Tagged: Chicago

Risky Business: Tom Cruise in Donegal Tweed

Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business (1983).

Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business (1983). Photo by Steve Schapiro.

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Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson, ambitious high school student-turned-pimp

Chicago, Fall 1983

Film: Risky Business
Release Date: August 5, 1983
Director: Paul Brickman
Costume Designer: Robert De Mora

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

As we enter “Back to School” season, I want to look at one of the most famous cinematic intersections of style and scholastics, a dark coming-of-age comedy starring a young Tom Cruise as a high school student whose desire to compete in the modern materialistic marketplace leads to his engaging in some perilous pursuits… or Risky Business, if you will.

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Red Heat: Arnie’s Teal “Gumby” Suit

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi in Red Heat (1988)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi in Red Heat (1988)

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Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ivan Danko, disciplined Moscow police captain

Chicago, Summer 1987

Film: Red Heat
Release Date: June 17, 1988
Director: Walter Hill
Costume Designer: Dan Moore
Tailor: Tommy Velasco

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Thanks to a recommendation from Pete Brooker of the excellent From Tailors with Love podcast, I beat the summer heat by revisiting Red Heat, the buddy cop actioner that paired Arnold Schwarzenegger as a tough Russian police captain with Jim Belushi as the stereotypical cigarettes-and-coffee American detective, working together to capture the dangerous Georgian gangster Viktor “Rosta” Rostavili (Ed O’Ross).

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James Caan in Thief: Frank’s ’80s Gray Leather Blousons

James Caan as Frank in Thief (1981)

James Caan as Frank in Thief (1981)

Vitals

James Caan as Frank, professional jewel thief

Chicago, Spring 1980

Film: Thief
Release Date: March 27, 1981
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Supervisor: Jodie Lynn Tillen

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Considered by many to be one of the director’s best movies, Michal Mann’s debut Thief was released in theaters 40 years ago today. Thief established many of what would become Mann trademarks, from its “principled” yet ruthless professional character who expertly handles a .45 to the setting city elevated to a secondary character itself, particularly its less glamorous underbelly as photographed at night. (Originally titled Violent Streets, even the one-word title would become a Mann signature as evidenced by his future features AliBlackhat, Collateral, Heat, and Manhunter.)

Mann adapted the 1975 novel The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar by real-life thief John Seybold (writing as “Frank Hohimer”) for his screen debut, retaining the first name of Seybold’s nom de plume for the taciturn thief that would be memorably played by James Caan, who celebrated his 81st birthday yesterday.

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James Caan in Thief: Frank’s Black Leather Jacket

James Caan as Frank in Thief (1981)

James Caan as Frank in Thief (1981)

Vitals

James Caan as Frank, professional jewel thief

Chicago, Spring 1980

Film: Thief
Release Date: March 27, 1981
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Supervisor: Jodie Lynn Tillen

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Michael Mann—born today in 1943—directed (and wrote) his feature-length debut, Thief, a moody neo-noir thriller that would portend his particular brand of stylized crime dramas to follow like ManhunterHeat, and Collateral, as well as his work on the landmark series Miami Vice. The source material was the 1975 novel The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar by “Frank Hohimer”, a real-life criminal named John Seybold who served as an on-set technical advisor despite the pending FBI warrants against him.

As the eponymous thief, James Caan’s Frank establishes an early template for the professional criminals that populate Mann’s work, subdued in appearance and demeanor but ruthless against any target getting in the way of his payday…and his freedom.

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Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020). Photo by David Lee/Netflix.

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Photo by David Lee/Netflix.

Vitals

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

Background

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 MarshallBlack 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

Blow: George’s Navy Pea Coat

Johnny Depp as George Jung in Blow (2001)

Johnny Depp as George Jung in Blow (2001)

Vitals

Johnny Depp as George Jung, ambitious pot dealer

Chicago, Winter 1972

Film: Blow
Release Date: April 6, 2001
Director: Ted Demme
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges

Background

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.

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Cagney’s Chalkstripe Suit in The Public Enemy

James Cagney as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

James Cagney as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

Vitals

James Cagney as Tom Powers, dangerous gangster and bootlegger

Chicago, Spring 1922

Film: The Public Enemy
Release Date: April 23, 1931
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Wardrobe Credit: Earl Luick

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

One hundred years ago at midnight tonight, on January 17, 1920, the Volstead Act went into effect, beginning a 13-year prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States… and kicking off what Herbert Asbury referred to in his informal history of the Chicago underworld as “the saturnalia of crime and corruption which has been called ‘a noble experiment’,” due to the resulting surge in organized crime that effectively gave rise to the modern gangster.

As moving pictures evolved as a popular medium in the waning years of Prohibition, so too did the gangster movie. Warner Brothers took the lead, exposing audiences to snarling violent hoodlums based on the real-life criminals who bloodied the streets of New York and Chicago. It was in the 1931 hit The Public Enemy that James Cagney made his star-making turn as the psychopathic gangster Tom Powers.

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The Public Enemy: Cagney’s New Clothes and Car

James Cagney leans on the door of a LaSalle as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

James Cagney leans on the door of a LaSalle as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931)

Vitals

James Cagney as Tom Powers, dangerous gangster and bootlegger

Chicago, Spring 1920

Film: The Public Enemy
Release Date: April 23, 1931
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Wardrobe Credit: Earl Luick

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Today is the 86th anniversary of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, the 13-year ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Even before Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, the wave of organized crime it inspired across the country was a popular subject for movies of the era, with Warner Brothers taking the lead with hits like Little CaesarThe Public Enemy, and Scarface that made stars out of intense actors like Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney.

The latter was particularly renowned for his performance in The Public Enemy, a “ripped-from-the-headlines” tour de force of violence based on an unpublished novel written by two former newspapermen who had witnessed firsthand the impact of Al Capone’s brutal stronghold on Chicago during the beer wars of the roaring ’20s.

As #CarWeek continues, let’s flash back to the Prohibition era as Cagney’s Tom Powers hopes to make an impression with his new tailored suits and shiny new touring convertible. Continue reading

Scarface (1932) – Tony’s Brown Striped Suit

Paul Muni, flanked by Vince Barnett and Karen Morley, in Scarface (1932)

Paul Muni, flanked by Vince Barnett and Karen Morley, in Scarface (1932)

Vitals

Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, ruthless Italian-born bootlegger and mob enforcer

Chicago, Summer 1927

Film: Scarface
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks

Background

Today’s #MafiaMonday post goes back to the Prohibition era, the age that gave rise to the modern American gangster… and the American gangster movie.

After Warner Brothers scored back-to-back hits with Little Caesar (1931) and The Public Enemy (1931), effectively establishing the subgenre of the gangster film, Howard Hughes entered the fray with Scarface, an explosive, influential, and fast-paced criminal epic adapted from Armitage Trail’s novel that had been based on the life of Al Capone. Hughes had been warned against taking on Warner’s dominance in the genre, so he packed his production with talent including screenwriter Ben Hecht, director Howard Hawks, and lead actor Paul Muni, who was born 124 years ago yesterday on September 22, 1895.

In the wake of movies like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, the Hays Office had been increasing its efforts to censor what it deemed to be glamorization of criminal lifestyles in cinema, but its notoriously restrictive production code had yet to be put into place, giving Scarface full reign to arm its vaguely incestuous central character with a Thompson submachine gun, once dubbed “the gun that made the twenties roar,” as he rose the ranks of the criminal underworld in a series of violent vignettes paralleling the life and crimes of the infamous Capone.

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The Natural – Roy Hobbs’ Cardigan

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural (1984)

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural (1984)

Vitals

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, eager baseball prodigy

Chicago, Spring 1923

Film: The Natural
Release Date: May 11, 1984
Director: Barry Levinson
Costume Design: Gloria Gresham & Bernie Pollack

Background

Tomorrow is MLB Opening Day, meaning baseball season is back and in full swing (forgive the pun), so let’s take a look at a look from one of the most classic of baseball movies, The Natural.

“I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for,” are the words that must echo through Roy Hobbs’ brain every day for the 16 years after he was shot by a self-destructive—or just generally destructive—baseball groupie, Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey).

When Bernard Malamud was working on his debut novel, The Natural, he took inspiration from the story of Eddie Waitkus, the former first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies who was shot and nearly killed by an obsessive female stalker who, as she later told an assistant state attorney, wanted “to do something exciting in my life.”

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