Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, outlaw motorcycle club leader
Central California, Summer 1953
Film: The Wild One
Release Date: December 30, 1953
Director: László Benedek
“Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”
This famous exchange originated among the actual biker gangs that producer Stanley Kramer had brought on set to play themselves. When Kramer asked what it was they were “rebelling” against, a member cracked back to him, “Well, whaddaya got?” The line so encapsulated the culture and attitude of bikers during the era that it was incorporated into The Wild One, though the question is posed by Mildred, the platinum blonde beauty salon operator that one of Johnny’s boys picked up in a bar.
Inspired by actual events over a rambunctious fourth of July weekend in Hollister, California, in 1947, The Wild One was based on Frank Rooney’s short story “The Cyclists’ Raid” that appeared in Harper’s magazine in January 1951. It was swiftly adapted for the screen, though the locations involved were changed to the fictional California burgs of Carbondale and Wrightsville, the latter being the “screwball town”—according to Dextro (Jerry Paris)—where most of the action takes place.
The credits are a bit misleading, introducing Marlon Brando to us as The Wild One, though his character Johnny Strabler turns out to be the most restrained of his hell-raising confederates, particularly when compared to the obnoxious pipsqueak Mouse (Gil Stratton), the larcenous, simple-minded Pigeon (Alvy Moore), or rival gang leader Chino (Lee Marvin). Continue reading
Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, disciplined but depressed contract killer
Los Angeles to Naples, Italy, Fall 1972
Film: The Mechanic
Release Date: November 17, 1972
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Lambert Marks
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After serving in supporting roles for many great Westerns and war movies of the ’60s—including The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and Once Upon a Time in the West—Hollywood was ready for Charles Bronson to take on leading roles that would establish him as one of the greatest silver screen “tough guys” of all time.
The Mechanic starred Bronson as Arthur Bishop, a skilled assassin whose quiet, luxurious lifestyle is disrupted when he takes on a protégé, Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent), the hotheaded, sociopathic son of his former boss “Big Harry” (Keenan Wynn) who he was assigned to kill. Arthur begins mentoring Steve after Big Harry’s death, taking the narcissistic young man flying, giving him shooting lessons, and eventually bringing him along for several hits.
William Holden as Hal Carter, aimless former college football star and Army veteran
Kansas, Labor Day 1955
Release Date: February 16, 1956
Director: Joshua Logan
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This Labor Day, we celebrate one of the lesser-recognized cinematic holidays with a look at the Academy Award-nominated Technicolor hit Picnic. Continue reading
James Cagney as Arthur “Cody” Jarrett, ruthless gang leader and devoted son
Los Angeles, Spring 1950
Film: White Heat
Release Date: September 2, 1949
Director: Raoul Walsh
Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 120th birthday of James Cagney, the intense actor who brought realism and energy to his performances that ranged from deadpan comedy to complex tough guys. It was for the latter that Cagney, who Orson Welles described as “maybe the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of the camera,” is most remembered, particularly for his mature performance as the complex gangster Cody Jarrett in White Heat.
Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, tough private detective
New York City, January 1971
Release Date: June 25, 1971
Director: Gordon Parks
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
Almost 50 years after Richard Roundtree first stepped out onto a busy New York City street, John Shaft remains a cultural icon with the release of the fifth and latest installment of the Shaft canon that arrived in theaters this weekend.
Roundtree made his cinematic debut in 1971’s Shaft, establishing the blaxploitation genre and rapidly followed by two sequel movies and a short-lived TV show that all starred the former model as the tough private eye from Ernest Tidyman’s series of novels. Roundtree would reprise his role as John Shaft I—uncle of Samuel L. Jackson’s character—in Shaft (2000) and Shaft (2019)… yes, that’s three films in one series all named Shaft.
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, New Jersey mob chief
North Caldwell, New Jersey, Spring 2000
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Full Leather Jacket” (Episode 2.08)
Air Date: March 5, 2000
Director: Allen Coulter
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
It’s the jaaacket!
As a series centered around life in the American Mafia, it’s no surprise that the fashions of The Sopranos feature plenty of leather jackets. But there’s only one jaaacket, and it’s this piece of throwback outerwear that gives the eighth episode of the second season its name.
Gary Cooper as Cadet White, U.S. Army Aviation Section, Signal Corps aviator
Camp Kelly (San Antonio, Texas), Spring 1917
Release Date: August 12, 1927
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Design: Travis Banton & Edith Head (uncredited)
Ninety years ago today, Wings won the first Academy Award for Best Picture—more accurately, the award read “Academy Award for Outstanding Picture.” Though silent movies were still the norm at the time of Wings’ release in August 1927, The Jazz Singer introduced recorded sound to film upon its release two months later, and Wings remains the only true silent film (unless you include The Artist) to take home the Best Picture prize.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, eccentric and ambitious aviation and movie mogul
Hollywood, Fall 1927 through Summer 1928
Film: The Aviator
Release Date: December 25, 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
The Aviator wastes no time in establishing why the film is titled as such, providing the first look at the adult Howard Hughes as he’s beginning production on his World War I epic Hell’s Angels (1930). Hughes hires Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly) to run his business enterprises—”and do a damn good job,” he adds—so he can focus his obsessive Capricorn energy on Hell’s Angels, a production combining the ambitious young mogul’s passions for aviation and movie-making. After beginning production on October 31, 1927, the film would take nearly three years to complete.
Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button, reverse-aging adventurer and family man
New Orleans, Fall 1967
Film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Release Date: December 25, 2008
Director: David Fincher
Costume Designer: Jacqueline West
Now that spring is here, venturing outside will require not a heavy wool coat but instead some intentional lightweight layering, a casual sartorial approach mastered by Steve McQueen in the ’60s and revived with Jacqueline West’s thoughtful costume design in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The premise of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is very curious indeed, following the story of a man born on Armistice Day 1918 with the appearance of an octogenarian who ages in reverse over the course of the 20th century. Early in his youth, the titular Benjamin makes the acquaintance of Daisy, a young girl who—like the rest of us—ages in the traditional fashion. The two reconnect several times over the following decades, but it isn’t until the early 1960s when Benjamin (Brad Pitt) and Daisy (Cate Blanchett)—now each in their 40s—are able to establish a lasting connection. Continue reading
Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone, aka “Donnie Brasco”, undercover FBI agent infiltrating the Mafia
New York City, Fall 1979
Film: Donnie Brasco
Release Date: February 28, 1997
Director: Mike Newell
Costume Designer: Aude Bronson-Howard & David C. Robinson
#MafiaMonday has become something of an occasional tradition for BAMF Style, but there’s no reason why every celebration of mob style needs to feature an actual gangster. Take the case of Joe Pistone, a real-life FBI agent and undercover pioneer whose six years infiltrating the Bonanno family of the New York Mafia was so effective that NYPD investigations and even some FBI files had mistakenly marked the agent as a mob associate named Don Brasco. Pistone was ordered to end his operation in the summer of 1981, despite the agent hoping to at least be “made” and inducted into the ranks of the mob.