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.
Jack Lemmon as Wendell Armbruster, Jr., bitter Baltimore businessman
Ischia, Bay of Naples, Summer 1972
Release Date: December 17, 1972
Director: Billy Wilder
Wardrobe Supervisor: Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca
“I guess there is something to what it says in the tourist guide… it says Italy is not a country, it’s an emotion,” says Pamela Piggott (Juliet Mills), laying naked on a rock surrounded by sun and sea next to an equally bare but considerably more nervous Wendell Armbruster, Jr., who exclaims in response, “Well, it’s certainly been an experience!”
Despite the context, the two aren’t yet lovers, instead brought to the romantic bay of Naples after the death of Wendell’s father and Pamela’s mother who, as they learn, had been enjoying a decade-long extramarital affair. While not among the more celebrated of Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder’s seven cinematic collaborations, Avanti! is a fitting and still entertaining work as both actor and director were maturing in their age and career. “Billy Wilder’s last great comic romance is an Italian vacation soaked in music, food, scenery and sunshine,” wrote Glenn Erickson in his excellent review for Trailers from Hell. “It’s the best movie ever about Love and Funerals.”
Johnny Depp as George Jung, ambitious pot dealer
Chicago, Winter 1972
Release Date: April 6, 2001
Director: Ted Demme
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
In the centuries since pea jackets were first established by military mariners battling the cold, these short and warm coats have emerged as a winter staple for men and women around the world. While many maintain the original template, such as the 1940s Schott in 32-ounce melton wool that was handed down to me from my grandfather, the pea coat’s ubiquity has also inspired more fashion-forward variations like the leather-trimmed, peak-lapel Billy Reid coat that Daniel Craig wore in his third 007 outing Skyfall or this Disco-era jacket briefly worn by Johnny Depp in Blow.
Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner, privileged college student turned Hollywood screenwriter
Upstate New York, June 1937 and
Malibu, California, September 1947
Film: The Way We Were
Release Date: October 19, 1973
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins & Moss Mabry
As students are settling back into school after Labor Day, let’s make the acquaintance of Hubbell Gardiner, a privileged college student in 1930s America for whom “everything came too easily to him… but at least he knew it,” apropos his short story “The All-American Smile”. Hubbell’s scribbling earned the young man literary attention not only from publishers willing to pay for his work but also from Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand), a radical classmate who puts the “active” in activist.
Dean Martin as Matt Helm, smooth secret agent and photographer
New Mexico to Phoenix, August 1965
Film: The Silencers
Release Date: February 18, 1966
Director: Phil Karlson
Costume Designer: Moss Mabry
Tailor: Sy Devore
Dean Martin infused his lounge lizard persona into a James Bond-like spy for his four-film portrayal of Matt Helm, a playboy whose love for turtlenecks, womanizing, and drinking above actual spying may make him more of an antecedent for the character of Sterling Archer than of 007 himself.
With a bossa nova score by Elmer Bernstein and a hip mid-sixties sartorialism styled by costume designer Moss Mabry and the Rat Pack’s go-to tailor Sy Devore, the Matt Helm series serves as a swingin’ time capsule to the waning heyday of hi-fis and hedonism. Though it may be dated, the series—particularly this first film, The Silencers—seems perfectly content with that and, in fact, it may be an intentional way for the 1966 zeitgeist to remain intact for modern audiences. Never taking itself too seriously, packed with decent talent, and sticking to a tight, quick-paced plot, The Silencers differentiates itself from its contemporary spy spoofs like Casino Royale in that it can still entertain 50 years later.
James Garner as Robert Hendley, American-born RAF Flight Lieutenant and “scrounger”
Sagan-Silesia (Zagan, Poland), Spring 1944
Film: The Great Escape
Release Date: July 4, 1963
Director: John Sturges
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson
Steve McQueen’s daring Captain Hilts may get all the glory of The Great Escape‘s legacy, but James Garner’s affable and resourceful “scrounger” Hendley remains one of my favorite characters from any war movie.
George C. Scott as Harry Garmes, washed-up expatriate getaway driver
Portugal, Spring 1971
Film: The Last Run
Release Date: July 7, 1971
Director: Richard Fleischer
Wardrobe Supervisor: Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The Last Run is a relatively obscure crime flick from the early ’70s that starred George C. Scott, fresh off of his Oscar-winning turn in Patton, as a retired Bogart-esque criminal living the easy expatriate life in Europe à la Hemingway when he is called back for the proverbial “one last job”. Of course, anyone who’s ever seen any movie ever knows that “one last job” is never quite as easy as it sounds, and our aging protagonist finds himself facing more than he bargained for when driving escaped killer Paul Rickard (Tony Musante) and his girlfriend Claudie Scherrer (Trish Van Devere) across Portugal and Spain into France. Continue reading
Michael Caine as Charlie Croker, cheeky and charming mob thief
Turin, Italy, Spring 1969
Film: The Italian Job
Release Date: June 2, 1969
Director: Peter Collinson
Wardrobe Supervisor: Dulcie Midwinter
Although modern American audiences may be more familiar with the 2003 Mark Wahlberg film The Italian Job, most Brits and film buffs recognize the classic 1969 version as the truer of the two. Continue reading
Kenneth More as Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of the RMS Titanic
North Atlantic Ocean, April 1912
Film: A Night to Remember
Release Date: July 3, 1958
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Costume Designer: Yvonne Caffin
101 years ago at 2:20 a.m., the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg, resulting in the death of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. The story has remained at the forefront of public consciousness for generations to follow, an enduring historic tragedy that has resulted in scores of books, films, televised works, and more, perhaps most famously the 1997 blockbuster Titanic directed by James Cameron.
Cameron stated that he was inspired by scenes from the 1958 film A Night to Remember, a comparatively little-known film when compared to his expensive epic. However, many historians refer to A Night to Remember the definitive filmed adaptation of the disaster. Continue reading