Tagged: 1930s

Jimmy Stewart’s Undercover Denim Jacket in The FBI Story

James Stewart as agent John "Chip" Hardesty in The FBI Story (1959)

James Stewart as agent John “Chip” Hardesty in The FBI Story (1959)

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James Stewart as John “Chip” Hardesty, earnest FBI agent

Oklahoma, June 1930

Film: The FBI Story
Release Date: October 1959
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Costume Designer: Adele Palmer

Background

One of the greatest stars of the 20th century, James Stewart—known to friends and fans as “Jimmy”—was born on this day in 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, just about an hour west of Pittsburgh.

Among the less celebrated titles in the actor’s extensive filmography is The FBI Story, a J. Edgar Hoover-influenced epic exploring the early successes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jimmy plays our fictional all-American agent John “Chip” Hardesty, whose Forrest Gump-like decades-long career with the Bureau includes a role in nearly every major investigation from tracking down the bank-robbing “Public Enemies” of the Depression and World War II spies to the bombing of United Flight 629 in 1955.

An interesting chapter of The FBI Story sends Chip to Oklahoma in the summer of 1930 to investigate the “Reign of Terror” in Osage County, Oklahoma, represented on screen as the obsoletely named “Wade County”. These murders of dozens of Osage Native Americans throughout the ’20s were recently explored by David Grann in his fascinating book, Killers of the Flower Moon, which provided the basis for a Martin Scorsese film of the same name currently in production starring Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio. 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

Death on the Nile: Peter Ustinov’s Dinner Suit as Poirot

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

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Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, eccentric Belgian detective

Egypt, September 1937

Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell

Background

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Peter Ustinov, the brilliant dramatist and diplomat who—among his many achievements—played Agatha Christie’s celebrated sleuth Hercule Poirot in a half-dozen productions.

Fluent in multiple languages, Ustinov was easily able to glide between the English and French required to play the fussy Belgian detective and was able to provide his own voice in the French and German versions of his movies, including several of the Poirot productions.

Death on the Nile was the first—and often considered the strongest—of Ustinov’s six films as Poirot. Continue reading

Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936)

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936)

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Humphrey Bogart as “Duke” Mantee, violent desperado and “the last great apostle of rugged individualism”

Black Mesa, Arizona, January 1936

Film: The Petrified Forest
Release Date: February 6, 1936
Director: Archie Mayo
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (uncredited)

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

This is Duke Mantee, the world-famous killer, and he’s hungry…

Indeed, Humphrey Bogart was hungry. The 36-year-old actor had spent more than a dozen years honing his craft on the stage and had spent the last five going nowhere as a $750-a-week bit player for the Fox Film Corporation.

It wasn’t until a decade after his debut that Hollywood would start opening the front door for the New York-born actor, starring in Raoul Walsh’s crime flick High Sierra as a tough bank robber clearly modeled after real-life outlaw John Dillinger. It’s only fitting that this character be Bogie’s shot at the big time that he should have earned years earlier as yet another Dillinger surrogate, Duke Mantee.

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A Bullet for Pretty Boy: Fabian’s Navy Suit

Fabian Forte as Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd in A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1970)

Fabian Forte as Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd in A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1970)

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Fabian Forte as Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Depression-era bank robber

Kansas City, Spring 1930 and 1931

Film: A Bullet for Pretty Boy
Release Date: June 1970
Director: Larry Buchanan (and Maury Dexter, uncredited)
Wardrobe Credit: Ron Scott

Background

After Warner Brothers’ success with Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, American International Pictures (AIP) leapt at the chance to capitalize on the emerging trend of Depression-era crime movies using their own brand of inexpensive, exploitative filmmaking. This wasn’t AIP’s first rodeo in the realm of ’30s public enemies, having earlier produced The Bonnie Parker Story and Machine Gun Kelly, both released in May 1958. Their B-movie output in the decade that followed Bonnie and Clyde ranged from fictional stories like Boxcar Bertha (1972) directed by Martin Scorsese to those loosely based on actual criminals like Bloody Mama (1970) starring Shelley Winters as a caricature of “Ma” Barker (alongside a young Robert De Niro as one of her sons) to Dillinger (1973).

Even before that arguably most famous ’30s bank robber would be played by a grizzled Warren Oates, former teen idol Fabian got a shot to rebrand his image by playing Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, the outlaw whose moniker alone lent itself to suit the fresh-faced Mr. Forte.

The real Charles Arthur Floyd was born 117 years ago on February 3, 1904, in Adairsville, Georgia, though his family moved to Oklahoma when Floyd was seven, and it was the Cookson Hills that he would consider home for the 30 years of his life.

A fellow Aquarius, Forte was born only three days (and 39 years) later on February 6, 1943, making him 26—the same age as Floyd was for his first bank robbery—when A Bullet for Pretty Boy was filmed from June to October 1969. A Bullet for Pretty Boy loosely follows the facts of Floyd’s life, albeit exaggerated and certainly simplified for the sake of AIP’s low-budget, short-runtime formula for success that would thrill teens at the drive-ins just before these audiences found the real thrills in their own back seats later that night. Continue reading

The Awful Truth: Cary Grant’s White Tie and Tails

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937)

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937)

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Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner, witty divorcee

New York, Fall 1937

Film: The Awful Truth
Release Date: October 21, 1937
Director: Leo McCarey
Costume Designer: Robert Kalloch

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Archibald Leach was born 117 years ago today on January 18, 1904. Though he’d established his now-iconic stage name just before his film debut in This is the Night (1932), I consider Leo McCarey’s 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth to be the symbolic start of Cary Grant’s screen persona as a stylish yet self-deprecating gentleman with a remarkable penchant for physical comedy as well as wit. Continue reading

After the Thin Man: Nick Charles’ Light Double-Breasted Suit for the New Year

William Powell and Myrna Loy in After the Thin Man (1936)... with Skippy as Asta

William Powell and Myrna Loy in After the Thin Man (1936)… with Skippy as Asta

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William Powell as Nick Charles, retired private detective

San Francisco, New Year’s Eve 1936

Film: After the Thin Man
Release Date: December 25, 1936
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Wardrobe Credit: Dolly Tree

Background

Happy New Year! Dashiell Hammett and “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke continued the runaway success of The Thin Man by reuniting William Powell and Myrna Loy as crime-solving power couple Nick and Nora Charles, coming home to San Francisco after solving the famous “Thin Man” case during their holiday in New York. The three-day train ride returns Nick and Nora to the City by the Bay just in time for New Year’s Eve, where they find their home commandeered by revelers that have already kicked off their celebrations.

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The Sound of Music: Christopher Plummer’s Flap-Pocket Country Suits

Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965)

Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965)

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Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp, widowed ex-Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy officer

Salzburg, Austria, Spring 1938

Film: The Sound of Music
Release Date: March 2, 1965
Director: Robert Wise
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins

Background

Happy birthday, Christopher Plummer! Born 91 years ago in Toronto, the distinguished actor continues to be a familiar face on screen, most recently as the doomed mystery writer at the center of Knives Out (2019). Plummer’s most recognizable performance remains arguably that of Georg von Trapp, the Austro-Hungarian patriarch whose family of young singers was depicted in The Sound of Music.

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Death on the Nile: Peter Ustinov’s Tropical Norfolk Suit as Poirot

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

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Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, eccentric Belgian detective

Egypt, September 1937

Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell

Background

In his adaptation of perhaps the best-known Hercule Poirot mystery from Agatha Christie’s prolific canon, Kenneth Branagh all but confirmed at the end of Murder on the Orient Express that his follow-up film would find the fussy Belgian detective solving a murder “right on the bloody Nile!”

Indeed, just weeks after Murder on the Orient Express was released in November 2017, it was officially announced that Death on the Nile would be entering production as the third major adaptation of Christie’s 1937 novel. Even after the intended December 2019 release was postponed to October 9, 2020, Death on the Nile joined the ranks of films like The Many Saints of NewarkNo Time to Die, and Tenet whose release dates were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The October date was optimistically shifted forward two weeks to October 23 (today!) before the perhaps more realistic release date of December 18 was announced.

Of course, Christie fans looking to get their Nile fix have long had a very watchable solution available with the 1978 adaptation of Death on the Nile, the first of six films to star two-time Academy Award winner Peter Ustinov as the detail-oriented detective.

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The Aviator: Dressed to Test the H-1 Racer

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004)

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, eccentric and ambitious aviation and movie mogul

Los Angeles, September 1935

Film: The Aviator
Release Date: December 25, 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell

Background

85 years ago today on September 13, 1935, a sleek silver aircraft rocketed through the air over Santa Ana, California, at a record-breaking speed over 350 miles per hour, making four passes over Martin Field before a crash-landing that deposited its owner—one of the wealthiest and most ambitious men in America at the time—into a beet field, alive and hardly discouraged. As Howard Hughes’ colleagues ran over to extract the 29-year-old entrepreneur and aviator from the wreckage of the H-1 Racer, he hardly had his own safety in mind, issuing the command: “We can fix her, she’ll go faster!”

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