Keith Carradine as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, legendary gunfighter, gambler, and erstwhile lawman
Deadwood, Summer 1876
– “Deadwood” (Episode 1.01, dir. Walter Hill, aired 3/21/2004)
– “Deep Water” (Episode 1.02, dir. Davis Guggenheim, aired 3/28/2004)
– “Reconnoitering the Rim” (Episode 1.03, dir. Davis Guggenheim, aired 4/4/2004)
– “Here Was a Man” (Episode 1.04, dir. Alan Taylor, aired 4/11/2004)
Creator: David Milch
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Famously killed 145 years ago today holding the “dead man’s hand”, James Butler Hickok was a living Wild West legend by the time his caravan pulled into Deadwood, then a lawless mining camp in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, during the summer of 1876. Continue reading
Harry Dean Stanton as “Lucky”, grizzled desert-dwelling nonagenarian
Piru, California, Summer 2016
Release Date: March 11, 2017
Director: John Carroll Lynch
Costume Designer: Lisa Norcia
Today’s post celebrates the great Harry Dean Stanton, the craggy and unapologetically authentic character actor born 95 years ago on July 14, 1926. Stanton’s prolific filmography included few leading roles, aside from a memorable turn in Wim Wenders’ 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas, and his final movie, Lucky.
Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja collaborated on the screenplay that would result in a cinematic love letter to Harry Dean Stanton, for whom Sparks had served as personal assistant for more than 16 years. Described by Movie Talk as “a poignant meditation on mortality”, Lucky provides a fitting swan song for the actor’s career, incorporating biographical details like Stanton’s Kentucky birthplace and service in the U.S. Navy, reuniting him with previous collaborators like David Lynch and Tom Skeritt, and even scored by harmonica riffs on “Red River Valley”, a song associated with his roles in Dillinger (1973) and Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), not to exclude the overall motif of roaming the southwestern desert that echoes his starring role in Paris, Texas.
The man at the heart of it all is “Lucky”, a cantankerous but not unkind 90-year-old who loves cigarettes, crossword puzzles, and coffee with plenty of cream and sugar. A man of routine, Lucky begins each day with a Natural American Spirit cigarette, his calisthenics (“five yoga exercises every day, 21 repetitions each”), and a glass of cold milk, before he slips into one of his identical shirts, jackets, and jeans to greet another day in the small desert town of Piru, California.
Paul Newman as Hud Bannon, arrogant rancher’s son
Texas Panhandle, Summer 1962
Release Date: May 29, 1963
Director: Martin Ritt
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Let’s complete this #CarWeek installment by looking at the third of the “Big Three” Detroit automakers: General Motors, specifically its high-end Cadillac division that has offered luxurious American autos for nearly 120 years.
A few years before Paul Newman caught the racing bug while training for Winning at the end of the decade, the car most associated with his screen image was arguably the pink Cadillac convertible he drove as the eponymous cowboy in Hud.
James Stewart as John “Chip” Hardesty, earnest FBI agent
Oklahoma, June 1930
Film: The FBI Story
Release Date: October 1959
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Costume Designer: Adele Palmer
One of the greatest stars of the 20th century, James Stewart—known to friends and fans as “Jimmy”—was born on this day in 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, just about an hour west of Pittsburgh.
Among the less celebrated titles in the actor’s extensive filmography is The FBI Story, a J. Edgar Hoover-influenced epic exploring the early successes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jimmy plays our fictional all-American agent John “Chip” Hardesty, whose Forrest Gump-like decades-long career with the Bureau includes a role in nearly every major investigation from tracking down the bank-robbing “Public Enemies” of the Depression and World War II spies to the bombing of United Flight 629 in 1955.
An interesting chapter of The FBI Story sends Chip to Oklahoma in the summer of 1930 to investigate the “Reign of Terror” in Osage County, Oklahoma, represented on screen as the obsoletely named “Wade County”. These murders of dozens of Osage Native Americans throughout the ’20s were recently explored by David Grann in his fascinating book, Killers of the Flower Moon, which provided the basis for a Martin Scorsese film of the same name currently in production starring Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Continue reading
Glenn Ford as Ben Wade, bandit leader
Arizona Territory, 1880s
Film: 3:10 to Yuma
Release Date: August 7, 1957
Director: Delmer Daves
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
Looking for a movie to watch on 3/10? I recommend 3:10 to Yuma, the swift, suspenseful, and compelling Western based on an early short story by Elmore Leonard.
Modern audiences may be more familiar with the 2007 adaptation starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the outlaw and the rancher, respectively, though the original black-and-white version was produced in 1957, four years after Leonard’s story was published in Dime Western Magazine.
A decade before revisionist Westerns would become fashionable in “New Hollywood”, the original 3:10 to Yuma followed in the allegorical tradition of High Noon (1952) with complex characters and moral questions that paint a worldview where the concept of right and wrong are less black and white than the cinematography.
James Caan as Frank, professional jewel thief
Chicago, Spring 1980
Release Date: March 27, 1981
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Supervisor: Jodie Lynn Tillen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
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 Manhunter, Heat, 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.
Clark Gable as Gay Langland, aging cowboy
Nevada desert, Summer 1960
Film: The Misfits
Release Date: February 1, 1961
Director: John Huston
The Misfits was released sixty years ago today on what would have been star Clark Gable’s 60th birthday. As the actor died three months earlier in November 1960 (just days after filming wrapped), audiences strolling into the theater were already aware that it had been the screen icon’s swan song but were tragically unaware that it would be the last for Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962 before she could complete production in Something’s Gotta Give.
As it turned out, none of the film’s leading trio would survive the decade as third-billed Montgomery Clift died at the age of 45 in July 1966.
Though not warmly received at the time of its release, The Misfits‘ reputation has benefited from contemporary reconsideration over the years as critics have come to appreciate this somewhat offbeat take on a group of lovable losers and no-account boozers, to pinch a phrase from Billy Joe Shaver. Continue reading
Cary Grant as Geoff Carter, regional airline manager and pilot
South America, Spring 1939
Film: Only Angels Have Wings
Release Date: May 15, 1939
Director: Howard Hawks
Costume Designer: Robert Kalloch
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Calling Barranca, calling Barranca…
Set in the fictional “port of call for the South American banana boats”, Only Angels Have Wings begins with the arrival of Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur), a Brooklyn musician who soon catches the eye of two American aviators, Joe (Noah Beery Jr.) and Les (Allyn Joslyn). While the daredevil duo gambles for the opportunity to take Bonnie to dinner, Cary Grant makes his swaggering introduction as Geoff Carter, a fellow pilot and manager of a regional mail carrier flying regular routes over the treacherous Andes Mountains.
Burt Reynolds as Bo “the Bandit” Darville, daredevil driver
Texarkana to Atlanta, Summer 1976
Film: Smokey and the Bandit
Release Date: May 27, 1977
Director: Hal Needham
♫ You’ve heard about the legend of Jesse James and John Henry just to mention some names,
Well, there’s a truck-drivin’ legend in the South today, a man called Bandit from Atlanta, GA… ♫
After seven years of biannual Car Week features, how did it take me this long get around to what might be the most famous “car movie” of all? On a day commemorating the anniversary of American independence, it feels appropriate to celebrate Burt Reynolds bedecked in red, white, and blue (or at least red and blue) as he speeds across half the country in a muscle car, all in the name of beer… or as the Bandit himself declares:
For the money, for the glory, and for the fun… but mostly for the money.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, washed-up TV actor
Los Angeles, February 1969
Film: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Release Date: July 26, 2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Arianne Phillips
Years after his glory days on the Western serial Bounty Law, proto-cowboy actor Rick Dalton fears that he’s “a has-been” as he’s relegated to dwindling, often villainous roles in Westerns and crime shows. Each one presents the opportunity to either impress audiences or remind them that he isn’t the star that he once was, so it’s with considerable apprehension—and a killer hangover—that he’s driven to the set of Lancer to film his walk-on role as the sinister Caleb DeCoteau opposite James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant).
“You’re Rick fuckin’ Dalton… and don’t you forget it,” encourages his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), calling out from the cockpit of Rick’s Cadillac as the actor makes his wheezing walk onto the set. Rick is met by the gregarious Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond), the Chicago-born actor and director who had indeed directed the Lancer pilot, “The High Riders”. In yet another touch of QT’s revisionist history, this episode aired in September 1968, six months before this movie depicts it being filmed on Sunday, February 9, 1969. Continue reading