Sammy Davis Jr. as Josh Howard, casino heister, sanitation worker, and World War II veteran
Las Vegas, January 1960
Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: August 10, 1960
Director: Lewis Milestone
Costume Designer: Howard Shoup
Tailor: Sy Devore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Sammy Davis Jr. was born 95 years ago today in Harlem. Nicknamed “Mr. Show Business” in recognition of his vast talents, Davis had gotten an early start to performing when he joined his father and uncle to create the Will Mastin Trio, named after his uncle. Following his service in World War II, Davis cultivated his career as a singer, dancer, actor, and comedian.
Davis’ natural talent, stage presence, and quick wit brought him into the orbit of pallies Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, who were forming the seeds of what would become immortalized as the Rat Pack. (Sinatra wisely followed Davis’ suggestion that the group not call themselves “the Clan”, instead referring to themselves as “the Summit.”)
1960 was the high watermark for the Summit, when they pulled together an ensemble cast to make Ocean’s 11, a stylish heist film set in Las Vegas. Continue reading
After I shared some of my favorite budget-friendly movie and TV-inspired summer shirts this year, I also received some interest in a similar post for the autumn so my thoughts immediately went to rounding up some fall-friendly flannel shirts, jackets, and shackets based on my favorite types of movies to watch around this time of year.
My taste in fall movies runs from the rough to the refined. Having grown up watching The Dukes of Hazzard, I always had a soft spot for the low-budget “hick flicks” (and I use the term endearingly) often rolled out during the ’70s by groups like American International Pictures or New World Pictures. The latter distributed Moonshine County Express, one of many movies I saw for the first time while under quarantine this year, and a clear bridge between Burt Reynolds’ early fare like White Lightning and the more formulaic world of the Duke boys in Hazzard County.
Of course, it also wouldn’t be fall without the melodramatic sophistication of Douglas Sirk or his romantic heroes with a taste for flannel as modeled by Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows or by his spiritual successor Dennis Haysbert in the autumnal drama Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes’ 2002 ode to Sirk.
Finally, the holidays means we’re in Die Hard season with both the 1988 original film and its 1990 sequel each set during an action-packed Christmas Eve. Bruce Willis’ cynical hero may be tragically underdressed for his adventure in Nakatomi Tower, but he makes up for it two years later by keeping his shirt and shoes while battling baddies in the snow.
Please feel free to add your own observations or flannel favorites in the comments! Continue reading
James Shigeta as Joe Kojaku, LAPD homicide detective
Los Angeles, Summer 1959
Film: The Crimson Kimono
Release Date: October 1959
Director: Samuel Fuller
Costume Supervisor: Bernice Pontrelli
Are you among the many movie buffs who observe #Noirvember, the month-long celebration of shadowy cinema often set in worlds populated by gumshoes, gunsels, and femmes fatale. Defining film noir is often as murky as the outlines of the shadows in some of its seminal works, though even applying the infamous Potter Stewart rule yields at least dozens of crime dramas produced within and beyond the United States during the 1940s and ’50s.
Earlier this year, the Criterion Channel again showcased a collection of noir from Columbia Pictures, the erstwhile Poverty Row studio that churned out some of the most quintessential high-talent noir in including Gilda (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and In a Lonely Place (1950) as well as an array of criminally underseen B-movies that balanced their low budgets with high quality. One of my favorites from the collection was The Crimson Kimono (1959), directed by former crime reporter and World War II veteran Samuel Fuller.
Modern audiences may recognize James Shigeta as the patient and ultimately doomed Nakatomi executive in Die Hard. Here, a considerably younger Shigeta plays the charismatic Joe Kojaku, an apple-munching, piano-playing Japanese-American homicide detective called in with his partner Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) to investigate the murder of burlesque dancer Sugar Torch (Gloria Pall) on L.A.’s” Main Street” one brightly lit, jazz-filled night in August 1959. Continue reading
Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello Rubini, playboy gossip journalist
Rome, Spring 1959
Film: La Dolce Vita
Release Date: February 5, 1960
Director: Federico Fellini
Costume Designer: Piero Gherardi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The two headlining stars of Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita would have celebrated their birthdays this week—Marcello Mastroianni tomorrow (September 28, 1924) and Anita Ekberg the following day (September 29, 1931)—and watching these two Libras glide together through the Trevi Fountain at daybreak has become one of the most enduring images of Italian cinema.
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today marks the 30th anniversary since my favorite movie, Goodfellas, was released, ten days after it premiered to rave reviews at the 47th International Venice Film Festival. Based on the true story told in Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, this Martin Scorsese-directed mob epic details a life in organized crime as recalled by Lucchese Mafia family associate-turned-informant Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his teenage years in the 1950s through adulthood until his arrest on May 11, 1980.
The ensemble cast includes Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, and Frank Sivero as Henry’s criminal colleagues and Lorraine Bracco as his wife and eventual accomplice.
Montgomery Clift as George Eastman, dangerously ambitious factory executive
“Loon Lake”, Missouri, Labor Day 1950
Film: A Place in the Sun
Release Date: August 14, 1951
Director: George Stevens
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
With Labor Day weekend ahead, today’s post explores the style from one of my favorite movies set across the late summer holiday. A Place in the Sun was adapted by Michael Wilson and Harry Brown from Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy, which was itself based on Chester Gillette’s 1906 murder of his pregnant partner Grace Brown in the Adirondacks.
Elliott Gould as Capt. “Trapper John” McIntyre, irreverent U.S. Army chest surgeon
Korea, Summer 1951
Release Date: January 25, 1970
Director: Robert Altman
Before there was Magnum, there was M*A*S*H, in which Elliott Gould set the “Gould standard” for effectively pairing a prolific mustache with an Aloha shirt. Robert Altman’s film was based on the then-recently published MASH: A Novel of Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, which would in turn be adapted into a long-running TV series that would last almost four times as long as the Korean War itself.
While maverick Army doctor “Hawkeye” Pierce was arguably the central figure (and increasingly the show’s moral fiber, under Alan Alda’s creative direction), I was also fond of his cinematic sidekick, Captain “Trapper John” McIntyre as portrayed by Elliott Gould, born 82 years ago today on August 29, 1938.
David Niven as Raymond, bon vivant widowed father
French Riviera, Summer 1957
Film: Bonjour Tristesse
Release Date: January 15, 1958
Director: Otto Preminger
Costume Coordinator: Hope Bryce
Secluded for the summer at their villa in the Côte d’Azur, libertine Raymond and his equally free-spirited daughter Cécile (Jean Seberg) enjoy a comfortable and carefree season living la belle vie by the sea. In fact, Raymond and Cécile would have fared quite well had they needed to spend their summer in quarantine, as few outsiders enter their lives aside from whichever mistress (or two) Raymond is entertaining at the moment. These young women are typically no more than a few years older than Cécile, who grows particularly attached to his latest paramour, Elsa (Mylène Demongeot), to the extent that she joins Raymond in waking the vivacious blonde from her nude slumber and helps her apply sunscreen during one of their typical days spent on the beach.
While all may be cordial and close, there’s no getting between the fiercely intimate bond between Cécile and her father, of which Elsa comments: “You do not even need words… the perfect marriage!”
Troy Donahue as Johnny Hunter, college student and “silly sentimentalist”
New England, Spring 1959
Film: A Summer Place
Release Date: November 18, 1959
Director: Delmer Daves
Costume Designer: Howard Shoup
Sixty years after shaking up more genteel audiences with its frank but ultimately tame depictions of adultery and sexuality, A Summer Place may be most widely remembered for its serene theme song. Originally written by Max Steiner, it was Percy Faith’s arrangement of “Theme from A Summer Place” that transformed the instrumental ballad into a #1 hit that took the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking nine consecutive weeks in early 1960.
Desi Arnaz as Nicky Collini, civil engineer
Northern California, Late Summer 1953
Film: The Long, Long Trailer
Release Date: February 18, 1954
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Helen Rose
As this year’s summer travel season in the U.S. looks to be more centered around road trips in response to the coronavirus pandemic, RV rentals and purchases have been surging at an unprecedented rate that recalls the heyday of “the great American road trip” as depicted in The Long, Long Trailer. Adapted from Clinton Twiss’ novel of the same name, this Lucy and Desi vehicle zaps into the wanderlust zeitgeist that captured the imagination of Americans during the fabulous fifties as everyone from Harry Truman to Jack Kerouac hit the newly expanded network of highways and byways as they explored the continental United States.
Were I transported back to the 1950s with the mission of taking in the country from the road, I’d likely be piloting a ’57 Chevy Nomad with a Super Turbo Fire V8 across Route 66 from Missouri to California, though it’s solely this latter state that hosts newlyweds Nicky and Tacy Collini as they plot their new nomadic life in a homey silver-and-yellow Redman New Moon hauled up the coast by a cream-colored Mercury convertible.