Tagged: 1920s

Boardwalk Empire: Al Capone’s 1920s Leather Car Coat

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire

Stephen Graham as Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire (Episode 1.01: “Boardwalk Empire”)

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Stephen Graham as Al Capone, ambitious but volatile mob enforcer

Chicago, Winter 1920

Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episodes:
– “Boardwalk Empire” (Episode 1.01, dir. Martin Scorsese, aired 9/19/2010)
– “Anastasia” (Episode 1.04, dir. Jeremy Podeswa, aired 10/10/2010)
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

On the 75th anniversary of Al Capone’s death, I wanted to take this blog’s first overdue look at Stephen Graham’s explosive performance as the infamous gangster on Boardwalk Empire. Capone features as an influential if tertiary character to the main drama in Atlantic City, introduced as a smart-talking enforcer to the old-fashioned—and ill-fated—”Big Jim” Colosimo during the series premiere, set in January 1920 when Prohibition became the unpopular law of the land.

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Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

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Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs, desperate drifter-turned-treasure hunter

Mexico, Spring to Summer 1925

Film: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Release Date: January 6, 1948
Director: John Huston
Wardrobe: Robert O’Dell & Ted Schultz (uncredited)

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

On the 65th anniversary of when Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957, I wanted to visit one of his most lasting—if not exactly best-dressed—roles.

“Wait until you see me in my next picture,” Bogie had proclaimed to a New York Post critic outside 21 one night. “I play the worst shit you ever saw!” Indeed, unlike his previous protagonists like Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, and Philip Marlowe, who were primarily heroes marred by a cynical streak, there are few redeeming factors to Fred C. Dobbs, the panhandling prospector whose treacherous greed leads him well past the point of no return. Continue reading

Marlene Dietrich in Morocco

Marlene Dietrich as Amy Jolly in Morocco (1930)

Marlene Dietrich as Amy Jolly in Morocco (1930)

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Marlene Dietrich as Amy Jolly, sultry French nightclub singer

Essaouira, Morocco, Summer 1930

Film: Morocco
Release Date: November 14, 1930
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Costume Designer: Travis Banton (uncredited)

Background

The white tie dress code dates to before the turn of the 20th century, designed to make any man look his best when appropriately tailored, so there’s considerable irony in the fact that one of the most iconic film appearances of a white tie, top hat, and tails was worn by a woman: Marlene Dietrich, the German screen legend born 120 years ago today on December 27, 1901.

As previously featured on this site, today’s post continues the blog’s regular focus on menswear but here memorably worn by a woman, specifically the impeccable evening ensemble that Dietrich wore for her Academy Award-nominated performance as the brassy club singer at the center of the intrigue in the pre-Code drama Morocco, her second of seven eventual collaborations with director Josef von Sternberg. Continue reading

The Great Gatsby: Sam Waterston’s Tan Cashmere Sweater

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974)

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974)

Vitals

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, impressionable bachelor and bond salesman

Long Island, New York, Summer 1925

Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Clothes by: Ralph Lauren

Background

To celebrate Sam Waterston’s 81st birthday today, I wanted to return to the actor’s breakthrough performance as Nick Carraway, the central character in Jack Clayton’s stylish The Great Gatsby, adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel of the same name.

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The Great Gatsby: Sam Waterston’s Navy Garden Party Blazer

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974)

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974)

Vitals

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, impressionable bachelor and bond salesman

Long Island, New York, Summer 1925

Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Clothes by: Ralph Lauren

Background

Summer officially started yesterday up here in the Northern Hemisphere, signifying a seasonal return to festive outdoor gatherings. Over the last year, I’d read a number of takes from people who were drawing parallels between our current era and the raucous reputation of the roaring ’20s, noting that the decade worth of parties to follow may have been inspired by the scores of Americans eager to socialize again after months in quarantine during the Spanish flu, Prohibition be damned. With vaccination rates continuing to climb and daily COVID diagnoses declining, we may indeed be on the precipice of a roaring 2020s.

Today, thinking of the ’20s often conjures scenes straight out of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of romance, wealth, and tragedy against the backdrop of the Jazz Age… a term Fitz had reportedly coined himself for the title of a 1922 short story collection. Continue reading

M: The Safecracker

Gustaf Gründgens in M (1931)

Gustaf Gründgens in M (1931)

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Gustaf Gründgens as “The Safecracker”, criminal community leader

Berlin, Fall 1930

Film: M
(German title: M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder)
Release Date: May 11, 1931
Director: Fritz Lang

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking masterpiece M was released 90 years ago. Self-described by the director as his magnum opus, M drew on the wave of sadistic child-murderers that had terrorized Germany through the previous decade—monsters like Carl Großmann, Fritz Haarmann, and Peter Kürten—to create a fictionalized cautionary tale centered around the crimes of Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a creepy little killer who signals his presence by whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, one of the first leitmotifs on screen as Lang experimented with the capabilities of sound in his first non-silent film.

As the increased police attention has disrupted Berlin’s underworld, the ruthless master criminal known only as “Der Schränker” (The Safecracker) calls together the city’s crime lords to form a united front against the killer. Continue reading

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020). Photo by David Lee/Netflix.

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Photo by David Lee/Netflix.

Vitals

Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green, ambitious blues cornetist

Chicago, Summer 1927

Film: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Release Date: November 25, 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Costume Designer: Ann Roth

Background

The late Chadwick Boseman was being named as an Oscar contender for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play of the same name, even before it came out. We’re still two months away from the Academy Award nominations being announced, but Boseman has already received posthumous Best Actor wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and Music City Film Critics’ Association for what turned out to be his final screen role.

The praise is well-deserved as the actor delivered a powerhouse performance as the hotheaded horn-blower Levee Green, an ambitious (and fictional) member of a four-piece band backing Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), the Mother of the Blues herself. The North Side neighborhood in my hometown of Pittsburgh was transformed to resemble roaring ’20s Chicago when production came to the Steel City two summers ago; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one of the ten plays in the Hill District-born Wilson’s “Century Cycle” not actually set in Pittsburgh.

Chadwick Boseman had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, never speaking publicly about his illness all the while delivering some of his most iconic performances in MarshallBlack Panther, and the two Avengers films to follow. Indeed, Boseman’s vigorous performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom belies his health at the time, and his fellow cast members remained unaware of his ongoing treatment for the cancer that would progress to stage IV before it ended his life at the age of 42 on August 28, 2020. Continue reading

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Black Tie in The Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (2013)

Vitals

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, eagerly romantic millionaire and bootlegger

Long Island, New York, Summer 1922

Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin

Background

On the eve of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday, let’s look at the most recent major adaptation of his most famous work, The Great Gatsby. Fitz’s 1925 novel had been adapted for the big screen at least four times before Baz Luhrmann directed his colorful spectacle during the past decade.

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Cagney’s Chalkstripe Suit in The Public Enemy

James Cagney as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

James Cagney as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

Vitals

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!

Background

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.

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The Public Enemy: Cagney’s New Clothes and Car

James Cagney leans on the door of a LaSalle as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

James Cagney leans on the door of a LaSalle as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

Vitals

James Cagney as Tom Powers, dangerous gangster and bootlegger

Chicago, Spring 1920

Film: The Public Enemy
Release Date: April 23, 1931
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Wardrobe Credit: Earl Luick

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Today is the 86th anniversary of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, the 13-year ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Even before Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, the wave of organized crime it inspired across the country was a popular subject for movies of the era, with Warner Brothers taking the lead with hits like Little CaesarThe Public Enemy, and Scarface that made stars out of intense actors like Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney.

The latter was particularly renowned for his performance in The Public Enemy, a “ripped-from-the-headlines” tour de force of violence based on an unpublished novel written by two former newspapermen who had witnessed firsthand the impact of Al Capone’s brutal stronghold on Chicago during the beer wars of the roaring ’20s.

As #CarWeek continues, let’s flash back to the Prohibition era as Cagney’s Tom Powers hopes to make an impression with his new tailored suits and shiny new touring convertible. Continue reading