Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, unscrupulous publicity agent
New York City, Fall 1956
Film: Sweet Smell of Success
Release Date: June 27, 1957
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Costume Designer: Mary Grant
Happy birthday to Tony Curtis, born 93 years ago today on June 3, 1925. The actor will always hold a special place for me as one of my earliest brushes with a known celebrity.
It occurred in the summer of 1998, during a vacation with my family to Las Vegas. We were approaching the exit to the MGM Grand as we came face-to-face with another entourage striding through the entrance. Flanked by two tall, voluptuous blondes at the front of the formation was a tuxedoed man with messy gray hair, considerably energetic for his age.
“That was Tony Curtis!” my family began murmuring to each other. Being only 9 years old at the time, I was concerned about feeling left out of the gossip until my grandma leaned in and explained to me that this was “Josephine” from Some Like It Hot, one of our favorite movies to watch together at the time.
Some Like It Hot will always have a place on my personal cinematic Mount Rushmore, but my favorite Tony Curtis performance is likely in Alexander Mackendrick’s atmospheric 1957 noir Sweet Smell of Success. Curtis stars as a Manhattan publicity agent oozing with opportunistic sleaze.
Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd British agent and anti-Bolshevik
St. Petersburg, Russia, October 1910, and
London, November 1918
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
– “Dreadnoughts and Doublecrosses” (Episode 6), dir. Jim Goddard, aired 10/5/1983
– “After Moscow”(Episode 9), dir. Martin Campbell, aired 10/26/1983
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
Reilly: Ace of Spies fictionalizes the exploits of Russian-born spy Sidney Reilly, often cited as a real-life basis for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. While the showrunners must have been cognizant of the need to place their suave British secret agent in a tuxedo, the series’ narrative also coincided with the rise of the dinner jacket over the first quarter of the 20th century.
Robert De Niro as Sam, professional mercenary thief and ex-CIA operative
Nice, France, December 1997
Release Date: September 25, 1998
Director: John Frankenheimer
Costume Designer: May Routh
I recently received a request to explore Robert De Niro’s outfit in Ronin when his ex-CIA thief Sam accompanies Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) on a recon mission in Nice. Deirdre has hired Sam’s crew to attack an armed convoy to steal an unidentified briefcase that would serve as the film’s MacGuffin.
Rather than bothering with spy cameras and tactics, Sam merely brings Deirdre and his Leica R6 2 camera to the luxurious Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic (actually located in Cannes), posing as a pair of tourists and thus not raising any suspicions as they take a considerable amount of photos to prepare for the job. Continue reading
James Stewart as John “Scottie” Ferguson, former San Francisco detective
San Francisco, Fall 1957
Release Date: May 9, 1958
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 60th anniversary of the release of Vertigo, Hitchcock’s noir-esque thriller and the last of his collaborations with James Stewart. Hitch blamed Jim for the film’s lack of success at the box office, but history would give Jim the last laugh as a 2012 reevaluation for BFI’s Sight & Sound led to a poll of critics choosing Vertigo as the greatest film of all time, beating out long-standing #1 choice Citizen Kane. Continue reading
Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, American private investigator
London, September 1977
Film: The Big Sleep
Release Date: March 13, 1978
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Ron Beck
Philip Marlowe is a bold dresser. We learn that from the opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s inaugural novel, The Big Sleep, with the description of the detective’s powder blue suit, dark blue underpinnings, and socks with clocks. The rest of the United States may have adopted a somber approach to dressing during the years of the Depression, but Marlowe is an L.A. private eye. He’s gotta turn heads.
Decades after the novel’s publication and Bogie and Bacall sizzled in its first cinematic adaptation, the story was once again slated for the silver screen. Continue reading
Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, old-fashioned Deputy U.S. Marshal
Harlan County, Kentucky, Fall 2014
Episode: “Cash Game” (Episode 6.02)
Air Date: January 27, 2015
Director: Dean Parisot
Creator: Graham Yost
Costume Designer: Patia Prouty
The second episode of Justified‘s sixth and final season introduced a few new characters that would be help drive the series toward its action-packed endgame, including a shockingly mustache-less Sam Elliott as ruthless yet refined gangster Avery Markham.
Steve McQueen, iconic American actor
Fall 1964, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Photographs by William Claxton
Happy birthday to Steve McQueen, born March 24, 1930, in Beach Grove, Indiana, then a small town of barely more than 3,500 people. By the age of eight, he had already received his first bike (well, a tricycle) and his first watch (a gold pocket watch from his uncle), two items that would become very important to his life and legacy. By the time McQueen died of cardiac arrest in November 1980, the “King of Cool” had cemented a place among the greatest American icons of screen and style through his performances in films like The Great Escape, Bullitt, and The Thomas Crown Affair, and his lifelong passion for racing and rebellion.