Ryan O’Neal as Moses “Moze” Pray, charismatic con artist
Kansas to Missouri, Spring 1936
Film: Paper Moon
Release Date: May 9, 1973
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Costume Designer: Polly Platt (uncredited)
Today is the 50th anniversary of Paper Moon, Peter Bogdanovich’s artfully nostalgic road comedy that was released May 9, 1973, exactly a month after its Hollywood premiere. Filmed in black-and-white and set during the Great Depression, Paper Moon stars Ryan O’Neal and his real-life daughter Tatum O’Neal in her big-screen debut who turned nine during the film’s production. When 10-year-old Tatum won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon, she set a record as the youngest-ever performer to win a competitive Oscar. Continue reading
Robert Redford as Paul Bratter, newlywed lawyer
New York City, February 1967
Film: Barefoot in the Park
Release Date: May 25, 1967
Director: Gene Saks
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
With Valentine’s Day a few days behind us, I want to focus on a movie that takes a lighthearted look at that awkward period in a new marriage between the “honeymoon phase” and the hard truths of reality setting in. Adapted from Neil Simon’s play of the same name, Barefoot in the Park was an early star-making role for Robert Redford, reprising the role of Paul Bratter that he had played in more than 1,500 performances over nearly four years on Broadway. Continue reading
Jake Lacy as Richard Semco, affable painter and Navy veteran
New York City, December 1952
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Director: Todd Haynes
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
It takes a lot for new movies to break through the cinematic ice to enter people’s Christmas viewing rotations. For decades, there were the classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas, then a boom through the late ’80s and ’90s with newer entries like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, and—yes—Die Hard. After Elf and Love Actually were released in 2003, it seemed like the proliferation of Hallmark holiday movies so saturated the market that it would be nearly impossible for a modern movie to make its yuletide impression… let alone an adaptation of a book published more than a half-century earlier about a fictional lesbian romance. Enter Carol.
Seventy years ago, suspense writer Patricia Highsmith followed up her debut novel—the smash-hit Strangers on a Train that had already been adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock—with The Price of Salt, chronicling the relationship between aspiring set designer Therese Belivet and housewife Carol Aird, whom Therese meets working at a Manhattan toy store in the days leading up to Christmas, inspired by a brief encounter that Highsmith experienced while working in Bloomingdale’s toy department during the 1948 holiday season. Due to the impact that the novel’s sapphic content may have had on her career, Highsmith was credited under the alias “Claire Morgan” when The Price of Salt was first published in 1952.
Surprisingly, there was an attempt to adapt The Price of Salt for the screen not long after it was published, but the tight restrictions of the Production Code immediately enervated the script, which was renamed Winter Journey and centered around Therese’s romance with a man named… Carl. Luckily, wiser minds evidently prevailed and allowed for the first major screen adaptation to be Todd Haynes’ thoughtful Carol in 2015 starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as Carol and Therese, respectively.
We meet Therese while she’s working at the fictional Frankenberg’s department store in Manhattan, casually dating her cordial co-worker Richard Semco (Jake Lacy). A Navy veteran with artistic aspirations, Richard has grand plans for his future with Therese, even if she doesn’t outwardly share his enthusiasm. Unfortunately for Richard, his dreams of marriage, shared holidays, and European travels with “Terry” are increasingly dashed after she meets the elegant and enigmatic Carol while working at the toy counter.
After a pair of misplaced gloves and some creamed spinach over poached eggs, Therese makes a plan to visit Carol at her home in the country, scheduling it in her calendar for Sunday, December 21, 1952, seventy years ago today, and—in the years since the movie’s release—December 21 has become an unofficial celebration for fans celebrating “Carol Day”. Continue reading
Jack Nicholson as Frank Chambers, dangerous drifter
Southern California, Spring 1934
Film: The Postman Always Rings Twice
Release Date: March 20, 1981
Director: Bob Rafelson
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After posting about John Cassavetes in the 1964 remake of The Killers last week, I wanted to focus on another color remake of classic film noir: the 1981 adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, reuniting Nicholson with director Bob Rafelson following their earlier collaborations in Head (1968), Five Easy Pieces (1970), and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). Continue reading
Al Pacino as Frank Slade, blind and bitter retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel
New York City to New Hampshire, Fall 1992
Film: Scent of a Woman
Release Date: December 23, 1992
Director: Martin Brest
Costume Designer: Aude Bronson-Howard
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy birthday, Al Pacino! As the legendary actor’s 81st birthday coincides with the Academy Awards tonight, let’s take a look at Scent of a Woman, Martin Brest’s 1992 drama that resulted in Pacino’s sole Oscar to date.
Pacino played retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a blind and irascible alcoholic who secretly plans on spending the Thanksgiving holiday with a lavish weekend in New York City before ending his life. Somewhat reluctantly along for the ride is Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell), a mild-mannered prep student hired to care for Frank, though the cantankerous colonel seems more than willing to watch out for himself.
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!
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.
Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green, ambitious blues cornetist
Chicago, Summer 1927
Film: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Release Date: November 25, 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Costume Designer: Ann Roth
The late Chadwick Boseman was being named as an Oscar contender for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play of the same name, even before it came out. We’re still two months away from the Academy Award nominations being announced, but Boseman has already received posthumous Best Actor wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and Music City Film Critics’ Association for what turned out to be his final screen role.
The praise is well-deserved as the actor delivered a powerhouse performance as the hotheaded horn-blower Levee Green, an ambitious (and fictional) member of a four-piece band backing Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), the Mother of the Blues herself. The North Side neighborhood in my hometown of Pittsburgh was transformed to resemble roaring ’20s Chicago when production came to the Steel City two summers ago; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one of the ten plays in the Hill District-born Wilson’s “Century Cycle” not actually set in Pittsburgh.
Chadwick Boseman had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, never speaking publicly about his illness all the while delivering some of his most iconic performances in Marshall, Black Panther, and the two Avengers films to follow. Indeed, Boseman’s vigorous performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom belies his health at the time, and his fellow cast members remained unaware of his ongoing treatment for the cancer that would progress to stage IV before it ended his life at the age of 42 on August 28, 2020. Continue reading
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
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!”
Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, “a private investigator of great renown”
Massachusetts, November 2018
Film: Knives Out
Release Date: November 27, 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Costume Designer: Jenny Eagan
Happy birthday to Daniel Craig, born 52 years ago today on March 2, 1968! While Craig is likely best known as the most recent actor to portray James Bond, one of his most celebrated recent roles has been his Golden Globe-nominated performance in Knives Out as Benoit Blanc, an idiosyncratic detective who describes himself as a “respectful, quiet, and passive observer of the truth.”
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