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.
Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, smug and successful corporate raider
New York City, Spring 1985
Film: Wall Street
Release Date: December 11, 1987
Director: Oliver Stone
Costume Designer: Ellen Mirojnick
Tailor: Alan Flusser
Happy birthday to Michael Douglas, the actor, producer, and activist born September 25, 1944, who may be most famous for his iconic Academy Award-winning performance as ruthless financier Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
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
Elvis Presley as “Lucky” Jackson, mechanic and aspiring race car driver
Las Vegas, Summer 1964
Film: Viva Las Vegas
Release Date: May 20, 1964
Director: George Sidney
Costume Designer: Donfeld (Donald Lee Feld)
Tailor: Sy Devore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the sad anniversary of the King of Rock and Roll’s death, I wanted to celebrate Elvis Presley’s legacy via his style in one of his best-regarded movies, the 1964 musical vehicle Viva Las Vegas.
Set in the bright-lit berg known as America’s Playground, Viva Las Vegas united Elvis with Ann-Margret, a fellow multi-talent with whom the King quickly bonded to form what was first a romance and would evolve into a lifelong friendship. Continue reading
Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson, smooth gambler
New York, Spring 1955
Film: Guys and Dolls
Release Date: November 3, 1955
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff
I always found it interesting to watch a method—ahem, that’s Method—actor like Marlon Brando navigating the artificially staged Broadway of Guys and Dolls, the gangland-adjacent musical by Frank Loesser, which had been based on a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows… which had itself been based on several stories by Damon Runyon.
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.
Sidney Poitier as Eddie Cook, expatriate jazz saxophonist
Paris, Fall 1960
Film: Paris Blues
Release Date: September 27, 1961
Director: Martin Ritt
Ten years ago, the United Nations established April 30 as International Jazz Day, a global celebration envisioned by Grammy-winning musician and UNESCO Goodwill ambassador Herbie Hancock “to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.” The observance feels ideal for taking a first look at the sleek style in Martin Ritt’s cooler-than-ice 1961 drama, Paris Blues, starring Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as yankee jazzmen making their living in a French nightclub and romancing a pair of American tourists played by Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll. Continue reading
James Shigeta as Joe Takagi, Nakatomi Corporation executive
Los Angeles, Christmas 1987
Film: Die Hard
Release Date: July 15, 1988
Director: John McTiernan
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
My latest post focused on yet another chaotic Christmas party on The Office, though the drama of Dunder Mifflin’s holiday celebrations pale in comparison to how the employees of the Nakatomi Corporation are forced to spend Christmas Eve in Die Hard.
James Shigeta kicked off #Noirvember last month when I focused on his style in The Crimson Kimono so, in the spirit of the yuletide season, let’s revisit the actor via his arguably most memorable role as the stylish, unflappable, and ultimately doomed head of the Nakatomi Corporation.
Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi, born Kyoto, 1937. Family emigrated to San Pedro, California, 1939. Interned, Manzanar, 1942 to ’43. Scholarship student, University of California, 1955. Law degree, Stanford, 1962. MBA, Harvard, 1970. President, Nakatomi Trading. Vice Chairman, Nakatomi Investment Group… and father of five.
Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp, widowed ex-Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy officer
Salzburg, Austria, Spring 1938
Film: The Sound of Music
Release Date: March 2, 1965
Director: Robert Wise
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Happy birthday, Christopher Plummer! Born 91 years ago in Toronto, the distinguished actor continues to be a familiar face on screen, most recently as the doomed mystery writer at the center of Knives Out (2019). Plummer’s most recognizable performance remains arguably that of Georg von Trapp, the Austro-Hungarian patriarch whose family of young singers was depicted in The Sound of Music.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, eccentric and ambitious aviation and movie mogul
Los Angeles, September 1935
Film: The Aviator
Release Date: December 25, 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
85 years ago today on September 13, 1935, a sleek silver aircraft rocketed through the air over Santa Ana, California, at a record-breaking speed over 350 miles per hour, making four passes over Martin Field before a crash-landing that deposited its owner—one of the wealthiest and most ambitious men in America at the time—into a beet field, alive and hardly discouraged. As Howard Hughes’ colleagues ran over to extract the 29-year-old entrepreneur and aviator from the wreckage of the H-1 Racer, he hardly had his own safety in mind, issuing the command: “We can fix her, she’ll go faster!”