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
Clint Eastwood as Blondie, aka “the Man with No Name”, taciturn bounty hunter
New Mexico Territory, Spring 1862
Film: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(Italian title: Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo)
Release Date: December 23, 1966
Director: Sergio Leone
Costume Designer: Carlo Simi
Today marks the 90th birthday of screen legend Clint Eastwood, born May 31, 1930, in San Francisco. (Between John Wayne on May 26, James Stewart on May 20, and Gary Cooper on May 7, there must be something about being in born in May that positions an actor for stardom in the Western genre!)
After Eastwood’s initial success on the TV series Rawhide, he traveled to Italy to star in a trio of Westerns directed by Sergio Leone, firmly establishing the significance of the “spaghetti Western”. In A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Eastwood ostensibly played a variation of the same mysterious, laconic gunfighter alternately known as Joe, Manco, or Blondie, respectively, but immortalized in cinema as “the Man with No Name.”
John Wayne as Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, tough Deputy U.S. Marshal
Fort Smith, Arkansas, into Indian Territory, Fall 1880
Film: True Grit
Release Date: June 12, 1969
Director: Henry Hathaway
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Wardrobe: Luster Bayless (uncredited)
To commemorate John Wayne’s birthday 113 years ago today on May 26, 1907, let’s take a look at one of Duke’s most enduring roles and the one that won him the Academy Award after more than forty years making over 200 movies.
Swiftly adapted from Charles Portis’ source novel of the same name, True Grit follows 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she seeks the help of a drunken U.S. Marshal, chosen by virtue of his reputation as the meanest marshal, to avenge the murder of her father. Continue reading
Martin Sheen as Kit Carruthers, garbage collector-turned-spree killer
South Dakota through the Montana Badlands, Spring 1959
Release Date: October 15, 1973
Director: Terrence Malick
Costume Designer: Rosanna Norton (uncredited)
Wardrobe Credit: Dona Baldwin
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Terrence Malick made his impressive cinematic debut writing, producing, and directing Badlands, the romanticized re-interpretation of the infamously violent crime spree of Charles Starkweather and his teenage girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, that left ten dead across the Great Plains during eight brutal and bloody days in January 1958. Continue reading