Robert Shaw as “Skipper”, RAF Squadron Leader
England, Summer to Fall 1940
Film: Battle of Britain
Release Date: September 15, 1969
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson
Although the battle was waged for more than three months in 1940 over British airspace, September 15 has been established as Battle of Britain Day in recognition of the No. 11 Group RAF repelling two waves of German attacks on London. The Germans had instigated their air and sea blockade earlier that summer, followed by Luftwaffe air raids that started with ports and shipping centers, eventually moving further inland to airfields, factories, and ultimately civilian areas. Hitler had intended to gain air superiority over England prior to an invasion dubbed Operation Sea Lion, but a strong national defense from the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy successfully routed the Luftwaffe and prevented this full-scale invasion of the United Kingdom.
This British victory was considered an early turning point in favor of the Allies during World War II that inspired Winston Churchill to famously declare: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
On the 29th anniversary of this famous British defense against Germany in the skies over London, the United Artists war epic Battle of Britain with a star-studded cast including Sir Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Shaw. The latter portrays a talented and brash Squadron Leader, said to be inspired by South African fighter ace Sailor Malan, commander of No. 74 Squadron RAF during the actual Battle of Britain.
Humphrey Bogart as Frank McCloud, taciturn war veteran and former newspaperman
Key Largo, Florida, Summer 1948
Film: Key Largo
Release Date: July 16, 1948
Director: John Huston
Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Released today in 1948, John Huston’s moody noir Key Largo marked the fourth and final of Bogie and Bacall’s on-screen collaborations, closing out their celluloid romance the way it began in To Have and Have Not (1944) with a talent-packed cast (including Dan Seymour as a heavy heavy) in a tropical locale shrouded in shadows, storms, and gunplay. The claustrophobia of our characters’ forced isolation against the looming summer storm outside and the raging tension inside made it particularly impactful viewing during months in lockdown.
Montgomery Clift as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, U.S. Army bugler and “thirty-year man”
Honolulu, Hawaii, Summer through Fall 1941
Film: From Here to Eternity
Release Date: August 5, 1953
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
April showers are said to bring May flowers, so let’s get into the spirit of the season with the classic floral shirts in From Here to Eternity, an adaptation of James Jones’ novel set on a U.S. Army infantry base in Hawaii during the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski, Polish resistance leader
Belarus, August 1941 through April 1942
Release Date: December 31, 2008
Director: Edward Zwick
Costume Designer: Jenny Beavan
Daniel Craig’s fifth and final movie as James Bond, No Time to Die, was originally scheduled for release in the U.K. today. Last month, MGM and Eon Productions announced that they were pushing the release to November in response to concerns related to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. While the postponement may have defied the wishes of Bond fans (see where I’m going with this?), there’s still plenty of Craig’s filmography out there to stream, including the 2008 war film Defiance.
David Niven as Corporal Miller, British Army commando and explosives expert
Aegean Sea, Fall 1943
Film: The Guns of Navarone
Release Date: April 27, 1961
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Wardrobe Credit: Monty M. Berman & Olga Lehmann
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Tomorrow would have been the 110th birthday of David Niven, the Academy Award-winning English actor, author, and decorated war veteran. Instead of looking at one of the famously debonair Niven’s tailored suits or elegant dinner jackets, let’s explore his scrappier seafaring attire as a covert commando in The Guns of Navarone, the 1961 adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s World War II-set adventure novel.
Telly Savalas as Zeno, Greek resistance leader
“Somewhere in the Greek islands”, Fall 1944
Film: Escape to Athena
Release Date: June 6, 1979
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Costume Designer: Yvonne Blake
Escape to Athena assembles an incredible cast for a World War II adventure comedy in the spirit of The Dirty Dozen… or am I just saying the latter because it co-stars Telly Savalas?
Reda Kateb as Django Reinhardt, gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso
Paris, Summer 1943
Release Date: April 26, 2017
Director: Étienne Comar
Costume Designer: Pascaline Chavanne
My interest in Django Reinhardt’s music began in the spring of 2004, when 14-year-old me eagerly purchased Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, a computer game that was essentially the Grand Theft Auto series with a Prohibition-era twist and a dash of Scorsese-ese inspiration. Set in 1930s New Jersey, the game was scored by period music including familiar favorites by Duke Ellington and a style that was all new to me, the rhythmic, guitar-driven gypsy jazz pioneered by Django Reinhardt. Continue reading
John Dall as Bart Tare, armed robber on the run
San Lorenzo Valley, California, Fall 1949, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Spring 1950
Film: Gun Crazy
(also released as Deadly is the Female)
Release Date: January 20, 1950
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Costume Designer: Norma Koch (credited with Peggy Cummins’ costumes only)
Fifteen years after armed robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were ambushed and killed on a rural Louisiana road, one of the first attempts to adapt their story for the silver screen arrived in theaters. Sure, there had been Fritz Lang’s sympathetic melodrama You Only Live Once (1937) and the FBI-endorsed propaganda Persons in Hiding (1939), but Gun Crazy—released exactly 70 years ago today—most effectively latched onto the intrigue of a gun-toting couple on the run, and, “more than any other, emphasizes the powerful attraction of weaponry in the growing legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” according to John Treherne, author of The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde.
Gun Crazy‘s telling original title of Deadly is the Female reflects the narrative leaning into the noir-esque premise of a dominating femme fatale, an expert in firearms who seduces her lovestruck fella into a life of crime… an inverse of the generally accepted reality of the relationship between violent manipulator Clyde Barrow and the vulnerable and troubled Bonnie Parker.
A year after his chilling turn as the calculating, Loeb-like murderer in Hitchcock’s Rope, John Dall stars as the malleable Bart Tare, who finds himself fatefully—and fatally—drawn to the voluptuous carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), “the darling of London, England,” though it’s a toss-up whether it’s her tight pants, knowing wink, or dueling pistols that sink the hook into the already doomed Bart. Continue reading
Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, U.S. Army captain and popular entertainer
European Theater, Christmas Eve 1944
Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Merry Christmas Eve! The prologue of perennial holiday cinema classic White Christmas begins exactly 75 years ago today, Christmas Eve 1944, as the title card tells us…
Private First Class Phil Davis is proudly assisting Captain Bob Wallace, evidently a known entertainer on par with Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, or—um—Bing Crosby, as they host a “yuletide clambake” for the men of the fictitious 151st Division, providing the type of entertainment that Davis boasts would cost $6.60 or even $8.80 stateside. Continue reading
Humphrey Bogart as Dixon “Dix” Steele, frustrated screenwriter who’s “been out of circulation too long”
Los Angeles, Summer 1949
Film: In a Lonely Place
Release Date: May 17, 1950
Director: Nicholas Ray
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As #NoirVember continues, we shift our sartorial focus to a seminal figure in the development and enduring popularity of film noir: Humphrey Bogart. In movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946), Bogie cemented the wisecracking private eye persona often driving the heart of this subgenre, but he did not play a detective in the suspenseful thriller considered to be among his best, In a Lonely Place.
This 1950 noir co-starred Gloria Grahame and directed by Nicholas Ray, her husband at the time, though both Bogie and screenwriter Edmund North had envisioned the then-Mrs. Bogart, Lauren Bacall, to take the role of the “sultry and smooth… striking-looking girl with high cheek bones and tawny hair” as the character of Laurel Gray was described in the North’s screenplay. While Warner Brothers refused to lend Bacall to Bogart’s Santana Productions, Bogie was able to keep the leading role to deliver one of the most explosive and authentic performances of his prolific career.