Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson, smooth gambler
Havana to New York, Spring 1955
Film: Guys and Dolls
Release Date: November 3, 1955
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff
On the traditionally unlucky day of Friday the 13th, we could all use a dash of lady luck, the concept popularized in the standard “Luck Be a Lady” that Frank Loesser had composed for the musical Guys and Dolls. Five years after Robert Alda had originated the song on stage in 1950, Marlon Brando overcame his own insecurities about his singing voice resembling “the mating call of a yak” to perform the song in Mank’s cinematic adaptation… much to the likely chagrin of his co-star Frank Sinatra, who would record it twice for his own Reprise Records label in the ’60s.
But before Sky Masterson asked lady luck to show him just how nice a dame she can be, he sets his sights on another doll, specifically the prim and pretty Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of the Save-a-Soul Mission, whose organizational goals could not be more antithetical to all Sky holds dear. To win a bet with fellow gambler Nathan Detroit (Sinatra), Sky invites her to dinner in Havana, where Sister Sarah’s uncharacteristic Thursday night results in plenty of Bacardi and barfighting. Continue reading
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, volatile and violent Mafia associate
New York, Spring 1970
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy Mother’s Day! One of my favorite cinematic sequences depicting the relationship between a son and his mother comes by way of my favorite movie, in which master auteur Martin Scorsese cast his own mother Catherine as the charming Mrs. DeVito, mother to the psychotic gangster Tommy (Joe Pesci) who brings his cohorts Henry (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) seeking a shovel in a covert night-time stop to fetch a shovel… only to be sweet-talked into an early breakfast.
Catherine Scorsese endearingly embodies the familiar archetype of the aging Italian-American matriarch with her plastic-covered furniture, the gift to effortlessly slip between American English and Italian dialects, and the fierce desire to feed her children and their friends… regardless of whether they’re hungry or not. Continue reading
On George Clooney’s 61st birthday, I’m pleased to present another guest post contributed by my friend Ken Stauffer, who had also covered the actor’s plaid suit in Out of Sight and Clooney’s fashionable co-star Brad Pitt from this same scene in Ocean’s Eleven. You can learn more from him about the style of the Ocean’s film series on his Instagram account, @oceansographer.
George Clooney as Danny Ocean, recently paroled con man and casino heister
Los Angeles, Spring 2001
Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: December 7, 2001
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Costume Designer: Jeffrey Kurland
Tailor: Dominic Gherardi
Happy birthday to George Clooney, who turns 61 today! To celebrate, we’re looking back at one of his most striking tailored looks in Ocean’s Eleven, the movie which arguably made him a household name and cemented his image as a suave leading man.
The film opens with Clooney’s Danny Ocean being released from North Jersey State Prison on a frigid winter morning. After a shave and a wardrobe change, his first stop is Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza to find Frank Caton (Bernie Mac), a fellow career criminal currently eking out a living under an alias as a blackjack dealer. Within a handful of lines, we learn that Danny is on the hunt for Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), whom he quickly learns is now “teaching movie stars how to play cards.” A day later, the parolee has flown across the country to rope in his felonious old friend at a Hollywood nightclub. Continue reading
Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton, newspaper editor
San Francisco, Spring 1967
Film: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Release Date: December 12, 1967
Director: Stanley Kramer
Costume Designer: Joe King
Considered one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history by audiences and peers, Spencer Tracy was born 122 years ago on April 5, 1900 in Milwaukee. His prolific career that spanned nearly half a century culminated with his final role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, for which he received his ninth and final Academy Award nomination (one of ten that the film received), a posthumous honor as Tracy had died only 17 days after completing his work. Continue reading
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, Cuban-born bandleader, actor, and TV producer
Los Angeles, September 1952
Film: Being the Ricardos
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Costume Designer: Susan Lyall
I grew up watching I Love Lucy, my childhood punctuated by many memories of me channeling inordinate levels of anxiety at Lucy’s antics into pacing around my grandmother’s kitchen while the decades-old drama unfolded in black-and-white from the small TV tucked on a corner countertop. Almost thirty years later, I still can recollect Lucy pitching Vitameatavegamin or stomping grapes with better clarity than anything I may have binged on Netflix over the last year.
As the real Desi Arnaz was born 105 years ago today on March 2, 1917, let’s take a look at Javier Bardem’s Academy Award-nominated performance as Desi in Being the Ricardos. Continue reading
Harry Belafonte as David Boyeur, popular local politician
On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955
Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes
Tomorrow will be the 95th birthday of Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor, and activist born March 1, 1927. Belafonte has tireless worked in show business and to advance social causes since beginning his recording career in the late 1940s. Though he’s narrated documentaries and appeared sporadically in features in the decades since, his screen acting career were primarily throughout the ’50s in features ranging from the musicals that made obvious use of his singing talent to drama, sci-fi, and noir.
Belafonte co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge in his first three films, their collaborations concluding in the colorfully lush drama Island in the Sun, based on Alec Waugh’s novel of the same name. The eponymous island was said to be the fictitious “Santa Marta” in the Caribbean, though actually filmed on location in Barbaos and Grenada through the fall of 1956. Continue reading
Sean Connery as Mark Rutland, publisher
Philadelphia to Baltimore, Spring 1964
Release Date: July 22, 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Men’s Costumes: James Linn
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Months before Goldfinger was released and cemented Bond-mania among the cinematic zeitgeist of the 1960s, Sean Connery got the opportunity to show audiences that he was capable of more than just suave secret-agenting with the back-to-back releases of thrillers Woman of Straw and Marnie. The latter has been celebrated as the better-regarded of the two, with some even calling it Alfred Hitchcock’s underappreciated masterpiece, though Hitch himself was more dismissive when discussing the work with François Truffaut:
I wasn’t convinced that Sean Connery was a Philadelphia gentleman. You know, if you want to reduce Marnie to its lowest common denominator, it is the story of the prince and the beggar girl. In a story of this kind you need a real gentleman, a more elegant man than what we had.
Say what you will about Connery’s performance, but I’ve considered Hitchcock’s criticism to be somewhat undeserved, particularly considering that the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1961 novel of the same name condensed the characters of Marnie’s husband, Mark Rutland, and the psychoanalyst that Mark forces Marnie to see. Thus, Connery’s characterization requires him to convincingly depict Mark as first a charismatic cad, then a manipulative rapist, and—ultimately—a quasi-therapist whose motives are depicted more through the lens of spousal support than domination. Given the challenge of the role, I believe Connery ably rose to the occasion, bringing out more savage sides of the character than we may have believed in the hands of Hitch’s erstwhile stalwarts like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart.
Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, heavyweight boxing champion soon to be renamed Muhammad Ali
Miami, February 25, 1964
Film: One Night in Miami
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Director: Regina King
Costume Designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Today would have been the 80th birthday of Muhammad Ali, the champion boxer born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. and nicknamed “The Greatest”. As we’re reentering movie award season, let’s revisit One Night in Miami, the stylish drama that generated plenty of buzz last year and remains the most recent major screen portrayal of Ali.
The eponymous evening is February 25, 1964, when Clay’s surprise victory over Sonny Liston cemented him as the world heavyweight champion. Clay joins his fellow high-profile friends Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) in Malcolm’s hotel room, presumably for a celebration before it’s revealed that Malcolm had intended it to be a night of reflection and revelation, specifically of Clay’s intended conversion to the Nation of Islam. Continue reading
Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, novice high school teacher
London, June 1966
Film: To Sir, with Love
Release Date: June 14, 1967
Director: James Clavell
Wardrobe Supervisor: John Wilson-Apperson
The death of Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE, was announced last Friday, prompting countless fans to recall memories of the great actor’s lasting legacy. Born February 20, 1927 in Miami to a Bahamian family, Poitier’s screen acting career took off during the 1950s, following his breakthrough performance in Blackboard Jungle (1955) with a charismatic turn in Edge of the City (1957). His Academy Award nomination for The Defiant Ones (1958) marked the first time a Black actor was nominated for Best Actor, and his ultimate win for Lillies of the Field (1963) established Poitier as the first Black recipient of the Best Actor Oscar.
Poitier’s career continued through the decade, with 1967 a particular banner year as he delivered three of his most iconic performances in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir, with Love. Continue reading
David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, ambitious humanoid alien
From New York City to Artesia, New Mexico, 1970s
Film: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Release Date: March 18, 1976
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Costume Designer: May Routh
Suits by: Ola Hudson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 75th birthday of David Bowie, born in London on January 8, 1947.
Though he’d made a few screen appearances earlier in his career, The Man Who Fell to Earth was Bowie’s first prominent leading role. Adapted by Paul Mayersberg from Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, Nicolas Roeg’s avant-garde cult classic transcends the trappings of traditional science fiction to spin the yarn of Thomas Jerome Newton, an ambitious if naïve starman who “fell to Earth” on a mission to bring water back to his home planet… only to fall even farther, seduced by the materialistic capitalism of 1970s America and all of its celebrated hedonistic indulgences of sex, television, drugs, and booze. Continue reading