James Cagney as Tom Powers, dangerous gangster and bootlegger
Chicago, Spring 1922
Film: The Public Enemy
Release Date: April 23, 1931
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Wardrobe Credit: Earl Luick
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One hundred years ago at midnight tonight, on January 17, 1920, the Volstead Act went into effect, beginning a 13-year prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States… and kicking off what Herbert Asbury referred to in his informal history of the Chicago underworld as “the saturnalia of crime and corruption which has been called ‘a noble experiment’,” due to the resulting surge in organized crime that effectively gave rise to the modern gangster.
As moving pictures evolved as a popular medium in the waning years of Prohibition, so too did the gangster movie. Warner Brothers took the lead, exposing audiences to snarling violent hoodlums based on the real-life criminals who bloodied the streets of New York and Chicago. It was in the 1931 hit The Public Enemy that James Cagney made his star-making turn as the psychopathic gangster Tom Powers.
Frank Sinatra, multi-talented entertainer and Rat Pack crooner
Sixty two years ago this week, on January 6, 1958, Frank Sinatra released his ninth concept album for Capitol Records, Come Fly With Me. Anchored by the title track specifically penned for Frank by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, the album celebrated the contemporary Jet Age, specifically the chic “jet setters” who were able to afford the luxurious amenities offered by BOAC and Pan Am flights that would spirit them between London and New York, Paris and Rome, and Hong Kong and Tokyo.
The album, which was Sinatra’s first collaboration with arranger and conductor Billy May, ascended like a state-of-the-art Boeing to #1 on the Billboard album charts in only its second week and would be nominated for Album of the Year at the first annual Grammy Awards, held May 4, 1959, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.
In the spirit of Frank’s musical trip around the world on this #SinatraSaturday, let’s take a look at how the Rat Pack leader himself dressed “where the air is rarified…” Continue reading
Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter, musical comedy star
New York, Spring 1953
Film: The Band Wagon
Release Date: August 7, 1953
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Mary Ann Nyberg
Let’s dance into the new year with a dapper Fred Astaire in the dazzling opening sequence of Vincent Minnelli’s 1953 musical The Band Wagon, more than a decade after Astaire had danced across the screen with Bing Crosby, Virginia Dale, and Marjorie Reynolds for two on-screen New Year celebrations in Holiday Inn. Continue reading
Jack Lemmon as C.C. “Bud” Baxter, mild-mannered insurance accountant
New York City, Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve 1959
Film: The Apartment
Release Date: June 30, 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Men’s Wardrobe: Forrest T. Butler (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The Apartment stars one of my favorite actors, Jack Lemmon, as bored, lonely office drone Calvin Clifford Baxter who, after nearly four years at the toxic Manhattan insurance company where he works (“one of the top five in the country!” he boasts), manages to climb the corporate ladder by lending out his West 67th Street apartment to his superiors for their extramarital affairs… though many of them don’t regard him any higher than “some schnook who works in the office.”
Peter Lawford as Jimmy Foster, resentful profligate heir and 82nd Airborne veteran
Las Vegas, New Year’s Eve 1959
Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: August 10, 1960
Director: Lewis Milestone
Costume Designer: Howard Shoup
Tailor: Sy Devore
“I made a cardinal rule never to answer the telephone during the month of December,” the urbane Jimmy Foster tells a masseuse deep at work in fixing his back in a Phoenix hotel suite he shares with his wartime pal. “One December, every time I picked up the phone, they’d send me out in the snow to play with my little friends,” he elaborates. “That was at the Bulge.”
Arguably the most famous film featuring the infamous Rat Pack, Ocean’s Eleven starred Frank Sinatra and his celebrated pallies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford among a group of eleven veterans from the 82nd Airborne who gather in Las Vegas after Christmas “to liberate millions of dollars” from five major casinos as Sin City rings in the new year. Continue reading
Richard Burton as Paul Andros, millionaire industrialist
Heathrow Airport, London, Winter 1963
Film: The V.I.P.s
(also released as Hotel International)
Release Date: September 19, 1963
Director: Anthony Asquith
Costume Designer: Pierre Cardin (uncredited)
As December continues and plans are being made to travel home for the holidays, we’d be well-served to recall Anthony Asquith’s paean to the Jet Age, The V.I.P.s, a lavish and star-studded drama released five years after more passengers were making their transatlantic crossings by air than by sea.
Also known as Hotel International, The V.I.P.s was released in September 1963, just three months after Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton scandalized the silver screen in Cleopatra. Though Cleopatra met with polarizing reviews, the buzz around Taylor and Burton’s illicit affair generated enough buzz about their subsequent cinematic collaboration, though The V.I.P.s was a relatively tame effort when compared to the Egyptian epic that had been the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release.
Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, Broadway crooner and World War II veteran
Pine Tree, Vermont, December 1954
Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Happy December! To some, the start of December after Thanksgiving marks the start of the Christmas season, while others (like Mariah Carey) kick off their holiday season a month earlier as soon as Halloween is over. To compromise, today’s post for December 1 explores Bing Crosby’s style in White Christmas, arguably a holiday classic, though the outfit in question is his only on-screen ensemble (aside from his army uniforms) that doesn’t include a single piece of holiday red.
Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button, reverse-aging adventurer
Paris, Spring 1954
Film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Release Date: December 25, 2008
Director: David Fincher
Costume Designer: Jacqueline West
As holiday shoppers are lining up (or logging in) on Black Friday this year, let’s take a look at a creative approach to wearing black as sported by Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Benjamin looks just a little too dashing as he arrives at a Parisian hospital to visit the childhood friend he has grown to love, Daisy Fuller (Cate Blanchett), who is convalescing from a car accident that crushed her leg and thus ruined her dancing career. Continue reading
Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante, Jersey mob consigliere and “acting boss”
New Jersey, Spring 2006
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Mayham” (Episode 6.03)
Air Date: March 26, 2006
Director: Jack Bender
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
Happy birthday, Steven Van Zandt!
While The Sopranos introduced him to new audiences after the show’s premiere in 1999, “Little Steven” had been a longtime guitarist with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Van Zandt first toured with the Boss in the 1970s before embarking on his own successful solo career and launching a series of ventures where he could share his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop music as a radio host, Sirius program director, label producer, and more! Miami Steve had never formally acted before taking the role of Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, and the cool-headed (but cold-hearted) consigliere quickly rose to become a fan favorite, known for his bouffant and his bold, idiosyncratic fashion sense that wasn’t unlike the man portraying him.
Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe, wisecracking private investigator and “born loser”
Los Angeles, Summer 1972
Film: The Long Goodbye
Release Date: March 7, 1973
Director: Robert Altman
Men’s Costume Designer: Kent James (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
I’m pleased to address a repeated request from BAMF Style leaders like Brandon and Craig to take a look at Elliott Gould’s scrappy attire as an equally scrappy Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, maverick auteur Robert Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1953 pulp novel of the same name.
It’s okay with me…