Tony Musante as Eddie Hagen in The Grissom Gang (1971)
Tony Musante as Eddie Hagan, smooth and ruthless fringe mobster
Kansas City, Summer 1931
Film: The Grissom Gang
Release Date: May 28, 1971
Director: Robert Aldrich
Costume Designer: Norma Koch
The Grissom Gang had intrigued me ever since I was in eighth grade. I was flipping through a book about crime cinema from the school library when I found myself paused on a full-page photo of a man in a bloody white dinner jacket stumbled out of a roadster while Kim Darby sat in the passenger seat with her mouth agape. I had been newly introduced to Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, and other films depicting that famous 1930s crime wave, but The Grissom Gang remained elusive.
Half a decade later, I was a college student with a considerably better budget and the vast resources of the internet at my disposal. I finally managed to track down a DVD of The Grissom Gang and, despite what the critics said, I was far from disappointed. Granted, I had no idea what to expect, so a sweaty, exploitative period crime piece from The Dirty Dozen was exactly what I was happy to get.
The Grissom Gang was the second major cinematic adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s 1939 novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish, following the poorly received British-made noir wannabe from 1948. When Robert Aldrich stepped into the wheelhouse for his adaptation, he kicked the setting back to the early 1930s when the Depression-era desperadoes reigned from powerful organized crime figures down to the lowliest highway robbers.
James Coburn as Tex Panthollow in Charade (1963)
James Coburn as Tex Panthollow, larcenous former OSS commando
Paris, April 1963
Release Date: December 5, 1963
Director: Stanley Donen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As portrayed by the brilliant and versatile James Coburn, Tex Panthollow makes his dramatic introduction in the beginning of Charade as the second of three mysterious men who show up to “pay respects” at the funeral of their one-time brother-in-arms Charles Lampert, each one increasingly perplexing his widow Reggie (Audrey Hepburn) with their behavior. Par examplum: Tex draws a hand-sized mirror from his inside breast pocket and holds it directly under the deceased’s nose to ensure that he’s really passed from this world before sneering: “Arrive-derci, Charlie.”
Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, Philadelphia homicide detective
Sparta, Mississippi, September 1966
Film: In the Heat of the Night
Release Date: August 2, 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Costume Designer: Alan Levine
Happy birthday to the great Sidney Poitier, born 92 years ago today on February 20, 1927. The actor’s personal favorite among his prolific filmography is In the Heat of the Night, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, a year that found him pulling off a peerless hat trick that included that film as well as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and To Sir, with Love. Continue reading
Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in “Pine Barrens”, the eleventh episode of the third season of The Sopranos.
Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, mob captain and Army veteran
New Jersey, January 2001
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Pine Barrens” (Episode 3.11)
Air Date: May 6, 2001
Director: Steve Buscemi
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
This year marks the 20th anniversary since The Sopranos made its debut on HBO, and the milestone has encouraged many to revisit the series, sharing their takes on their favorite episodes, characters, and moments. One episode that receives nearly unanimous praise is “Pine Barrens”, the famous third season episode that finds Jersey Mafia soldiers “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) and his ostensible protégé Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) stumbling through the snowy woods of south Jersey after a simple money pickup turns into a hit-gone-awry.
Frank Sinatra as Joey Evans in Pal Joey (1957)
Frank Sinatra as Joey Evans, womanizing nightclub singer
San Francisco, Spring 1957
Film: Pal Joey
Release Date: October 25, 1957
Director: George Sidney
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
Joey Evans’s first night with the band finds him already complicating his romantic life, balancing his attraction to the demure singer Linda English (Kim Novak) with the vivacious ex-stripper Vera Prentice-Simpson (Rita Hayworth) when the band is hired to play a gig at Vera’s place as a fundraise for the local children’s hospital.
Clint Ritchie as “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)
Clint Ritchie as “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, born Vincenzo Gabaldi, Chicago mob enforcer
Chicago, Winter 1928
Film: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Release Date: June 30, 1967
Director: Roger Corman
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of the few true incidents from mob lore to have expanded into mainstream pop culture. The killing of seven men affiliated with Chicago’s North Side Gang on February 14, 1929, startled and intrigued the public with its brutality, and the event became symbolic of the ugly violence that permeated through Prohibition-era America. Continue reading
Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini in My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Joe Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini, fledgling defense attorney
“Beechum County”, Alabama, January into February 1992
Film: My Cousin Vinny
Release Date: March 13, 1992
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Costume Designer: Carol Wood
Happy birthday to Joe Pesci! Though the 76-year-old actor has been mostly retired from acting over the last two decades, he’s occasionally stepped back into the camera lens for a few sporadic screen appearances, most recently a Google Assistant ad that played during Super Bowl LIII and his latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese, The Irishman, scheduled to be released this fall.
Following his notable Oscar win for Goodfellas—and his short, humble acceptance speech that consisted solely of “It’s my privilege, thank you”—Pesci had some fun parodying his excitable screen persona in comedies like Home Alone, the Lethal Weapon series, and My Cousin Vinny.