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
William Powell as Jim Wade, crusading assistant district attorney
New York City, Spring 1934
Film: Manhattan Melodrama
Release Date: May 4, 1934
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Costume Designer: Dolly Tree
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy birthday, William Powell! The suave actor was born July 29, 1892, in my hometown of Pittsburgh, though he moved to Kansas City as a teenager. He only stayed there three years before moving to New York at the age of 18 to pursue a career as an actor, eventually becoming one of the best known actors of Hollywood’s “golden era” with three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor recognizing his performances in The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), and Life with Father (1947).
Powell’s chemistry with Myrna Loy, most famously showcased as detective couple Nick and Nora Charles in the “Thin Man” series, made them one of the most iconic on-screen duos, though their first of 14 cinematic collaborations was Manhattan Melodrama in 1934. Continue reading
Clint Ritchie as “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, born Vincenzo Gabaldi, Chicago mob enforcer
Chicago, Winter 1928
Film: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Release Date: June 30, 1967
Director: Roger Corman
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of the few true incidents from mob lore to have expanded into mainstream pop culture. The killing of seven men affiliated with Chicago’s North Side Gang on February 14, 1929, startled and intrigued the public with its brutality, and the event became symbolic of the ugly violence that permeated through Prohibition-era America. Continue reading
Jean-Pierre Cassel as Jean-François Jardie, dashing French pilot and resistance operative
France, Winter 1942
Film: Army of Shadows
(French title: L’armée des ombres)
Release Date: September 12, 1969
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Costume Designer: Colette Baudot
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 French Resistance epic, released at a volatile time for France and the world at large, was barely seen by the rest of the world until decades later. Army of Shadows officially debuted in the United States in 2006 and quickly shot to the top of many critics’ “best of the year” lists.
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, suave British government agent
London, Winter 2002
Film: Die Another Day
Release Date: November 20, 2002
Director: Lee Tamahori
Costume Designer: Lindy Hemming
I received a request for this outfit from Die Another Day which, for all of its shortcomings as a James Bond adventure, featured Pierce Brosnan’s 007 in elegant tailored clothing that is always worthy of discussion. Given the extreme chill in the air for the 00-7th of January today, it felt appropriate to explore his luxurious and layered businesswear upon arriving in London and reconnecting with his MI6 allies at the agency’s secret satellite station in an abandoned Underground tube station at Vauxhall Cross. Continue reading
Cary Grant as Nicolò “Nickie” Ferrante, socialite playboy
French Riviera, December 1956
Film: An Affair to Remember
Release Date: July 2, 1957
Director: Leo McCarey
Executive Wardrobe Designer: Charles Le Maire
As many folks across the United States are wrapping up Thanksgiving travel arrangements home to be with family, I wanted to take a look at some classic films where characters are making the own familial visitations.
An Affair to Remember finds Cary Grant on a transatlantic journey with Deborah Kerr. When the SS Constitution anchors in the French Riviera, Grant takes the opportunity to introduce his new traveling companion to his aging Italian grandmother at her villa in the picturesque seaside commune of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Continue reading