Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, architect and soon-to-be vigilante
Tucson, Arizona, and New York City, Winter 1974
Film: Death Wish
Release Date: July 24, 1974
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After a wave of films celebrating outlaws during the counterculture era of the late ’60s (i.e. Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), an opposing wave crashed through American cinema at the start of the following decade, centered around a philosophy of vigilantism. The trend arguably kicked into high gear with Clint Eastwood’s renegade detective in Dirty Harry who despised the proverbial red tape preventing him from bringing deadly criminals to justice with his famed .44 Magnum. Within five years, Martin Scorsese had already evolved the focus from an endorsement of vigilantism into a cautionary tale with the release of Taxi Driver. Before the troubled Travis Bickle took it upon himself to “wash all this scum off the streets” of New York City, there was Paul Kersey.
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, obsessive-compulsive Belgian detective
Orient Express, Winter 1934
Film: Murder on the Orient Express
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Costume Designer: Alexandra Byrne
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Readers who have seen my posts focused on adaptations of And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, and Evil Under the Sun are likely aware that I’ve been a fan of Agatha Christie’s mystery fiction since I was 10 years old. Thus, it’s a continued thrill to find her works thriving as studios on both sides of the pond continue to churn out lavish adaptations of her work a full century after she introduced the world to Hercule Poirot with the publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920. In particular, David Suchet has been performing yeoman’s work as the quintessential Poirot across 70 episodes of an ITV-produced drama series that successfully—and relatively faithfully—adapted every novel and story that prominently featured Christie’s master detective.
In the spirit of contemporary BBC adaptations like The ABC Murders, And Then There Were None, Ordeal by Innocence, and The Pale Horse, Kenneth Branagh helmed what’s now the fourth adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, arguably Christie’s best-known novel famous for its then-groundbreaking solution. Continue reading
John Dall as Bart Tare, armed robber on the run
San Lorenzo Valley, California, Fall 1949, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Spring 1950
Film: Gun Crazy
(also released as Deadly is the Female)
Release Date: January 20, 1950
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Costume Designer: Norma Koch (credited with Peggy Cummins’ costumes only)
Fifteen years after armed robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were ambushed and killed on a rural Louisiana road, one of the first attempts to adapt their story for the silver screen arrived in theaters. Sure, there had been Fritz Lang’s sympathetic melodrama You Only Live Once (1937) and the FBI-endorsed propaganda Persons in Hiding (1939), but Gun Crazy—released exactly 70 years ago today—most effectively latched onto the intrigue of a gun-toting couple on the run, and, “more than any other, emphasizes the powerful attraction of weaponry in the growing legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” according to John Treherne, author of The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde.
Gun Crazy‘s telling original title of Deadly is the Female reflects the narrative leaning into the noir-esque premise of a dominating femme fatale, an expert in firearms who seduces her lovestruck fella into a life of crime… an inverse of the generally accepted reality of the relationship between violent manipulator Clyde Barrow and the vulnerable and troubled Bonnie Parker.
A year after his chilling turn as the calculating, Loeb-like murderer in Hitchcock’s Rope, John Dall stars as the malleable Bart Tare, who finds himself fatefully—and fatally—drawn to the voluptuous carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), “the darling of London, England,” though it’s a toss-up whether it’s her tight pants, knowing wink, or dueling pistols that sink the hook into the already doomed Bart. Continue reading
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!
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.
Humphrey Bogart as Harry Morgan, cynical fishing boat captain
Fort-de-France, Martinique, Summer 1940
Film: To Have and Have Not
Release Date: October 11, 1944
Director: Howard Hawks
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 75th anniversary of the release of To Have and Have Not, the romantic adventure directed by Howard Hawks and adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s novel that staged the first meeting of iconic classic Hollywood couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, crooked city politician and influential mob bootlegger
Atlantic City, New Year’s Eve 1922
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episode: “Resolution” (Episode 3.01)
Air Date: September 16, 2012
Director: Tim Van Patten
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve, an evening that sees many flocking to friends’ houses, bar parties, or an overcrowded section of New York without realizing that even the country’s most populous city can’t handle the lavatory needs of one million intoxicated visitors.
But I digress. For the lovable gang of murderous bootleggers on Boardwalk Empire, New Year’s Eve is an opportunity to party at the home of the town’s gregarious and graft-loving treasurer, Nucky Thompson. To ring in 1923, Nucky has a full evening planned with a literal treasure chest of gifts as well as live entertainment from Eddie Cantor and Billie Kent,
his latest mistress an up-and-coming showgirl.
Guests include old favorites like Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Arnold Rothstein, but Nucky also welcomes a relative newcomer, the volatile Italian gangster Gyp Rosetti who doesn’t set a good example for America’s youth about treating a host with kindness.
What’d He Wear?
And then there’s you. Fucking breadstick in a bow tie. You pasty-faced, cocksucking-
Poor Nucky goes to all this work to look sharp for his New Year’s bash, and then he goes and gets insulted for his bow tie and complexion. Although I can’t guarantee that your party’s Gyp Rosetti won’t level a few unnecessary insults in your direction, I can endorse Nucky Thompson’s dinner suit as a fine way for a gentleman to stand out at any upcoming New Year celebrations. Continue reading