Harvey Keitel as Charlie Cappa, conflicted Mafia associate
New York, Fall 1972
Film: Mean Streets
Release Date: October 14, 1973
Director: Martin Scorsese
Wardrobe Credit: Norman Salling
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
You don’t make up for your sins in the church. You do it in the streets. The rest is bullshit and you know it.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film that premiered today in 1972 during the New York Film Festival, twelve days before it was widely released.
Though arguably the first of his movies to include many of his now-familiar themes and techniques, Mean Streets was actually Scorsese’s third film, following his debut Who’s That Knocking On My Door? (1967) and Boxcar Bertha (1972), the latter one of the low-budget Depression-era crime flicks produced by Roger Corman’s American International Pictures in the wake of the successful Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
Following John Cassavetes’ encouragement to “write what you know” and incorporate more of his own experiences onto the screen, Scorsese reintroduced himself to the world with the remarkable Mean Streets—essentially his own retelling of I Vitelloni (1953) set among the mobbed-up mooks in Little Italy—viewed through the same unapologetically gritty lens that Scorsese would return to three years later in Taxi Driver (1976).
Unlike the then-recent hit The Godfather (1972), Mean Streets focused not on the dons leading these crime families but rather the street-level hoods whose lives are defined by small-time scores, gambling debts, and long nights. Reuniting with Scorsese after appearing in his directorial debut, Harvey Keitel stars as Mean Streets‘ ostensible protagonist Charlie Cappa. Continue reading
Matthew McConaughey as Willis Newton, good-natured Texas-born outlaw
Toronto, Summer 1923
Film: The Newton Boys
Release Date: March 27, 1998
Director: Richard Linklater
Costume Designer: Shelley Komarov
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One hundred years ago today, the Newton Gang—a quartet of Texan brothers best known for their nighttime bank burglaries and the occasional train holdup—attempted a daring yet disastrous heist of pedestrian bank messengers in downtown Toronto. Though financially successful as it netted the gang around C$84,000, the July 24, 1923 robbery tarnished their reputation for nonviolence when a physical altercation resulted in Willis Newton wounding two messengers during his struggle to get away. Continue reading
Ryan O’Neal as Moses “Moze” Pray, charismatic con artist
Kansas to Missouri, Spring 1936
Film: Paper Moon
Release Date: May 9, 1973
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Costume Designer: Polly Platt (uncredited)
Today is the 50th anniversary of Paper Moon, Peter Bogdanovich’s artfully nostalgic road comedy that was released May 9, 1973, exactly a month after its Hollywood premiere. Filmed in black-and-white and set during the Great Depression, Paper Moon stars Ryan O’Neal and his real-life daughter Tatum O’Neal in her big-screen debut who turned nine during the film’s production. When 10-year-old Tatum won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon, she set a record as the youngest-ever performer to win a competitive Oscar. Continue reading
Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum, hedonistic patriarch
New York City, Fall to winter 2001
Film: The Royal Tenenbaums
Release Date: December 14, 2001
Director: Wes Anderson
Costume Designer: Karen Patch
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy 93rd birthday to Gene Hackman, the versatile two-time Oscar-winning actor born January 30, 1930 in San Bernardino. Hackman’s prolific career began during the “New Hollywood” era with excellent performances in films like Bonnie & Clyde, The French Connection, and The Conversation, with many more hits in the decades to follow. Before he retired from acting in 2004, Hackman delivered one of his most memorable performances as the eponymous estranged patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums. Continue reading
Howard Da Silva as Meyer Wolfsheim, legendary gambler
New York City, Summer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Though perhaps not as well known as his gangland contemporaries today, Prohibition-era racketeer Arnold Rothstein served as the basis for generations of fictional characters in pop culture for generations after his 1928 murder.
Born on this day in 1882, Rothstein began gambling at a young age, was reportedly a millionaire by the time he turned 30, and was most likely integral in the infamous “Black Sox Scandal” that accused eight members of the Chicago White Sox of throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
It may be coincidence that the Volstead Act became official nationwide on his 38th birthday, a gift for the visionary Rothstein who has been considered among the first to recognize the business potential of Prohibition. He was one of the most influential figures in organized crime during the roaring ’20s, forging a bootlegging empire that included notable mobsters like Meyer Lansky, “Lucky” Luciano, and Dutch Schultz, many of whom looked up to Rothstein as a mentor.
Despite these dangerous connections, it’s likely that Rothstein met his early end due to nothing more nefarious than a poker game. After racking up a debt of more than $300,000 due to what Rothstein called a fixed game, the 46-year-old gangster was shot during a business meeting at the Park Central Hotel on November 4, 1928, dying two days later.
Though directly portrayed on screen by the likes of F. Murray Abraham (in the 1991 film Mobsters) and Michael Stuhlbarg (in the first four seasons of Boardwalk Empire), Rothstein’s legacy also includes a bevy of fictional characters that he inspired, including Nathan Detroit in the musical Guys and Dolls and Meyer Wolfsheim in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, as most clearly suggested by an exchange that cites the real Rothstein’s arguably most infamous “achievement”. Continue reading
Alan Ladd as Philip Raven, cold-blooded, cat-loving contract killer
San Francisco to Los Angeles, Spring 1942
Film: This Gun for Hire
Release Date: April 24, 1942
Director: Frank Tuttle
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
I had already been planning to write about This Gun for Hire this month when I realized that today would have been the 100th birthday of Veronica Lake, who was born in Brooklyn on November 14, 1922 with the decidedly less glamorous name of Constance Ockelman. Lake was still in her teens when cast in her first starring role in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), the success of which convinced Paramount to cast her in their upcoming thriller, which would also be a vehicle to launch their next up-and-comer, Alan Ladd. Continue reading
Jared Harris as Lane Pryce, advertising agency financial chief
New York City, New Year’s Day 1965
Series: Mad Men
Episode: “The Good News” (Episode 4.03)
Air Date: August 8, 2010
Director: Jennifer Getzinger
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
Even with the increasing adoption of hybrid and remote workplaces, there are still many returning to offices and cubicles for the first day of the new year, a specific occupational dread that provides a “welcome distraction” for at least one lonely Brit during the final act of “The Good News”, the third episode of Mad Men‘s fourth season. Continue reading
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, smooth private detective and “a chap worth knowing”
San Francisco, Spring 1941
Film: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (credited for gowns)
Now considered a seminal film noir, The Maltese Falcon celebrated its 80th anniversary last month. Dashiell Hammett’s excellent 1930 detective novel had already been adapted twice for the screen—once as a “lewd” pre-Code thriller and recycled as a zanier mid-’30s vehicle for Bette Davis—before Warner Bros. finally got it right.
The Maltese Falcon was the directorial debut for John Huston, who had faithfully adapted Hammett’s source material for his sharp script and demonstrated his sense of methodical efficiency, resulting in a masterpiece that benefited from the formula of director of photography Arthur Edelson’s low-key cinematography and a perfect cast led by Humphrey Bogart as the wisecracking gumshoe who “don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” Continue reading
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.
Steve Carell as Michael Scott, paper sales regional manager
Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 2006
Series: The Office
Episode: “Michael’s Birthday” (Episode 2.19)
Air Date: March 30, 2006
Director: Ken Whittingham
Creator: Greg Daniels
Costume Designer: Carey Bennett
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is my b-day and people around here just go crazy for it, I don’t know why. Oh, fun fact: I share my birthday with Eva Longoria. So I’ve a perfect icebreaker if I ever meet Teri Hatcher.
Before Andy Bernard brought his Brooks Brothers-informed sense of style to Dunder Mifflin Scranton, regional manager Michael Scott probably thought himself the branch’s snappiest dresser and particularly chose his 41st birthday as the time to exhibit that. Continue reading