Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green, ambitious blues cornetist
Chicago, Summer 1927
Film: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Release Date: November 25, 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Costume Designer: Ann Roth
The late Chadwick Boseman was being named as an Oscar contender for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play of the same name, even before it came out. We’re still two months away from the Academy Award nominations being announced, but Boseman has already received posthumous Best Actor wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and Music City Film Critics’ Association for what turned out to be his final screen role.
The praise is well-deserved as the actor delivered a powerhouse performance as the hotheaded horn-blower Levee Green, an ambitious (and fictional) member of a four-piece band backing Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), the Mother of the Blues herself. The North Side neighborhood in my hometown of Pittsburgh was transformed to resemble roaring ’20s Chicago when production came to the Steel City two summers ago; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one of the ten plays in the Hill District-born Wilson’s “Century Cycle” not actually set in Pittsburgh.
Chadwick Boseman had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, never speaking publicly about his illness all the while delivering some of his most iconic performances in Marshall, Black Panther, and the two Avengers films to follow. Indeed, Boseman’s vigorous performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom belies his health at the time, and his fellow cast members remained unaware of his ongoing treatment for the cancer that would progress to stage IV before it ended his life at the age of 42 on August 28, 2020. Continue reading
Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, sharp-tongued private investigator
Los Angeles, Summer 1941
Film: Farewell, My Lovely
Release Date: August 8, 1975
Director: Dick Richards
Men’s Wardrobe Credit: G. Tony Scarano
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Robert Mitchum had been credentialed in film noir for more than a generation (as explored in Saturday’s #Noirvember post) before the actor first took on the role of Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe. Based on an Edgar Allen Poe Award-winning screenplay by David Zulag Goodman, Dick Richards’ adaptation of Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely premiered just two days after Mitchum’s 58th birthday, making the actor almost double the age of the character he portrayed… but his grizzled presence is just right as he navigates his way through the sordid City of Angels on the eve of the second world war:
This past spring was the first that I’d felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A., maybe it was the rotten case I’d had, mostly chasing a few missing husbands… and then chasing their wives once I found them in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.
We find Mitchum’s Marlowe in media res “holed up in a dingy hotel, ducking the police,” staring under the brim of his ubiquitous hat through the neon and Philip Morris cigarette smoke. Continue reading
Robert Redford as Bill McKay, charismatic lawyer-turned-senatorial candidate
San Francisco to Los Angeles, Summer through Fall 1972
Film: The Candidate
Release Date: June 29, 1972
Director: Michael Ritchie
Costume Design: Patricia Norris
Costume Supervisor: Bernie Pollack
Tomorrow is Election Day here in the United States… though I doubt anyone has missed the memo given the barrage of emails, texts, social media posts, and more designed to serve as reminders and instructions.
Avoiding any discussion of this year’s contentious political arena, let’s step back nearly 50 years to the early 1970s when Robert Redford was seeking to work again with director Michael Ritchie after their first collaboration in Downhill Racer (1969). The duo reportedly former political writer Jeremy Larner to pen what would become an Academy Award-winning screenplay chronicling “a candidate who sold his soul.” Larner had worked as a speechwriter for Senator Eugene McCarthy during McCarthy’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, using this experience to draft the story of Bill McKay, the activist lawyer from California tapped to challenge the popular Republican incumbent in the battle for a U.S. Senate seat.
Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown, millionaire criminal mastermind
Switzerland, June 1968
Film: The Thomas Crown Affair
Release Date: June 19, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Costume Designer: Alan Levine
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
I recently had the pleasure to join Pete Brooker and Matt Spaiser (of Bond Suits) on their excellent podcast From Tailors with Love for an entertaining and informative discussion of Steve McQueen’s suits and style in The Thomas Crown Affair. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can follow the fun via iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher, and check out highlights from yours truly’s appearance on the latest episode here. Continue reading
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, mysterious advertising creative director
New York City, Spring 1960 and 1962
Series: Mad Men
– “5G” (Episode 1.05), dir. Lesli Linka Glatter, aired 8/16/2007
– “Red in the Face” (Episode 1.07), dir. Tim Hunter, aired 8/30/2007
– “The New Girl” (Episode 2.05), dir. Jennifer Getzinger, aired 8/24/2008
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
Happy birthday to Jon Hamm, born March 10, 1971, and arguably most famous for his Emmy-winning performance on AMC’s Mad Men as suave 1960s ad man Don Draper.
Donald Draper? What kinda name is that?
James Cagney as Tom Powers, dangerous gangster and bootlegger
Chicago, Spring 1922
Film: The Public Enemy
Release Date: April 23, 1931
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Wardrobe Credit: Earl Luick
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One hundred years ago at midnight tonight, on January 17, 1920, the Volstead Act went into effect, beginning a 13-year prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States… and kicking off what Herbert Asbury referred to in his informal history of the Chicago underworld as “the saturnalia of crime and corruption which has been called ‘a noble experiment’,” due to the resulting surge in organized crime that effectively gave rise to the modern gangster.
As moving pictures evolved as a popular medium in the waning years of Prohibition, so too did the gangster movie. Warner Brothers took the lead, exposing audiences to snarling violent hoodlums based on the real-life criminals who bloodied the streets of New York and Chicago. It was in the 1931 hit The Public Enemy that James Cagney made his star-making turn as the psychopathic gangster Tom Powers.
Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, Broadway crooner and World War II veteran
Pine Tree, Vermont, December 1954
Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Happy December! To some, the start of December after Thanksgiving marks the start of the Christmas season, while others (like Mariah Carey) kick off their holiday season a month earlier as soon as Halloween is over. To compromise, today’s post for December 1 explores Bing Crosby’s style in White Christmas, arguably a holiday classic, though the outfit in question is his only on-screen ensemble (aside from his army uniforms) that doesn’t include a single piece of holiday red.
Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, corrupt Atlantic City politician and bootlegger
Atlantic City, Late Spring 1931
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Episode: “Eldorado” (Episode 5.08)
Air Date: October 26, 2014
Director: Tim Van Patten
Creator: Terence Winter
Costume Designer: John A. Dunn
Tailor: Martin Greenfield
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary since the final episode of Boardwalk Empire aired. Set in 1931, the fifth and final season of HBO’s Prohibition-set crime drama took a seven-year leap to conclude the stories of Atlantic City’s corrupt ex-treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and those in his orbit, whether based on reality like “Lucky” Luciano (Vincent Piazza) or fictional creations for the show like Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol). Nucky himself is based on Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, the colorful and indeed corrupt politician from Atlantic City’s heyday in the roaring ’20s.
Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, ruthless Italian-born bootlegger and mob enforcer
Chicago, Summer 1927
Release Date: April 9, 1932
Director: Howard Hawks
Today’s #MafiaMonday post goes back to the Prohibition era, the age that gave rise to the modern American gangster… and the American gangster movie.
After Warner Brothers scored back-to-back hits with Little Caesar (1931) and The Public Enemy (1931), effectively establishing the subgenre of the gangster film, Howard Hughes entered the fray with Scarface, an explosive, influential, and fast-paced criminal epic adapted from Armitage Trail’s novel that had been based on the life of Al Capone. Hughes had been warned against taking on Warner’s dominance in the genre, so he packed his production with talent including screenwriter Ben Hecht, director Howard Hawks, and lead actor Paul Muni, who was born 124 years ago yesterday on September 22, 1895.
In the wake of movies like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, the Hays Office had been increasing its efforts to censor what it deemed to be glamorization of criminal lifestyles in cinema, but its notoriously restrictive production code had yet to be put into place, giving Scarface full reign to arm its vaguely incestuous central character with a Thompson submachine gun, once dubbed “the gun that made the twenties roar,” as he rose the ranks of the criminal underworld in a series of violent vignettes paralleling the life and crimes of the infamous Capone.
Robert Walker as Bruno Antony, obsessive psychopath who “never seemed to do anything”
On the train from Washington, D.C., to New York, Late Summer 1950
Film: Strangers on a Train
Release Date: June 30, 1951
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This week, BAMF Style commemorates the birthday of Alfred Hitchcock, showcasing some notable men’s style across the oeuvre of the “Master of Suspense” who was born 120 years ago today on August 13, 1899. Continue reading