navigating a moral gray area in between, the velvet-voiced Mason brought a dignified presence to his performances.
Opposing the shining talents of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, Mason stars in this vividly photographed but dark-hearted drama as Maxwell Fleury, a privileged aristocrat dwelling on one of his family’s estates on the eponymous island.
Upon returning home in his sleek new Jaguar roadster one afternoon, he finds Egyptian cigarettes in his ashtray that fuel his baseless paranoia regarding his wife’s marital fidelity, a suspicion that dangerously spirals as the summery Santa Marta heat intensifies. Continue reading
Susumu Terajima as Ken, laconic yakuza lieutenant
Ishigaki Island, Japan, Summer 1993
(Japanese title: ソナチネ)
Release Date: September 10, 1993
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Costume Design: Junichi Goto & Alen Mikudo
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed, edited, and starred in Sonatine, an offbeat yakuza film that blends the genre’s usual violence with elements of black comedy and an almost surreal, dreamlike beauty. Kitano stars as Murakawa, a Tokyo crime boss who has grown increasingly numb as he advances into middle age.
Murakawa and his loyal right-hand man, Ken (Susumu Terajima), are sent to Okinawa with a gang ranging from veteran gangsters to young gunsels like the eager Ryōji (Masanobu Katsumura).
Before any progress can be made in their ostensible mission to mediate and intra-gang conflict, the body count rises after their headquarters are bombed and their number further diminished during a barroom ambush. Murakawa and his fellow survivors—including the increasingly convivial Ken and Ryōji—take refuge on the isolated beaches of Ishigaki Island, where their day-to-day life devolves into a surreally idyllic getaway full of games, gags, and gunplay. Continue reading
Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, disillusioned British spy
Paris, Spring 1974
Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Costume Designer: Jacqueline Durran
With increasingly warmer weather as spring continues through the Northern Hemisphere, I’m swapping out wool coats for windbreakers at the front of my closet. Of course, on some recent climatically chaotic days that start at temperatures around freezing and then rise to over 70°F by mid-afternoon with the occasional burst of rain, I often rely on smart layers to effectively dress for this unpredictable weather.
One of my favorite examples of smart casual layering that illustrates versatility for different weather and situations is the combination of a Harrington jacket over a light sweater and open-necked shirt. William Claxton had famously photographed his friend Steve McQueen dressed accordingly in 1964, and these headshots are still used to illustrate the enduring style of both the jacket and the King of Cool himself.
Decades after his death in 1980, McQueen remains a seminal style icon whose blend of practicality and toughness has influenced scores of men from stars to schlubs (like yours truly)… and a few movie spies, as well. McQueen’s legacy seemed particularly prevalent on silver screen espionage fashions beginning in the late 2000s as Daniel Craig’s James Bond fully embraced Harrington jackets, shawl-collar cardigans, and suede boots as particularly seen in Quantum of Solace, his 007’s action-packed sophomore adventure.
Three years later, costume designer Jacqueline Durran also saw McQueen as her muse when dressing a fellow British agent, the more grounded—and cynical—Ricki Tarr, as portrayed by Tom Hardy in Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the John le Carré novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
“We very much looked to that kind of ’60s Steve McQueen look for all of them,” Durran explained to GQ of Ricki Tarr’s costumes, first dressing Tarr in a Belstaff shearling coat often associated with McQueen before pulling together the lighter layers as seen in McQueen’s MGM headshot shoot with Claxton as the film approached its conclusion with Tarr in Paris, working to flush out an MI6 mole. Continue reading
Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, wry engineering technician
Aboard the USCSS Nostromo, June 2122
Release Date: May 25, 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Costume Designer: John Mollo
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Alien Day was first celebrated several years ago on April 26, chosen in honor of the moon LV-426 where the crew of USCSS Nostromo first encountered the dangerous xenomorph that proceeded to terrorize and slaughter them as depicted in Ridley Scott’s suspenseful classic Alien.
A masterful blend of sci-fi and horror, Alien boasts an ensemble cast led by Sigourney Weaver as the resourceful warrant officer Ellen Ripley, in addition to Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and the great Harry Dean Stanton as the junior engineering technician known only as “Brett” (but whose full name was said to be Samuel Elias Brett.) Continue reading
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, affluent ad man and Korean War veteran
Ossining, New York, Summer 1962
Series: Mad Men
Episode: “The Gold Violin” (Episode 2.07)
Air Date: September 7, 2008
Director: Andrew Bernstein
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Following yesterday’s observance of National Picnic Day, I wanted to focus on one of my favorite on-screen picnics. Midway through the second season of Mad Men, the Draper family spends part of a sunny Sunday afternoon bringing a Norman Rockwell painting to life.
By mid-century standards, advertising executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) appears to illustrate the American dream, providing for his beautiful wife Betty (January Jones) and their two children and having just acquired a sleek new Cadillac that—as was pitched to him—indicates that he’s “already arrived.” Life looks easy for the family, reclining with nary a care in the world as The Pentagons serenade them from the Coupe de Ville’s radio with their dulcet 1962 B-side “I’m in Love”.
Betty: We should do this more often.
Don: We should only do this.
Jack Nicholson as Randle P. McMurphy, cheeky petty criminal undergoing psychiatric evaluation
Oregon State Hospital, Fall 1963
Film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Release Date: November 19, 1975
Director: Miloš Forman
Costume Designer: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is Jack Nicholson’s 85th birthday, a worthy occasion for recalling one of his most iconic roles: the irreverent and incorrigible Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Robert Cummings as Barry Kane, civilian aircraft mechanic
From Glendale, California, into the High Desert, Spring 1942
Release Date: April 22, 1942
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock’s wartime thriller Saboteur—not to be confused with his earlier movie Sabotage—was released 80 years ago this month. Though production began just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the idea had actually been months in the making after Hitch’s original pitch to David O. Selznick. “We were in 1941 and there were pro-German elements who called themselves America Firsters and who were, in fact, American Fascists. This was the group I had in mind while writing the scenario,” Hitchcock later explained to François Truffaut.
Despite his traditional elements of the wronged man, the beautiful blonde, and the “MacGuffin,” Hitch identified several disappointments with Saboteur, most notably in the casting of his two heroes and the villain. Of leading male star Robert Cummings, who portrayed the accused saboteur, Hitch commented to Truffaut that “he’s a competent performer, but he belongs to the light-comedy class of actors,” though this wouldn’t stop him from casting him a decade later in a strong supporting role in Dial M for Murder. Continue reading
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson, charismatic American artist
North Atlantic Ocean, April 1912
Release Date: December 19, 1997
Director: James Cameron
Costume Designer: Deborah Lynn Scott
Tailor: Dominic Gherardi
110 years ago today, the sinking of the RMS Titanic resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. The global mourning and focus on transportation safety in the tragedy’s aftermath was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, so to speak, as the disaster and those involved have continued to be mythologized in countless books, movies, plays, songs, and more.
Ryan Reynolds as Adam Reed, time-traveling fighter pilot
Washington State, Spring 2022… then fall 2018
Film: The Adam Project
Release Date: March 11, 2022
Director: Shawn Levy
Costume Designer: Jenny Eagan
For four weeks after it premiered, The Adam Project remained the #1 most streamed movie on Netflix, only recently surpassed. This adventure comedy incorporates elements of sci-fi and action into a fun and often touching celebration of nerdom, summed up by a character stating that “sometimes it pays to be a nerd, guys.” Continue reading
Robert De Niro as Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran, tough Mafia enforcer
New York City, Spring 1972
Film: The Irishman
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson
Fifty years ago tonight, Mafia violence shook the streets of New York City when dangerous mobster “Crazy Joe” Gallo was shot and killed while celebrating his 43rd birthday with his family at Umbertos Clam House on Mulberry Street.
The most widely accepted facts attribute the slaying to four associates of the Colombo crime family, in retaliation for their suspicions that Gallo had ordered the attempted assassination of boss Joseph Colombo during an Italian-American Civil Rights League rally the previous June. Gallo’s widow recalled multiple men of short stature and likely Italian descent storming the Mulberry Street restaurant, where more than 20 shots were fired at her husband, who staggered onto the sidewalk and died shortly before 5:30 a.m. on April 7, 1972.
However, Charles Brandt’s nonfiction best-seller I Heard You Paint Houses includes an explosive claim by labor official and mob hitman Frank Sheeran that he alone was responsible for the hit. Continue reading