Sean Connery as Mark Rutland, publisher
Philadelphia to Baltimore, Spring 1964
Release Date: July 22, 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Men’s Costumes: James Linn
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Months before Goldfinger was released and cemented Bond-mania among the cinematic zeitgeist of the 1960s, Sean Connery got the opportunity to show audiences that he was capable of more than just suave secret-agenting with the back-to-back releases of thrillers Woman of Straw and Marnie. The latter has been celebrated as the better-regarded of the two, with some even calling it Alfred Hitchcock’s underappreciated masterpiece, though Hitch himself was more dismissive when discussing the work with François Truffaut:
I wasn’t convinced that Sean Connery was a Philadelphia gentleman. You know, if you want to reduce Marnie to its lowest common denominator, it is the story of the prince and the beggar girl. In a story of this kind you need a real gentleman, a more elegant man than what we had.
Say what you will about Connery’s performance, but I’ve considered Hitchcock’s criticism to be somewhat undeserved, particularly considering that the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1961 novel of the same name condensed the characters of Marnie’s husband, Mark Rutland, and the psychoanalyst that Mark forces Marnie to see. Thus, Connery’s characterization requires him to convincingly depict Mark as first a charismatic cad, then a manipulative rapist, and—ultimately—a quasi-therapist whose motives are depicted more through the lens of spousal support than domination. Given the challenge of the role, I believe Connery ably rose to the occasion, bringing out more savage sides of the character than we may have believed in the hands of Hitch’s erstwhile stalwarts like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart.
Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, heavyweight boxing champion soon to be renamed Muhammad Ali
Miami, February 25, 1964
Film: One Night in Miami
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Director: Regina King
Costume Designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Today would have been the 80th birthday of Muhammad Ali, the champion boxer born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. and nicknamed “The Greatest”. As we’re reentering movie award season, let’s revisit One Night in Miami, the stylish drama that generated plenty of buzz last year and remains the most recent major screen portrayal of Ali.
The eponymous evening is February 25, 1964, when Clay’s surprise victory over Sonny Liston cemented him as the world heavyweight champion. Clay joins his fellow high-profile friends Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) in Malcolm’s hotel room, presumably for a celebration before it’s revealed that Malcolm had intended it to be a night of reflection and revelation, specifically of Clay’s intended conversion to the Nation of Islam. Continue reading
Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, novice high school teacher
London, June 1966
Film: To Sir, with Love
Release Date: June 14, 1967
Director: James Clavell
Wardrobe Supervisor: John Wilson-Apperson
The death of Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE, was announced last Friday, prompting countless fans to recall memories of the great actor’s lasting legacy. Born February 20, 1927 in Miami to a Bahamian family, Poitier’s screen acting career took off during the 1950s, following his breakthrough performance in Blackboard Jungle (1955) with a charismatic turn in Edge of the City (1957). His Academy Award nomination for The Defiant Ones (1958) marked the first time a Black actor was nominated for Best Actor, and his ultimate win for Lillies of the Field (1963) established Poitier as the first Black recipient of the Best Actor Oscar.
Poitier’s career continued through the decade, with 1967 a particular banner year as he delivered three of his most iconic performances in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir, with Love. Continue reading
Jared Harris as Lane Pryce, advertising agency financial chief
New York City, New Year’s Day 1965
Series: Mad Men
Episode: “The Good News” (Episode 4.03)
Air Date: August 8, 2010
Director: Jennifer Getzinger
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
Even with the increasing adoption of hybrid and remote workplaces, there are still many returning to offices and cubicles for the first day of the new year, a specific occupational dread that provides a “welcome distraction” for at least one lonely Brit during the final act of “The Good News”, the third episode of Mad Men‘s fourth season. Continue reading
Don Cheadle as Buck Swope, adult film star-turned-stereo entrepreneur
Los Angeles, Winter 1983
Film: Boogie Nights
Release Date: October 10, 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
WARNING! Spoilers and gore ahead!
Approaching the new year and the prospect of fresh starts, I wanted to revisit the modern masterpiece Boogie Nights and in particular one of its ensemble cast that I have always found most compelling: Don Cheadle’s performance as the well-meaning but oft-hindered Buck Swope, a former porn actor looking to build a new life with his wife and fellow ex-porn star Jessie (Melora Walters).
After his employment history interferes with his prospects to fund his entrepreneurial endeavor to open his own stereo shop, Buck encounters a reversal of fortune just two weeks before Christmas. Continue reading
James Stewart as George Bailey, reluctant banker
Bedford Falls, New York, Spring 1932
Film: It’s a Wonderful Life
Release Date: December 20, 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Released 75 years ago today, It’s a Wonderful Life has become an enduring Christmas classic… almost by accident! Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s self-published novella The Greatest Gift, the movie had been relatively well-received at the time of its release, even earning five Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, but it would be overshadowed by the epic blockbuster The Best Years of Our Lives that told the story of servicemen returning from World War II.
Despite being a personal favorite of director Frank Capra and star Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life seemed destined for obscurity as just another “old movie” when a clerical error prevented proper renewal of the copyright. Though small royalties were still owed as it was derived from Stern’s story, TV stations leapt at the chance to air high-quality, low-cost seasonal programming, launching It’s a Wonderful Life to its status as a perennial favorite for holiday viewers by the 1980s.
On Brad Pitt’s 58th birthday, I’m pleased to present another guest post contributed by my friend Ken Stauffer, who had also covered George Clooney’s fashionable suit in Out of Sight.
Brad Pitt as Robert “Rusty” Ryan, poker pro and casino heister
Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Spring 2001
Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: December 7, 2001
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Costume Designer: Jeffrey Kurland
Tailor: Dominic Gherardi
Happy Birthday, Brad Pitt! The Academy Award-winning actor and producer turns 58 today, and to celebrate, we’re taking a look back at one of his most fashionable roles, Rusty Ryan, in Ocean’s Eleven. Believe it or not, Steven Soderbergh’s reimagining of the Rat Pack caper, which resuscitated the heist film genre in 2001, celebrated its 20th anniversary this month. I think we can all agree that both actor and film have aged well.
Kirk Douglas as Frank Ginetta, Sicilian-American mob boss
Sicily, Spring 1968
Film: The Brotherhood
Release Date: December 25, 1968
Director: Martin Ritt
Costume Designer: Ruth Morley
On what would have been Kirk Douglas’ 105th birthday, today’s post recognizes a unique passion project among the prolific actor’s varied filmography. Though he’d been an uncredited producer on more than a dozen movies, Douglas had only been listed as a producer on Spartacus before he selected The Brotherhood as the next production to carry his name. Despite some valid feedback that he may not be the right visual type for the leading role of Sicilian-born gangster Frank Ginetta, Douglas welcomed the acting challenge… and the help of some dye to darken a newly grown mustache in addition to his famous coiff. Continue reading
Tom Neal as Al Roberts, hitchhiking nightclub pianist
Across the United States, especially Arizona to California, Spring 1945
Release Date: November 30, 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Wardrobe Designer: Mona Barry
On the last day of #Noirvember, let’s also kick off #CarWeek with a look at one of the best examples of “road noir” with Detour, the enduring B-movie that saw a limited release 76 years ago today on November 30, 1945, just over two weeks after its initial premiere in Boston.
Martin M. Goldsmith worked with an uncredited Martin Mooney to adapt his own 1939 novel of the same name into a screenplay. Known as “the King of PRC” for his reputation as an efficient director working for the Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation, the Austrian-born Edgar G. Ulmer filmed Detour in less than a month in the summer of 1945, with a shoestring budget of less than $100,000; for comparison, this was less than 10% of the final budget for that year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Lost Weekend. (Perhaps overstating his efficiency, Ulmer would later cite that he made the movie in six days for $20,000.)
Detour was my gateway to film noir, thanks to a multi-pack DVD that I was gifted in high school that included many pulp classics like D.O.A., The Hitchhiker, Quicksand, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, many of which—like Detour—were regularly available in budget-friendly home video releases as they had fallen into the public domain. Clocking in at just over an hour, the story may be simple, but it contains all the characteristic noir themes and stock characters, including the femme fatale (and how!) and the wrongly accused man whose questionable ethics and unfortunate circumstances launch him headway into increasingly dangerous circumstances.
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