Ron Howard as Steve Bolander, conflicted high school graduate
Modesto, California, Summer 1962
Film: American Graffiti
Release Date: August 11, 1973
Director: George Lucas
Costume Designer: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
“Where were you in ’62?” asked the promotional materials for American Graffiti, widely released 50 years ago today on August 11, 1973. George Lucas followed his directorial debut THX 1138 with a neon-lit nostalgic ode to his rock-scored youth cruising the streets of Modesto, California in the early 1960s.
The film centers around four recent high school graduates who meet in the parking lot of Mel’s Drive-In on the last night of summer vacation: even-keeled Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss), confident drag-racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat), the fittingly nicknamed Terry “the Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith), and the aloof Steve Bolander (Ron Howard), who lends his stunning white ’58 Impala to Terry while he’s away at college.
It’s a moody night for Steve, battling with his decision to leave both Modesto and his relationship with Laurie (Cindy Williams), summing up the movie’s thesis when he observes “you just can’t stay seventeen forever.” Continue reading
Larry David as himself, a neurotic comedy writer
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Summer 2019
Series: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Episode: “You’re Not Going to Get Me to Say Anything Bad About Mickey” (Episode 10.04)
Air Date: February 9, 2020
Director: Jeff Schaffer
Creator: Larry David
Costume Designer: Leslie Schilling
Happy birthday to Larry David! Born 76 years ago today on July 2, 1947, LD grew successful as a co-creator of Seinfeld in the 1990s before becoming more visibly famous as an exaggeratedly neurotic version of himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is currently producing its twelfth (and possibly final) season.
The tenth-season episode “You’re Not Going to Get Me to Say Anything Bad About Mickey” begins with Larry consulting with the ubiquitous Leon (J.B. Smoove) amidst construction of Latte Larry’s, the “spite store” he’s building to steal business from his rival Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra), who stops in to remind him that “good coffee is all about the beans.”
At the same time, Larry’s coterie is planning a plane trip to Cabo San Lucas for their friend Mickey’s wedding, despite Larry grumbling about having to travel two hours for a wedding, prompting his manager Jeff (Jeff Garlin) to utter the episode’s title in the unseen Mickey’s defense… and who could portray such a widely revered friend but the absurdly charismatic Timothy Olyphant? Continue reading
Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman, imaginative publishing executive and a self-described “foolish, well-to-do married man”
New York City, Summer 1955
Film: The Seven Year Itch
Release Date: June 3, 1955
Director: Billy Wilder
Costume Designer: Travilla
Wardrobe Director: Charles Le Maire
Men’s Wardrobe: Sam Benson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Born 97 years ago today on June 1, 1926, Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe may be indelibly associated with the iconic image of the star’s white dress being blown upwards by a subway grate on Lexington Avenue. The much-photographed moment was part of a scene in The Seven Year Itch, which premiered on Monroe’s 29th birthday before its wider release later that month.
The title and concept were inspired by a then-common psychological term for the period in a marriage when a partner’s eye supposedly begins to wander, aligned with the mid-20th century practice of wives and children traveling to the country or seaside for the summer while their husbands remain in the city to work… though The Seven Year Itch proposes that their work was more focused on bedrooms than boardrooms. (Mad Men fans may recall a relevant plot from the first season episode “Long Weekend”, set during Labor Day 1960.)
After shipping his wife Helen and son Ricky up to Maine, our protagonist Richard Sherman seems to think he’s above that level of sleaze… until a falling tomato plant introduces him to The Girl, a voluptuous blonde living upstairs in a neighboring couple’s apartment for the summer:
Boy, if anybody were to walk in here right now, would they ever get the wrong idea… cinnamon toast for two, strange blonde in the shower, you go explain that to someone. Don’t tell ’em you spent the whole night wrapping a paddle!
Inexplicably billed as “Tommy Ewell”, Tom Ewell reprised the role he originated on Broadway as Richard Sherman. Viennese-born actress Vanessa Brown (who had an IQ of 165 and whose family fled Europe in 1937 to avoid Nazi persecution) had played The Girl on stage, but the part was recast for the screen, in turn providing Marilyn Monroe with one of her most enduring performances. Interestingly, there were several actors considered to play Richard before the part went to Ewell, who had already won a Tony for his stage portrayal and wasn’t expecting to be cast. Despite that, there was never any question that The Girl would be played on screen by anyone but Monroe. Continue reading
Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans, obsequious corporate media executive
Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, Italy, Summer 2020
Episode: “All the Bells Say” (Episode 3.09)
Air Date: December 21, 2021
Director: Mark Mylod
Creator: Jesse Armstrong
Costume Designer: Michelle Matland
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Succession‘s fourth and most likely final season returns tonight! When we last saw the conniving Roy family, the setting was a Tuscan wedding… though, as usual with the Roys, love was the furthest thing from everyone’s mind. Continue reading
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr., suburban high-schooler
New Rochelle, New York, Christmas 1963
Film: Catch Me If You Can
Release Date: December 25, 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
Based on the now mostly debunked claims of fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr., Catch Me If You Can was released 20 years ago today on Christmas 2002, an appropriate opening date for a movie that benchmarks its protagonist’s status by how he spends each yuletide.
When we first meet Frank in late 1963, he’s a relatively well-adjusted teen with plenty of charisma if perhaps a bit precociously streetwise for a 15-year-old in the suburbs of New Rochelle, no doubt a byproduct of his artful father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken), depicted passing on several lessons in minor larceny to his son. Before Frank Jr.’s first Pan Am uniform fitting or check forgery, we spend one last idyllic holiday with the Abagnale family in their New Rochelle home during Christmas 1963, as both Frank and his father take turns dancing with his Algerian-born mother Paula (Nathalie Baye), reminiscing about Frank Sr.’s courtship of the “blonde bombshell” Paula while he was serving in France during World War II. Continue reading
Billy Crystal as Harry Burns, sarcastic political consultant and recent divorcée
New York City, Fall 1987
Film: When Harry Met Sally…
Release Date: July 14, 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Costume Designer: Gloria Gresham
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today being my wedding day (congratulations to me!) feels like an appropriate time to revisit the style of one of my favorite romantic comedies, When Harry Met Sally. In addition to being a famously great fall movie, Rob Reiner’s chronicle of enemies-becoming-friends-becoming-lovers also demonstrates a surprising parade of great autumnal menswear, from Billy Crystal’s cozy sweaters to military surplus jackets. Continue reading
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.