Max Showalter as Ray Cutler, honeymooning salesman
The Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Summer 1952
Release Date: January 21, 1953
Director: Henry Hathaway
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Niagara remains one of the rare examples of colorful film noir, a seemingly oxymoronic cinematic phenomenon that had been established nearly a half-decade earlier by the great Leave Her to Heaven. Of course, many early 1950s dramas that would eventually be classified “film noir” were still being made in color, but Joseph MacDonald’s stunning Technicolor cinematography of Niagara captured the picturesque beauty of the titular falls… as well as the titillating beauty of its breakout star, Marilyn Monroe.
Niagara Falls brings honeymooning to mind, and that was exactly what had inspired producer Charles Brackett, who co-wrote the script with Richard Breen and Walter Reisch, with the latter specifically recommending that the story be a murder mystery.
Monroe stars as Rose Loomis, the seductive wife of volatile Korean War veteran George Loomis (Joseph Cotten), whose erratic depression and irritability suggest he suffers from PTSD. The troubled marriage is contrasted by the saccharine dynamic of their cheerful fellow vacationers, Polly (Jean Peters) and Ray Cutler (Max Showalter). Continue reading
John Garfield as Nick Robey, desperate small-time thief
Los Angeles, Summer 1951
Film: He Ran All the Way
Release Date: June 19, 1951
Director: John Berry
Wardrobe Credit: Joe King
John Garfield, one of the most talented and naturalistic actors of Hollywood’s “golden age”, died 70 years ago today on May 21, 1952. Garfield had long been troubled with heart health issues, but it’s been argued that the resulting stress brought on by harassment from the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee contributed to his early death at the age of 39, nearly a year after the release of his final film, He Ran All the Way (1951).
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, affluent ad man and Korean War veteran
Ossining, New York, Summer 1962
Series: Mad Men
Episode: “The Gold Violin” (Episode 2.07)
Air Date: September 7, 2008
Director: Andrew Bernstein
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Following yesterday’s observance of National Picnic Day, I wanted to focus on one of my favorite on-screen picnics. Midway through the second season of Mad Men, the Draper family spends part of a sunny Sunday afternoon bringing a Norman Rockwell painting to life.
By mid-century standards, advertising executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) appears to illustrate the American dream, providing for his beautiful wife Betty (January Jones) and their two children and having just acquired a sleek new Cadillac that—as was pitched to him—indicates that he’s “already arrived.” Life looks easy for the family, reclining with nary a care in the world as The Pentagons serenade them from the Coupe de Ville’s radio with their dulcet 1962 B-side “I’m in Love”.
Betty: We should do this more often.
Don: We should only do this.
Paul Newman as Ram Bowen, temperamental jazz trombonist
Paris, Fall 1960
Film: Paris Blues
Release Date: September 27, 1961
Director: Martin Ritt
On this day in 1958, one of the most legendary marriages in Hollywood history began when Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward tied the knot in Las Vegas, three days after his 33rd birthday. The two had met earlier that decade during a Broadway production of Picnic and reunited while filming The Long, Hot Summer for director Martin Ritt. Newman and Woodward would co-star in several subsequent movies together, but their next collaboration with their ostensible “matchmaker” Ritt was Paris Blues, adapted from Harold Flender’s 1957 novel of the same name.
Robert Redford as Martin Bishop (formerly Martin Brice), digital security consultant and fugitive hacker
San Francisco, Fall 1991
Release Date: September 11, 1992
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Costume Designer: Bernie Pollack
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Robert Redford looks like he’s having a great time in Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson’s 1992 crime comedy about a gang of professional computer hackers. Redford stars as Martin Brice, a digital “sneaker” who has spent more than 20 years on the lam legitimizing his talent to become a security consultant, re-christened Martin Bishop. His background leads to recruitment by two men claiming to work for the NSA, forcing Martin and his team to take on a dubiously legitimate job.
Despite its subject matter, Sneakers never feels excessively dated as it focuses less on the technical aspects of digital hacking and more on the camaraderie among Redford’s motley band, consisting of Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, and Mary McDonnell. Redford’s character zips through the City by the Bay in a classic Karmann Ghia convertible, weathered but reliable like the then-56-year-old actor himself. Continue reading
Ted Danson as Sam Malone, bartender and former baseball star
Boston, Thanksgiving 1986
Episode: “Thanksgiving Orphans” (Episode 5.09)
Air Date: November 27, 1986
Director: James Burrows
Created by: Glen Charles, Les Charles, and James Burrows
Costume Designer: Robert L. Tanella
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy Thanksgiving! This iconic episode from Cheers‘ fifth season aired 35 years ago this week on Thanksgiving 1986 and has often been included on lists ranking the greatest TV episodes of all time.
Decades before your friends started hosting Friendsgiving celebrations, Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) hosted the Cheers crew at her home, filling the void left by her many children, most of whom are spending the holiday with their dad, Nick; indeed, the fact that we don’t get any Turkey Day time with Dan Hedaya’s character may be the one downside to this marvelous episode.
Of course, the rest of the gang is all here: barkeep Sam Malone (Ted Danson), his famously on-again/off-again paramour Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), her lonely ex Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), honorary barstools Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger), and novice bartender Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), who frequently urges “this is gonna be the best Thanksgiving ever!” Continue reading
Richard Benjamin as Neil Klugman, listless library employee and Army veteran
Westchester, New York, Summer 1968
Film: Goodbye, Columbus
Release Date: April 3, 1969
Director: Larry Peerce
Costume Designer: Gene Coffin
In addition to today being the birthday of star Richard Benjamin—born on this day in 1938—today also marks three years since the death of Philip Roth, who died of congestive heart failure on May 22, 2018. Roth’s novella Goodbye, Columbus provided the source material for Ali MacGraw’s major screen debut acting opposite Benjamin.
Goodbye, Columbus has been favorably compared to The Graduate, inviting parallels with its similar-looking leads: a somewhat awkward, naive, and listless young man romancing a dark-haired “princess” against her parents’ wishes (though for a dramatically different reason than the Robinsons had), scored against the backdrop of a hip band from the late ’60s, in this case The Association as opposed to Simon & Garfunkel’s famous soundtrack for The Graduate.
Jean-Paul Belmondo as Ferdinand Griffon, runaway husband
French Riviera, Summer 1965
Film: Pierrot le Fou
Release Date: November 5, 1965
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
He may spend most of Pierrot le Fou insisting his name is Ferdinand, but we all know he’s actually Jean-Paul Belmondo—also known as Bébel—the French star born 88 years ago today on April 9, 1933!
Pierrot le Fou was the third and final feature-length collaboration between Belmondo and Jean-Luc Godard, who had directed him to worldwide fame as the criminal protagonist in A bout de souffle (Breathless), considered a seminal work in establishing the French New Wave cinematic movement.
While both of these stylish films shared themes of criminality, philosophy, and doomed love, Pierrot le Fou pops from the screen with its colorful and surreal pop art-inspired presentation of the increasingly desperate Ferdinand Griffon abandoning his family life to join his dangerously free-spirited ex-girlfriend Marianne (Anna Karina) in a life of crime and seaside seclusion. Continue reading
Steve McQueen as LT Ferguson “Fergie” Howard, enterprising U.S. Navy officer
Venice, Summer 1961
Film: The Honeymoon Machine
Release Date: August 23, 1961
Director: Richard Thorpe
Costume Designer: Helen Rose
To commemorate Steve McQueen’s birthday 91 years ago today, let’s take a look at how the King of Cool incorporated some of his personal style into one of his earliest—and least popular—movies.
Based on Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s 1959 play The Golden Fleecing, The Honeymoon Machine belongs to that unique sub-genre of ’60s farce that made light of Cold War paranoia and seemed to end up with everyone throwing punches (executed suitably in The Glass Bottom Boat, poorly in the 1967 Casino Royale.)
The role of the mischievously ambitious, Nietzsche-quoting naval lieutenant Fergie Howard was originally intended for Cary Grant, however the middle-aged actor was nearing his retirement and turned the job down. Rather than casting another screen vet of Grant’s age and standing, the production went in the opposite direction and brought on Steve McQueen for what would be his third top-billed movie after The Blob (1958) and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959).
The Honeymoon Machine turned a profit but McQueen considered it a dark mark on his career, reportedly walking out of the first public screening and vowing never to work for MGM again. Don’t worry, Steve… The Great Escape is only two years away! Continue reading
Alain Delon as Jean Laurier, aka “Scorpio”, dangerous freelance assassin, former French paratrooper, and cat lover
Washington, D.C., and Vienna, Spring 1973
Release Date: April 19, 1973
Director: Michael Winner
Wardrobe Master: Philippe Pickford
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy 85th birthday to French cinema icon Alain Delon, whose November 8, 1935 birthday makes him a Scorpio and thus a fitting choice for the title role in Michael Winner’s 1973 espionage thriller Scorpio. (Interestingly, Delon was re-teamed with The Leopard co-star Burt Lancaster, whose November 2, 1913 birthday makes him a Scorpio as well!) The astrological overtones sneak into the script as well as a CIA officer suggests to Delon’s character Jean Laurier that his codename “Scorpio” suits him:
We named you well, you’re a perfect Scorpio! You have a penchant for intrigue, violence…