Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer, tough Texas special investigator and former Texas Ranger
Texas and Louisiana, Spring 1934
Film: The Highwaymen
Release Date: March 15, 2019 (March 29, 2019, on Netflix)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Costume Designer: Daniel Orlandi
Following a decorated career in law enforcement that found him bravely and successfully leading investigations and captures of violent criminals, Frank Hamer is not the sort of man who should need a cultural reevaluation in his defense. And yet, it was the most celebrated victory of Hamer’s career—bringing an end to Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s violent crime spree—that would eventually result in the former Texas Ranger being villianized in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde that romanticized the titular outlaw couple to carry out its countercultural message.
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.
Clark Gable as Peter Warne, recently fired newspaper reporter
Miami to New York, Spring 1933
Film: It Happened One Night
Release Date: February 22, 1934
Director: Frank Capra
Costume Designer: Robert Kalloch
Tailor: Eddie Schmidt
Today marks the birthday of Clark Gable, born 118 years ago on February 1, 1901, as William Clark Gable, though he would shave off his first name to assume the stage name of Clark Gable by 1924. Within a decade, the young actor from Cadiz, Ohio, had turned Clark Gable into a household name.
Released 85 years ago this month, It Happened One Night earned Clark Gable his only Academy Award while also racking up wins in the category of Best Picture, Best Director (for Frank Capra), Best Actress (for Claudette Colbert), and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Robert Riskin). In the decades since, only two other movies have won this “big five” quinfecta of Oscar categories: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs. Esteemed company, indeed.
With Gable’s birthday today and the 91st Academy Awards just four weeks from now, let’s take a look at the dapper actor’s style in this trailblazing pre-Code comedy that’s still charming, witty, and ageless the better part of a century later. Continue reading
Tom Selleck as Nick Lassiter, debonair jewel thief
London, June 1939
Release Date: February 17, 1984
Director: Roger Young
Costume Designer: Barbara Lane
Happy birthday, Tom Selleck!
On the actor’s 74th birthday, I’m responding to a frequent request from a fellow Tom who kindly brought my attention to Selleck’s pre-World War II style in the little-known 1984 caper film Lassiter, made during the actor’s Magnum P.I. heyday. Selleck starred as the title character, Nick Lassiter, a daring and debonair jewel thief in the tradition of David Niven’s “Phantom” from the Pink Panther series with a twist of Indiana Jones… perhaps to make up for the fact that Selleck had turned down Raiders of the Lost Ark before Harrison Ford made the iconic role his own.
Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, ruthless Italian-born bootlegger and mob enforcer
Chicago, Summer 1927
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks
Tomorrow would have been the 120th birthday of Al Capone, had the infamous gangster not rotted to his syphilic demise in 1947.
Capone’s story remains one of the most frequently adapted for movies and TV, beginning with Rod Steiger in the cleverly titled 1959 film Al Capone through Neville Brand (twice), Ben Gazzara, Jason Robards, Ray Sharkey, and F. Murray Abraham, up through Robert de Niro’s iconic performance in The Untouchables (1987). The gangster was most recently—and most prolifically—portrayed by Stephen Graham in all five seasons of Boardwalk Empire, though Tom Hardy is set to play Capone in the upcoming feature film Fonzo.
Of course, a larger-than-life character like Al Capone didn’t have to wait until after he was dead to see his story unfold on the screen. While his name was never used in movies released during his lifetime, Capone provided the obvious inspiration for a number of gangsters in pre-Code crime cinema, most famously the ambitious, smooth, and lethal Tony Camonte, played by Paul Muni in Scarface. Continue reading
James Stewart as George Bailey, newlywed banker
Bedford Falls, NY, fall 1932 through spring 1934
Film: It’s a Wonderful Life
Release Date: December 20, 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Although the film takes place over the course of one man’s whole life, It’s a Wonderful Life has earned a comfortable home among nostalgic holiday cinema. The man in question, George Bailey (James Stewart), spends a depressing Christmas Eve questioning his existence… prompting a visit from his guardian angel to remind him of the titular wonderful life that he has led.
Steve McQueen as Eric “the Kid” Stoner, hotshot poker player
Louisiana, Fall 1936
Film: The Cincinnati Kid
Release Date: October 15, 1965
Director: Norman Jewison
Costume Designer: Donfeld (Donald Lee Feld)
The Cincinnati Kid was released today in 1965 with Steve McQueen in the title role as the actor was paving his way to stardom through the decade with a string of iconic movie including The Great Escape (1963), The Sand Pebbles (1966), and finally Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair in his banner year of 1968.
McQueen’s timeless sense of cool adds an era-defying quality to his performance as poker prodigy Eric “the Kid” Stoner. The Kid’s simple, functional wardrobe was hip enough to be contemporary to the 1960s while also reflective of the film’s 1930s setting. Continue reading