Tim Roth as Freddie Newandyke, aka “Mr. Orange”, member of an armed robbery crew with a deep secret
Los Angeles, Summer 1992
Film: Reservoir Dogs
Release Date: October 9, 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Betsy Heimann
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This month marks the 30th anniversary since the wide release of Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s influential debut that introduced many of the director’s own cinematic trademarks and has been described as one of the greatest independent films of all time.
As we’ve come to expect from QT, Reservoir Dogs pays homage to classic noir and crime films, including Kansas City Confidential (1952), The Big Combo (1955), and—most specifically—The Killing (1956), with a plot centered around a gang of tough guys hired for a what should be a straightforward diamond heist… only to be stymied when it becomes evident that a member of their crew is an informant. Continue reading
John Forsythe as Sam Marlowe, touchy artist who scores the town with his belting baritone
Vermont, Fall 1954
Film: The Trouble with Harry
Release Date: September 30, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
As we settle into what looks like a comfortable autumn—at least for fallphiles like me—I want to highlight what must be one of the earliest movies to truly capture the season’s striking colors.
Though regarded as the “Master of Suspense”, Alfred Hitchcock had long incorporated humor into his movies. The Trouble with Harry differentiates itself among Hitch’s more earnest thrillers and mysteries by emphasizing the comedy, resulting in what may be among of the director’s least suspenseful outfit but still entertaining and certainly aesthetically satisfying. Continue reading
Guy Pearce as Ed Exley, by-the-book LAPD detective-lieutenant
Los Angeles, Spring 1953
Film: L.A. Confidential
Release Date: September 19, 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson
Costume Designer: Ruth Myers
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 25th anniversary since the official release of L.A. Confidential, which premiered at Cannes in May 1997 but would finally hit theaters four months later on September 19, introducing audiences to James Ellroy’s murky world of corrupt cops, crooks, celebrities, and courtesans in ’50s Los Angeles.
Among its ensemble cast, L.A. Confidential centers around three LAPD officers: the tough but unsophisticated “Bud” White (Russell Crowe), the smooth yet morally compromised Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and the ambitious and stubbornly upright Ed Exley (Guy Pearce). Not to spoil too much of the plot for those who have missed this gem in the last quarter-century, but one of my favorite Letterboxd reviews—submitted by user David Sims—compares the movie to The Wizard of Oz as “Bud gets a brain, Jack gets a heart, Ed gets the courage.” Continue reading
Burt Lancaster as Felix Happer, eccentric oil executive
Scotland, Fall 1982
Film: Local Hero
Release Date: February 17, 1983
Director: Bill Forsyth
Costumes: Shawn Dale, Pip Newbery, and Penny Rose
I’m talking about the sky, MacIntyre. The constellation of Virgo is very prominent in the sky right now in Scotland. I want you to keep an eye on Virgo for me. Will you do that?
As Leo season transitions into Virgo season, Local Hero feels like the appropriate focus, given the curious astronomy-themed orders under which Knox Oil and Gas president Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) sends underling “Mac” MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) to Scotland, urging him to keep watching the sky, particularly for comet activity under the Leo and Virgo constellations. Continue reading
Rock Hudson as Bob Merrick, conscience-stricken millionaire and ex-medical student
Brightwood, New York, Spring 1949
Film: Magnificent Obsession
Release Date: August 4, 1954
Director: Douglas Sirk
Costume Designer: Bill Thomas (gowns)
German-born director Douglas Sirk and actor Rock Hudson had collaborated on nine movies throughout the 1950s, though their association may be best remembered for a trio of lush Technicolor melodramas beginning with Magnificent Obsession, released 68 years ago this month in August 1954. Continue reading
Don Johnson as Harry Madox, drifter and used car salesman
Texas, Summer 1990
Film: The Hot Spot
Release Date: October 12, 1990
Director: Dennis Hopper
Costume Designer: Mary Kay Stolz
I’m wrapping up this summer’s #CarWeek with the under-discussed neo-noir The Hot Spot, made among the wave of sweaty erotic crime dramas of the ’80s and ’90s exemplified by movies like Body Heat through Basic Instinct.
Don Johnson was nearing the end of his star-making tenure on Miami Vice when he was tapped for The Hot Spot‘s leading role as Harry Madox, an enigmatic drifter whose arrival in the quiet Texas berg of Landers sets forth a series of events straight out of James M. Cain or Jim Thompson’s poison pen.
The Hot Spot comes by its pulp credentials honestly, adapted from Charles Williams’ 1952 novel Hell Hath No Fury and originally intended to be adapted as a Robert Mitchum vehicle in the early ’60s. Though set in the present, The Hot Spot retains much of this retro style inspired by the era of its original conception, as seen in many of the costumes and cars, most specifically Harry’s black ’59 Studebaker Silver Hawk that he drives into town. Continue reading
Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann, intuitive hotel head chef
Silver Creek, Colorado, Fall 1979
Film: The Shining
Release Date: May 23, 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
To honor the late Scatman Crothers, who was born 112 years ago today on May 23, 1910, today’s post explores his memorable role as Dick Hallorann, the head chef at the mysterious Overlook Hotel in The Shining. (Coincidentally, The Shining was released 42 years ago today on Crothers’ 70th birthday!)
On the last day of the Overlook’s season, Dick presents himself to the newcomer Torrance family and is assigned by hotel manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) to provide a tour of the hotel’s vast kitchen. Dick shows an interest in nicknames, first establishing with Mrs. Torrance (Shelley Duvall) that she’s neither a Winnie nor a Freddie but a Wendy (“the prettiest,” he adds), while intuiting via his shine that the young Danny (Danny Lloyd) has been nicknamed “Doc” by his parents.
When Ullman comes to collect Wendy for the rest of a tour with her husband Jack (Jack Nicholson), Dick sits Danny down for a bowl of ice cream… and a discussion of their shared telepathic abilities. Continue reading
John Garfield as Nick Robey, desperate small-time thief
Los Angeles, Summer 1951
Film: He Ran All the Way
Release Date: June 19, 1951
Director: John Berry
Wardrobe Credit: Joe King
John Garfield, one of the most talented and naturalistic actors of Hollywood’s “golden age”, died 70 years ago today on May 21, 1952. Garfield had long been troubled with heart health issues, but it’s been argued that the resulting stress brought on by harassment from the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee contributed to his early death at the age of 39, nearly a year after the release of his final film, He Ran All the Way (1951).
James Dean as Caleb “Cal” Trask, angsty and entrepreneurial farmer’s son
Salinas, California, Fall 1917
Film: East of Eden
Release Date: March 9, 1955
Director: Elia Kazan
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
James Dean’s first of only three major credited screen roles also resulted in his first of two posthumous Academy Award nominations, starring as the moody Cal Trask in Elia Kazan’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, itself a loose retelling of the story of Cain and Abel set in California’s Salinas Valley around the time of America’s entry into World War I.
Cal and his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) vie for the affections of their father Adam (Raymond Massey), a prominent farmer and draft board chairman, whom Cal hopes to impress by growing beans to raise funds that would support the family and supplant some of Adam’s own financial losses. As Cal’s success in the bean-fields grows, his competition with his brother extends to Aron’s girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris), growing closer to her after they meet up at a county fair. Continue reading
Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois, smooth-talking Martinican-American sleeper agent
New York City, Fall 1962
Release Date: December 19, 1969
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Following last month’s look at a “hero costume” from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 thriller Saboteur, I want to continue exploring style from the lesser-known entries in the Master of Suspense’s oeuvre. Loosely based on the “Martel affair” and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Topaz was Hitch’s final movie centered around espionage, though I consider it to lack much of the spark that fueled his earlier successes like North by Northwest.
The single exception in Topaz may be a brief scene made more memorable by the appearance of Martinican agent Philippe Dubois, portrayed by Roscoe Lee Browne, the multi-talented star of stage and screen born 100 years ago today on May 2, 1922. Continue reading