Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, and World War II veteran
New Orleans, Fall 1963 through Spring 1969
Release Date: December 20, 1991
Director: Oliver Stone
Costume Designer: Marlene Stewart
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Jim Garrison, the Louisiana district attorney whose prosecution of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw remains the only trial to be brought for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was murdered in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Born November 20, 1921, Earling Carothers “Jim” Garrison had just celebrated his 42nd birthday and was nearly halfway through his first of three four-year terms as Orleans Parish District Attorney when Kennedy was killed.
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, smooth private detective and “a chap worth knowing”
San Francisco, Spring 1941
Film: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (credited for gowns)
Now considered a seminal film noir, The Maltese Falcon celebrated its 80th anniversary last month. Dashiell Hammett’s excellent 1930 detective novel had already been adapted twice for the screen—once as a “lewd” pre-Code thriller and recycled as a zanier mid-’30s vehicle for Bette Davis—before Warner Bros. finally got it right.
The Maltese Falcon was the directorial debut for John Huston, who had faithfully adapted Hammett’s source material for his sharp script and demonstrated his sense of methodical efficiency, resulting in a masterpiece that benefited from the formula of director of photography Arthur Edelson’s low-key cinematography and a perfect cast led by Humphrey Bogart as the wisecracking gumshoe who “don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” Continue reading
Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy, square-jawed detective
“Homeville”, December 1938
Film: Dick Tracy
Release Date: June 15, 1990
Director: Warren Beatty
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
Ninety years ago today on Sunday, October 4, 1931, Chester Gould’s comic strip Dick Tracy premiered in the Detroit Mirror, introducing the world—or at least Detroit—to the determined detective in his trademark yellow coat.
Despite the strip’s longevity and popularity, attempts to adapt it for the screen never came into fruition for nearly six decades until the blockbusting success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 proved to studios there a profitable market for comic book adaptations. Bringing Dick Tracy to Hollywood became a passion project for Warren Beatty, who starred as the title character as well as producing, directing, and attracting a cavalcade of stars to portray the colorful—and colorfully dressed—figures of the mysterious Chicago-like city where Tracy faced off against gangsters and gun molls.
Al Pacino as Frank Slade, blind and bitter retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel
New York City to New Hampshire, Fall 1992
Film: Scent of a Woman
Release Date: December 23, 1992
Director: Martin Brest
Costume Designer: Aude Bronson-Howard
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy birthday, Al Pacino! As the legendary actor’s 81st birthday coincides with the Academy Awards tonight, let’s take a look at Scent of a Woman, Martin Brest’s 1992 drama that resulted in Pacino’s sole Oscar to date.
Pacino played retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a blind and irascible alcoholic who secretly plans on spending the Thanksgiving holiday with a lavish weekend in New York City before ending his life. Somewhat reluctantly along for the ride is Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell), a mild-mannered prep student hired to care for Frank, though the cantankerous colonel seems more than willing to watch out for himself.
Michael Goodliffe as Thomas Andrews, shipbuilder
North Atlantic Ocean, April 1912
Film: A Night to Remember
Release Date: July 3, 1958
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Costume Designer: Yvonne Caffin
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
109 years ago, around 11:40 p.m. on the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912, the celebrated luxury liner RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, sinking within three hours, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 of the 2,200 on board.
Among the dead were many instrumental in the ship’s operations including its captain Edward J. Smith, three of his officers, and Irish-born shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, who oversaw the design of the Titanic and her two sister ships from the time they were conceptualized for the White Star Line five years earlier. Continue reading
Humphrey Bogart as “Duke” Mantee, violent desperado and “the last great apostle of rugged individualism”
Black Mesa, Arizona, January 1936
Film: The Petrified Forest
Release Date: February 6, 1936
Director: Archie Mayo
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This is Duke Mantee, the world-famous killer, and he’s hungry…
Indeed, Humphrey Bogart was hungry. The 36-year-old actor had spent more than a dozen years honing his craft on the stage and had spent the last five going nowhere as a $750-a-week bit player for the Fox Film Corporation.
It wasn’t until a decade after his debut that Hollywood would start opening the front door for the New York-born actor, starring in Raoul Walsh’s crime flick High Sierra as a tough bank robber clearly modeled after real-life outlaw John Dillinger. It’s only fitting that this character be Bogie’s shot at the big time that he should have earned years earlier as yet another Dillinger surrogate, Duke Mantee.
Fabian Forte as Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Depression-era bank robber
Kansas City, Spring 1930 and 1931
Film: A Bullet for Pretty Boy
Release Date: June 1970
Director: Larry Buchanan (and Maury Dexter, uncredited)
Wardrobe Credit: Ron Scott
After Warner Brothers’ success with Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, American International Pictures (AIP) leapt at the chance to capitalize on the emerging trend of Depression-era crime movies using their own brand of inexpensive, exploitative filmmaking. This wasn’t AIP’s first rodeo in the realm of ’30s public enemies, having earlier produced The Bonnie Parker Story and Machine Gun Kelly, both released in May 1958. Their B-movie output in the decade that followed Bonnie and Clyde ranged from fictional stories like Boxcar Bertha (1972) directed by Martin Scorsese to those loosely based on actual criminals like Bloody Mama (1970) starring Shelley Winters as a caricature of “Ma” Barker (alongside a young Robert De Niro as one of her sons) to Dillinger (1973).
Even before that arguably most famous ’30s bank robber would be played by a grizzled Warren Oates, former teen idol Fabian got a shot to rebrand his image by playing Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, the outlaw whose moniker alone lent itself to suit the fresh-faced Mr. Forte.
The real Charles Arthur Floyd was born 117 years ago on February 3, 1904, in Adairsville, Georgia, though his family moved to Oklahoma when Floyd was seven, and it was the Cookson Hills that he would consider home for the 30 years of his life.
A fellow Aquarius, Forte was born only three days (and 39 years) later on February 6, 1943, making him 26—the same age as Floyd was for his first bank robbery—when A Bullet for Pretty Boy was filmed from June to October 1969. A Bullet for Pretty Boy loosely follows the facts of Floyd’s life, albeit exaggerated and certainly simplified for the sake of AIP’s low-budget, short-runtime formula for success that would thrill teens at the drive-ins just before these audiences found the real thrills in their own back seats later that night. Continue reading
Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown, millionaire criminal mastermind
Switzerland, June 1968
Film: The Thomas Crown Affair
Release Date: June 19, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Costume Designer: Alan Levine
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
I recently had the pleasure to join Pete Brooker and Matt Spaiser (of Bond Suits) on their excellent podcast From Tailors with Love for an entertaining and informative discussion of Steve McQueen’s suits and style in The Thomas Crown Affair. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can follow the fun via iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher, and check out highlights from yours truly’s appearance on the latest episode here. Continue reading
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, principled Southern lawyer
Maycomb, Alabama, Summer 1932 and 1933
Film: To Kill a Mockingbird
Release Date: December 25, 1962
Director: Robert Mulligan
Costume Designer: Rosemary Odell
Tailor: H. Huntsman & Sons, London
Today marks the birthday of Gregory Peck, born April 5, 1916. Peck’s arguably most iconic role was that of the patient, humble, and earnest defense attorney Atticus Finch, a portrayal that earned Peck the Academy Award and was voted the #1 screen hero of all time in a 2003 AFI poll, outranking cinematic badasses like James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Ellen Ripley and illustrating that the most heroic strength is strength of moral character.
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, obsessive-compulsive Belgian detective
Orient Express, Winter 1934
Film: Murder on the Orient Express
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Costume Designer: Alexandra Byrne
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Readers who have seen my posts focused on adaptations of And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, and Evil Under the Sun are likely aware that I’ve been a fan of Agatha Christie’s mystery fiction since I was 10 years old. Thus, it’s a continued thrill to find her works thriving as studios on both sides of the pond continue to churn out lavish adaptations of her work a full century after she introduced the world to Hercule Poirot with the publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920. In particular, David Suchet has been performing yeoman’s work as the quintessential Poirot across 70 episodes of an ITV-produced drama series that successfully—and relatively faithfully—adapted every novel and story that prominently featured Christie’s master detective.
In the spirit of contemporary BBC adaptations like The ABC Murders, And Then There Were None, Ordeal by Innocence, and The Pale Horse, Kenneth Branagh helmed what’s now the fourth adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, arguably Christie’s best-known novel famous for its then-groundbreaking solution. Continue reading