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.
Sean Connery as Jim Malone, tough and honest Chicago beat cop
Canadian border, September 1930
Film: The Untouchables
Release Date: June 3, 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
Recently recruited off the streets of Chicago, aging beat cop Jim Malone is more than happy to bring his grizzled brand of tough justice to the Canadian border to assist federal agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and their small but effective band of “untouchable” lawmen in stopping an illegal shipment of liquor from making its way into the United States.
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, slick insurance salesman
Los Angeles, May through July 1938
Film: Double Indemnity
Release Date: July 3, 1944
Director: Billy Wilder
Costume Designer: Edith Head
What’d you think I was, anyway? A guy that walks into a good-lookin’ dame’s front parlor and says, “Good afternoon, I sell accident insurance on husbands. You got one that’s been around too long, one you’d like to turn into a little hard cash? Just give me a smile and I’ll help you collect?”
Let’s finally kick off Noir-vember with the quintessential film noir, Double Indemnity, the quotable masterpiece from the pen of James M. Cain, adapted for Billy Wilder’s screen direction by pulp writer Raymond Chandler and photographed by inventive cinematographer John F. Seitz. Double Indemnity is the one that has it all: the seductive femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck), the wisecracking protagonist willing to murder for her (Fred MacMurray), and the intrepid investigator, though in this case it’s not a trench coated private detective but an energetic, experienced, and irascible insurance claims manager played by Edward G. Robinson at his best.
Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, corrupt Atlantic City politician and bootlegger
Atlantic City, Late Spring 1931
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episode: “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08)
Air Date: October 26, 2014
Director: Tim Van Patten
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary since the final episode of Boardwalk Empire aired. Set in 1931, the fifth and final season of HBO’s Prohibition-set crime drama took a seven-year leap to conclude the stories of Atlantic City’s corrupt ex-treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and those in his orbit, whether based on reality like “Lucky” Luciano (Vincent Piazza) or fictional creations for the show like Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol). Nucky himself is based on Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, the colorful and indeed corrupt politician from Atlantic City’s heyday in the roaring ’20s.
Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, ruthless Italian-born bootlegger and mob enforcer
Chicago, Summer 1927
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks
Today’s #MafiaMonday post goes back to the Prohibition era, the age that gave rise to the modern American gangster… and the American gangster movie.
After Warner Brothers scored back-to-back hits with Little Caesar (1931) and The Public Enemy (1931), effectively establishing the subgenre of the gangster film, Howard Hughes entered the fray with Scarface, an explosive, influential, and fast-paced criminal epic adapted from Armitage Trail’s novel that had been based on the life of Al Capone. Hughes had been warned against taking on Warner’s dominance in the genre, so he packed his production with talent including screenwriter Ben Hecht, director Howard Hawks, and lead actor Paul Muni, who was born 124 years ago yesterday on September 22, 1895.
In the wake of movies like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, the Hays Office had been increasing its efforts to censor what it deemed to be glamorization of criminal lifestyles in cinema, but its notoriously restrictive production code had yet to be put into place, giving Scarface full reign to arm its vaguely incestuous central character with a Thompson submachine gun, once dubbed “the gun that made the twenties roar,” as he rose the ranks of the criminal underworld in a series of violent vignettes paralleling the life and crimes of the infamous Capone.
Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner, privileged college student turned Hollywood screenwriter
Upstate New York, June 1937 and
Malibu, California, September 1947
Film: The Way We Were
Release Date: October 19, 1973
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins & Moss Mabry
As students are settling back into school after Labor Day, let’s make the acquaintance of Hubbell Gardiner, a privileged college student in 1930s America for whom “everything came too easily to him… but at least he knew it,” apropos his short story “The All-American Smile”. Hubbell’s scribbling earned the young man literary attention not only from publishers willing to pay for his work but also from Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand), a radical classmate who puts the “active” in activist.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, eccentric and ambitious aviation and movie mogul
Los Angeles, Summer 1935
Film: The Aviator
Release Date: December 25, 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
Tomorrow is the final day of the TOUR Championship, the final event of the 2019 PGA Tour season with a purse of $9,250,000 awarded to the first place golfer. Golf and wealth culminated for a brief but stylish scene in The Aviator (2004), Martin Scorsese’s biopic of twenty momentous years in the life of aviation and movie mogul Howard Hughes.
William Powell as Jim Wade, crusading assistant district attorney
New York City, Spring 1934
Film: Manhattan Melodrama
Release Date: May 4, 1934
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Costume Designer: Dolly Tree
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy birthday, William Powell! The suave actor was born July 29, 1892, in my hometown of Pittsburgh, though he moved to Kansas City as a teenager. He only stayed there three years before moving to New York at the age of 18 to pursue a career as an actor, eventually becoming one of the best known actors of Hollywood’s “golden era” with three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor recognizing his performances in The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), and Life with Father (1947).
Powell’s chemistry with Myrna Loy, most famously showcased as detective couple Nick and Nora Charles in the “Thin Man” series, made them one of the most iconic on-screen duos, though their first of 14 cinematic collaborations was Manhattan Melodrama in 1934. Continue reading
Matt Bomer as Monroe Stahr, charming studio wunderkind
Hollywood, February 1937
Series: The Last Tycoon
Episode: “An Enemy Among Us” (Episode 8)
Streaming Date: July 28, 2017
Director: Scott Hornbacher
Developed By: Billy Ray
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Do you celebrate Christmas in July? If so, do you struggle with finding just the right thing to wear for your holiday fun in the sun when celebrating with swimming pools and margaritas rather than snowmen and mulled wine?
On the much-too-short-lived Amazon original series The Last Tycoon, developed by Billy Ray from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel, the young and dashing Hollywood hotshot Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) is rarely seen in anything less than a beautifully tailored three-piece suit or white tie and tails, but he gives himself a sartorial break in the name of love and leisure for a warm February morning on the terrace with his new paramour, aspiring actress Kathleen Moore (Dominique McElligott).
Gregory Peck as Harry Street, expatriate writer and former newspaper reporter
French Riviera (Côte d’Azur), Summer 1936
Film: The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Release Date: September 17, 1952
Director: Henry King
Wardrobe Supervisor: Charles Le Maire
As I spend this week on vacation, I reflect on how my birthday buddy Ernest Hemingway—born 120 years ago this week on July 21, 1899—would have spent his daiquiri-soaked summers. A brief vignette from Henry King’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, an adaptation of Papa’s short story of the same name, may shed some light on the life of a bored writer spending the warm season in the French Riviera.