Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs, desperate drifter-turned-treasure hunter
Mexico, Spring to Summer 1925
Film: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Release Date: January 6, 1948
Director: John Huston
Wardrobe: Robert O’Dell & Ted Schultz (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the 65th anniversary of when Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957, I wanted to visit one of his most lasting—if not exactly best-dressed—roles.
“Wait until you see me in my next picture,” Bogie had proclaimed to a New York Post critic outside 21 one night. “I play the worst shit you ever saw!” Indeed, unlike his previous protagonists like Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, and Philip Marlowe, who were primarily heroes marred by a cynical streak, there are few redeeming factors to Fred C. Dobbs, the panhandling prospector whose treacherous greed leads him well past the point of no return. Continue reading
David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, ambitious humanoid alien
From New York City to Artesia, New Mexico, 1970s
Film: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Release Date: March 18, 1976
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Costume Designer: May Routh
Suits by: Ola Hudson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 75th birthday of David Bowie, born in London on January 8, 1947.
Though he’d made a few screen appearances earlier in his career, The Man Who Fell to Earth was Bowie’s first prominent leading role. Adapted by Paul Mayersberg from Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, Nicolas Roeg’s avant-garde cult classic transcends the trappings of traditional science fiction to spin the yarn of Thomas Jerome Newton, an ambitious if naïve starman who “fell to Earth” on a mission to bring water back to his home planet… only to fall even farther, seduced by the materialistic capitalism of 1970s America and all of its celebrated hedonistic indulgences of sex, television, drugs, and booze. Continue reading
Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd British agent and anti-Bolshevik
London, Fall 1918
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “After Moscow” (Episode 9)
Air Date: October 26, 1983
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
I consider Sidney Reilly to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the 20th century. There’s little consensus on when he was born, when he died, or how he exactly spent he spent the fifty-odd years in between, though his oft-exaggerated exploits as a shadowy agent of the British secret service has established his enduring reputation as “the Ace of Spies”, aided by his own memoirs and an excellent 1983 twelve-part mini-series starring Sam Neill in the eponymous role of the Russian-born adventurer. Continue reading
James Stewart as George Bailey, reluctant banker
Bedford Falls, New York, Spring 1932
Film: It’s a Wonderful Life
Release Date: December 20, 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Released 75 years ago today, It’s a Wonderful Life has become an enduring Christmas classic… almost by accident! Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s self-published novella The Greatest Gift, the movie had been relatively well-received at the time of its release, even earning five Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, but it would be overshadowed by the epic blockbuster The Best Years of Our Lives that told the story of servicemen returning from World War II.
Despite being a personal favorite of director Frank Capra and star Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life seemed destined for obscurity as just another “old movie” when a clerical error prevented proper renewal of the copyright. Though small royalties were still owed as it was derived from Stern’s story, TV stations leapt at the chance to air high-quality, low-cost seasonal programming, launching It’s a Wonderful Life to its status as a perennial favorite for holiday viewers by the 1980s.
Tom Neal as Al Roberts, hitchhiking nightclub pianist
Across the United States, especially Arizona to California, Spring 1945
Release Date: November 30, 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Wardrobe Designer: Mona Barry
On the last day of #Noirvember, let’s also kick off #CarWeek with a look at one of the best examples of “road noir” with Detour, the enduring B-movie that saw a limited release 76 years ago today on November 30, 1945, just over two weeks after its initial premiere in Boston.
Martin M. Goldsmith worked with an uncredited Martin Mooney to adapt his own 1939 novel of the same name into a screenplay. Known as “the King of PRC” for his reputation as an efficient director working for the Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation, the Austrian-born Edgar G. Ulmer filmed Detour in less than a month in the summer of 1945, with a shoestring budget of less than $100,000; for comparison, this was less than 10% of the final budget for that year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Lost Weekend. (Perhaps overstating his efficiency, Ulmer would later cite that he made the movie in six days for $20,000.)
Detour was my gateway to film noir, thanks to a multi-pack DVD that I was gifted in high school that included many pulp classics like D.O.A., The Hitchhiker, Quicksand, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, many of which—like Detour—were regularly available in budget-friendly home video releases as they had fallen into the public domain. Clocking in at just over an hour, the story may be simple, but it contains all the characteristic noir themes and stock characters, including the femme fatale (and how!) and the wrongly accused man whose questionable ethics and unfortunate circumstances launch him headway into increasingly dangerous circumstances.
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.