Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, smooth private detective and “a chap worth knowing”
San Francisco, Spring 1941
Film: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (credited for gowns)
Now considered a seminal film noir, The Maltese Falcon celebrated its 80th anniversary last month. Dashiell Hammett’s excellent 1930 detective novel had already been adapted twice for the screen—once as a “lewd” pre-Code thriller and recycled as a zanier mid-’30s vehicle for Bette Davis—before Warner Bros. finally got it right.
The Maltese Falcon was the directorial debut for John Huston, who had faithfully adapted Hammett’s source material for his sharp script and demonstrated his sense of methodical efficiency, resulting in a masterpiece that benefited from the formula of director of photography Arthur Edelson’s low-key cinematography and a perfect cast led by Humphrey Bogart as the wisecracking gumshoe who “don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” Continue reading
Jack Nicholson as Frank Chambers, dangerous drifter
Southern California, Spring 1934
Film: The Postman Always Rings Twice
Release Date: March 20, 1981
Director: Bob Rafelson
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After posting about John Cassavetes in the 1964 remake of The Killers last week, I wanted to focus on another color remake of classic film noir: the 1981 adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, reuniting Nicholson with director Bob Rafelson following their earlier collaborations in Head (1968), Five Easy Pieces (1970), and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). Continue reading
Burt Lancaster as Ole “Swede” Anderson, ex-boxer
Philadelphia, Spring 1938
Film: The Killers
Release Date: August 30, 1946
Director: Robert Siodmak
Let’s kick off #NoirVember with a memorable scene featuring birthday boy Burt Lancaster. Born November 2, 1913 in Manhattan, Lancaster remains an icon of American film noir, having made his debut in The Killers, which also marked most of the screen-going world’s introduction to the alluring Ava Gardner.
The Killers‘ straight-outta-Hemingway opening introduces us in finem res to Lancaster as “The Swede”, an ex-boxer with a sketchy past who has been tracked down by the two eponymous killers to a small town in New Jersey. Despite having spent the last six years in hiding, the Swede makes no attempt to flee his assassins, who efficiently complete their gruesome task and leave insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) to reconstruct the decade of mistakes that led from Anderson’s career as a boxer to that of a marked man by the mob.
As with all great film noir, the Swede’s undoing begins with a dame… Continue reading
Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy, square-jawed detective
“Homeville”, December 1938
Film: Dick Tracy
Release Date: June 15, 1990
Director: Warren Beatty
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
Ninety years ago today on Sunday, October 4, 1931, Chester Gould’s comic strip Dick Tracy premiered in the Detroit Mirror, introducing the world—or at least Detroit—to the determined detective in his trademark yellow coat.
Despite the strip’s longevity and popularity, attempts to adapt it for the screen never came into fruition for nearly six decades until the blockbusting success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 proved to studios there a profitable market for comic book adaptations. Bringing Dick Tracy to Hollywood became a passion project for Warren Beatty, who starred as the title character as well as producing, directing, and attracting a cavalcade of stars to portray the colorful—and colorfully dressed—figures of the mysterious Chicago-like city where Tracy faced off against gangsters and gun molls.
Robert De Niro as David “Noodles” Aaronson, mob bootlegger and ex-convict
Detroit, Fall 1932
Film: Once Upon a Time in America
Release Date: May 23, 1984
Director: Sergio Leone
Costume Designer: Gabriella Pescucci
After premiering at Cannes in May and undergoing a truncated release stateside that summer, Sergio Leone’s controversial mob saga Once Upon a Time in America was finally released in the Italian-born director’s home country on this day in 1984. Leone’s final film, and the first he had directed in 13 years, Once Upon a Time in America marked the conclusion to his unofficial “Once Upon a Time…” trilogy.
Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo Tubbs, vengeful undercover detective
Miami, Spring 1984
Series: Miami Vice
Episode: “Brother’s Keeper” (Episode 1.01)
Air Date: September 16, 1984
Director: Thomas Carter
Creator: Anthony Yerkovich
Costume Designer: Jodie Lynn Tillen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This week in 1984, Miami Vice debuted on NBC, introducing us to the cooler-than-ice cops Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Per the detectives’ duties for the Metro-Dade Police Department’s vice division, the episodes frequently included thrilling gunfights and car chases against drug-peddling foes amidst a stylish backdrop of sleek cars, sleeker clothes, pop music, and a parade of guest stars ranging from Liam Neeson, Willie Nelson, and a young Julia Roberts to… G. Gordon Liddy.
The title of the Emmy-winning pilot episode, “Brother’s Keeper”, refers most specifically to Tubbs, a New York transplant who arrived in Miami seeking vengeance on the wily drug kingpin Calderone, who killed his brother Rafael. Despite their head-butting personalities, Tubbs joins forces with Crockett, hoping to soften the tension between them by bringing coffee and donuts onto his boat as well as the results of his own surveillance on Calderone, but Crockett informs him that “down here, you’re just another amateur.” Continue reading
Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, enigmatic millionaire and defender of Gotham
Gotham City, Fall 1989
Release Date: June 23, 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Costume Designer: Bob Ringwood
Clothes By: Giorgio Armani
Happy 70th birthday, Michael Keaton! Born September 5, 1951 just outside of Pittsburgh, Keaton rose to fame throughout the ’80s in comedies like Night Shift, Mr. Mom, and Beetlejuice before he was tapped for the titular role in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Bob Kane’s famous comics. The casting decision initially soured fans, who mailed thousands of letters to Warner Bros. in protest, but his unassuming performance quickly won over audiences and Batman became one of the top-grossing movies of 1989.
Robert Redford as John Gage, smooth billionaire and proposer of indecency
Off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, Summer 1993
Film: Indecent Proposal
Release Date: April 7, 1993
Director: Adrian Lyne
Costume Design: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, Bernie Pollack, & Bobbie Read
Happy birthday, Robert Redford! To celebrate the screen legend and style icon turning 85 today, I asked my Instagram followers a few weeks ago which of Redford’s yet-uncovered looks I should cover in today’s post: his black tuxedo for his on-screen introduction in 1974’s The Great Gatsby or the cream Cerruti suit he wears for consummation of the eponymous Indecent Proposal. With more than 3,000 votes cast, it was a close race, but Indecent Proposal won by just over 70 votes.
For those who haven’t seen Indecent Proposal, Redford stars as super-billionaire John Gage who—rather than launching himself into space—offers to provide a struggling young couple, David and Diana, with one million dollars… in exchange for one night with Diana. Continue reading
Walter Matthau as Henry Graham, self-serving profligate
New York City, Summer 1969
Film: A New Leaf
Release Date: March 11, 1971
Director: Elaine May
Costume Designer: Anthea Sylbert
Tailor: Roland Meledandri
I’d long been intrigued by Elaine May’s directorial debut A New Leaf, released 50 years ago this spring, but it was an Instagram story posted by my friend Jonathan (@berkeley_breathes) showcasing Walter Matthau’s dapper wardrobe that finally prompted me to watch this offbeat classic.
Matthau brings his characteristically cantankerous charisma to to role of Henry Graham, a wasteful heir gradually blowing his family fortune on capricious spending from his immaculately tailored wardrobe to weekly maintenance for his Ferrari. The wry family lawyer Beckett (William Redfield) is tasked with managing the unmanageable Graham, who ducks Beckett’s calls of cautions as long as he can… until his last check bounces.
Mike Myers as Austin Powers, swingin’ secret agent
Las Vegas, Summer 1997
Film: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Release Date: May 2, 1997
Director: Jay Roach
Costume Designer: Deena Appel
Tailor: Tommy Velasco
Several weeks ago, I delighted in the opportunity to rejoin the estimable Pete Brooker and Matt Spaiser of Bond Suits on the From Tailors with Love podcast, this time talking with Deena Appel, the prolific costume designer who created the shagadelic looks of all three Austin Powers movies. (You can find the episode split into two parts—Part 1 and Part 2—as well as Pete’s “show notes” here.)
Pete concluded our conversation by asking each participant which costume resonated most with us, and my answer—which surprised Deena at least—was the red velvet double-breasted suit that the cryogenically frozen Austin wears when re-entering the world by way of late ’90s Las Vegas in the first movie, which was released 24(!) years ago today on May 2, 1997. Continue reading