Steve McQueen as Ralph “Papa” Thorson, real-life bounty hunter
Los Angeles (among other locales), Fall 1979
Film: The Hunter
Release Date: August 1, 1980
Director: Buzz Kulik
Costume Designer: Thomas Welsh
On the anniversary of Steve McQueen’s passing, I’d like to explore his style in the final film he made before his untimely death at the age of 50 on November 7, 1980.
The Hunter starred McQueen as Ralph “Papa” Thorson, a colorful real-life bounty hunter who had reportedly logged more than 5,000 cases throughout his career including the capture of would-be presidential assassin and Manson family follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.
The concept of a bounty hunter conjures the image of a deadly serious and dangerous enforcer. The real Ralph Thorson certainly looked the part at 310 pounds and 6’2″ though Christopher Keane’s 1976 biography counters this image by describing Thorson’s many roles and talents as “a church bishop, Master bridge champion, renowed astrology, criminology alumnus of the University of California Berkeley, child nutritionist, [and] aficionado of classical music.” Continue reading
Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, honest and intrepid federal agent
Canadian border, September 1930
Film: The Untouchables
Release Date: June 3, 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
Wardrobe: Giorgio Armani
Eliot Ness joins the other “untouchables” on an action-packed mission to the Canadian border following a tip that Al Capone would be importing a shipment of booze. With the help of the Mounties who aren’t yet versed in “the Chicago way”, Ness and his band of three are able to successfully halt the shipment and get their hands on a nervous informant who’s willing to talk… once he stops “muckin’ with the G here,” of course.
The mission comes at the expense of Ness having to take a life in the line of duty. Following some counseling from his cop buddy Jim Malone (“He’s as dead as Julius Caesar… would you rather it was you?”), Ness is able to absolve himself of his guilt and returns home to discover that his wife has given birth to their son. Continue reading
Michael Douglas as Nick Curran, suspended homicide detective
San Francisco, April 1991
Film: Basic Instinct
Release Date: March 20, 1992
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Costume Designer: Ellen Mirojnick
The nylon bomber jacket has made a comeback in recent years with few knowing the story of its all-too appropriate name, developed as the “MA-1” in the 1950s for U.S. bomber pilots to replace the B-15 flight jacket and older leather variations.
Two decades later, the bomber jacket hit the civilian market with manufacturers like Alpha Industries introducing it to new audiences in colors other than the standard military olive drab. It was further popularized in TV and movies, including the almost ubiquitous appearance of an Alpha Industries MA-1 worn by Steve McQueen in The Hunter (1980) and Kevin Costner in Bull Durham (1988).
Though the MA-1 bomber jacket was being phased out of active military use by the early ’90s, it still remained a staple of men’s casual wear and was a fitting choice as the go-to off-duty jacket worn by Michael Douglas’ fashionably tailored homicide detective Nick Curran in Basic Instinct. Continue reading