John Forsythe as Sam Marlowe, touchy artist who scores the town with his belting baritone
Vermont, Fall 1954
Film: The Trouble with Harry
Release Date: September 30, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
As we settle into what looks like a comfortable autumn—at least for fallphiles like me—I want to highlight what must be one of the earliest movies to truly capture the season’s striking colors.
Though regarded as the “Master of Suspense”, Alfred Hitchcock had long incorporated humor into his movies. The Trouble with Harry differentiates itself among Hitch’s more earnest thrillers and mysteries by emphasizing the comedy, resulting in what may be among of the director’s least suspenseful outfit but still entertaining and certainly aesthetically satisfying. Continue reading
Guy Pearce as Ed Exley, by-the-book LAPD detective-lieutenant
Los Angeles, Spring 1953
Film: L.A. Confidential
Release Date: September 19, 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson
Costume Designer: Ruth Myers
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 25th anniversary since the official release of L.A. Confidential, which premiered at Cannes in May 1997 but would finally hit theaters four months later on September 19, introducing audiences to James Ellroy’s murky world of corrupt cops, crooks, celebrities, and courtesans in ’50s Los Angeles.
Among its ensemble cast, L.A. Confidential centers around three LAPD officers: the tough but unsophisticated “Bud” White (Russell Crowe), the smooth yet morally compromised Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and the ambitious and stubbornly upright Ed Exley (Guy Pearce). Not to spoil too much of the plot for those who have missed this gem in the last quarter-century, but one of my favorite Letterboxd reviews—submitted by user David Sims—compares the movie to The Wizard of Oz as “Bud gets a brain, Jack gets a heart, Ed gets the courage.” Continue reading
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!
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.
Robert Mitchum as Jeff Markham, aka Jeff Bailey, laconic gas station owner and former private detective
Bridgeport, California, to San Francisco via Lake Tahoe, Fall 1946
Film: Out of the Past
Release Date: November 25, 1947
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Costume Credit: Edward Stevenson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Regarded among the best of classic film noir, Out of the Past showcases the genre’s quintessential elements: shadowy cinematography (thanks to Nicholas Musuraca), a story of double-cross and intrigue told in flashback, a charismatic antagonist, an alluring and ultimately deadly femme fatale, and—of course—a tough-talking, chain-smoking private eye light on words and sentiment:
Baby, I don’t care.
Tom Selleck as Nick Lassiter, debonair jewel thief
London, June 1939
Release Date: February 17, 1984
Director: Roger Young
Costume Designer: Barbara Lane
While we’re still in the midst of tweed-friendly weather, I’d like to respond to a few requests I’ve had to focus on Tom Selleck’s gentlemanly style in Lassiter as an American thief in England, a far cry from the Aloha shirts he was famously wearing on Magnum, P.I. at the same time.
Released today in 1984, Lassiter starred Selleck as the titular jewel thief—Nick Lassiter—crafted in the daring and debonair tradition of cinematic cat burglars like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief and David Niven’s “Phantom” in The Pink Panther. Much like his previous film, High Road to China, this movie compensated for the fact that Selleck had to pass on the role of Indiana Jones by giving him the role of a charismatic, resourceful, and risk-averse rogue facing danger from under the brim of a fedora in the years leading up to World War II.
Joe Spinell as Willi Cicci, slick Corleone mob family “button man”
New York City, August 1955
Film: The Godfather
Release Date: March 15, 1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
When the boss says push the button on a guy, I push the button, see, Senator?
Today’s #MafiaMonday post focuses on one of the more celebrated minor characters of The Godfather, Corleone family enforcer Willi Cicci, who stands out with his slick sense of style and laidback demeanor. Imagine if Dean Martin had grown a mustache and joined the mob… that’s Willi Cicci for ya.
Cicci best gets the opportunity to explain his short yet memorable role in The Godfather when testifying in front of a Senate committee in the film’s sequel. When we first meet him in The Godfather, Cicci is getting a shave in a hotel barbershop with an unflappable, can’t-be-bothered attitude that may trick first-time viewers into thinking he is one of the many targets that Michael Corleone has marked for death on this transformative day for the New York Mafia.
Colin Farrell as Ray Velcoro, troubled and crooked Vinci PD detective
Ventura County, California, fall 2014 to spring 2015
Series: True Detective
Air Dates: June 21, 2015 – August 9, 2015
Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Costume Designer: Alix Friedberg
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The second season of HBO’s True Detective is, in my opinion, better judged when on its own than against its masterful and delightfully idiosyncratic first season. The second season brought together Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn in an acid neo-noir more in the pulp crime tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler’s worlds than that of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart.
Even the show’s fictional and corrupt berg of Vinci, California, shares some undeniable similarities with the Bay City of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, though it was indeed based on the rough industrial city of Vernon, where it was partially filmed.
Our self-destructive, repressed, and expendable cop protagonists, portrayed by the Farrell-McAdams-Kitsch triad, practice maverick techniques that border on impropriety but their ideals and values align them with the incorruptible Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade… naturally leading to the straight-out-of-pulp “last stand” holed up in a secluded motel room with seemingly endless bottles of whiskey. Continue reading
Gene Hackman as “Buck” Barrow, bank robber, ex-convict, and family man
Texas, May 1933
Film: Bonnie & Clyde
Release Date: August 13, 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
Happy birthday to Gene Hackman, who turns 86 years old today!
Bonnie and Clyde marked the first major role for Hackman, who had spent much of the ’60s as a struggling actor who shared rooms with fellow struggling actors Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall. 1967 turned out to be a banner year for the friends and roommates, earning Hackman and Hoffman their first Academy Award nominations.
Hackman brings an easygoing charm to the role of the more famous Clyde’s older brother Buck, and the film gets many of the “on paper” details right about Buck. As Clyde’s older brother, he had more experience tangling with the law and spent the first few months of Clyde’s criminal career in the Texas state prison. He had escaped once, but – as Hackman tells Warren Beatty’s Clyde – it was his new wife Blanche that talked him into returning to prison to serve out the rest of his sentence, and he would be pardoned 15 months later. Buck and Blanche journeyed to visit Bonnie and Clyde, ostensibly for a reunion and possibly for Buck to try and talk Clyde into following his good example. Of course, the murder of two Joplin policemen during this reunion meant Buck would be wanted again as well, and the brothers led the motley “Barrow Gang” in a string of small-town stickups and kidnappings over the next three months. Continue reading
Happy 86th birthday to Roger Moore, who still holds the record for longest tenure as James Bond.
Roger Moore as James Bond, British “secret” agent who carries a camera with his “secret” code number on it
“California”, Fall 1979
Release Date: June 26, 1979
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Costume Design: Jacques Fonteray
By the time Moonraker rolled around, the realism of earlier Bond films like From Russia With Love was gone, replaced by near-fantasy adventures of a man who practically introduces himself as a secret agent, is completely irresistible to every woman to every woman in the world, and even goes into outer space. Outer fucking space. Continue reading