Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard, small-time car thief
Marseille, France, August 1959
(French title: À bout de souffle)
Release Date: March 16, 1960
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Happy birthday, Bébel! Jean-Paul Belmondo was born 86 years ago today in Neuilly-sur-Seine, west of Paris. Following a brief career as an amateur boxer and his compulsory military service, Belmondo began acting in the mid-1950s and found international stardom after his performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (Breathless to English-speaking audiences), a seminal example of the burgeoning French New Wave cinematic movement.
James Garner as Jim Rockford, wisecracking private detective and ex-convict
Los Angeles, Summer 1974
Series: The Rockford Files
Episode: “Backlash of the Hunter” (Pilot)
Air Date: March 27, 1974
Director: Richard T. Heffron
Creator: Roy Huggins & Stephen J. Cannell
Costume Designer: Charles Waldo
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 91st birthday of James Garner, the charismatic actor who grew to stardom with his starring roles on the Western series Maverick and in The Great Escape (1963) before taking on what would be his signature role as struggling private eye Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files.
Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell developed The Rockford Files as a spiritual successor to Maverick, reinventing Garner’s charming gambler Bret Maverick as a modern-day private investigator with the same sarcastic yet sincere attitude and conflict-averse nature. Having already proven his private eye credentials by playing Raymond Chandler’s famous detective in Marlowe (1969), Garner stepped into Jim Rockford’s loafers and established one of the greatest TV roles ever.
This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and number. I’ll get back to you…
Robert Mitchum as Harry Kilmer, tough former detective
Tokyo, Spring 1974
Film: The Yakuza
Release Date: December 28, 1974
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The unique neo-noir Japanese gangster movie The Yakuza was conceptualized by brothers Paul and Leonard Schrader based on Leonard’s letters to Paul while living in Japan, particularly about the yakuza and the screen presence of Ken Takakura. While Takakura was almost always guaranteed to play a role, the crucial positions of the director and the lead actor—who would portray an aging former detective sent to Japan in service to an old friend—were still in transition.
Early in the pre-production stages, it looked like Robert Aldrich would direct with Lee Marvin in the lead role, until Marvin’s clash with Warner Brothers led to Robert Mitchum taking the role. Continue reading
James Coburn as Tex Panthollow, larcenous former OSS commando
Paris, April 1963
Release Date: December 5, 1963
Director: Stanley Donen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As portrayed by the brilliant and versatile James Coburn, Tex Panthollow makes his dramatic introduction in the beginning of Charade as the second of three mysterious men who show up to “pay respects” at the funeral of their one-time brother-in-arms Charles Lampert, each one increasingly perplexing his widow Reggie (Audrey Hepburn) with their behavior. Par examplum: Tex draws a hand-sized mirror from his inside breast pocket and holds it directly under the deceased’s nose to ensure that he’s really passed from this world before sneering: “Arrive-derci, Charlie.”
Clint Eastwood as Joe Kidd, former bounty hunter
Territory of New Mexico, Spring 1902
Film: Joe Kidd
Release Date: July 14, 1972
Director: John Sturges
After more than a decade as a rising star, particularly in the genre of Westerns, Clint Eastwood took on the title role in Joe Kidd (1972), an idiosyncratic revisionist Western written by Elmore Leonard that would be one of the last films directed by the legendary John Sturges.
We meet Joe Kidd when he is locked up for poaching on Native American land in the small town of Sinola, New Mexico, on a spring day in 1902, ten years before New Mexico would become the 47th state admitted to the U.S. A former bounty hunter, Joe remains neutral when he is invited to join a landowner’s posse tracking down the Mexican bandito Luis Chama (John Saxon), but he is eventually convinced to join after one of Chama’s attacks hits closer to home. Continue reading
Lee Marvin as Walker, revenge-driven armed robber
Santa Monica, Summer 1967
Film: Point Blank
Release Date: August 30, 1967
Director: John Boorman
Costume Designer: Margo Weintz
With the first day of autumn only a day away, we’re looking ahead to fall fashion from a tough guy. In John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir Point Blank, Lee Marvin starred as Walker, the unsmiling thief out for revenge after he was left for dead on Alcatraz Island by his one-time partner Mal Reese (John Vernon).
Having patched up his wounds, Walker seeks out the help of his sister-in-law Chris (Angie Dickinson), who agrees to lend her own particular brand of charm to assist Walker in retrieving the $93,000 he believes he is rightfully owed. Continue reading
James Garner as Philip Marlowe, cynical private detective
Los Angeles, Spring 1969
Release Date: October 22, 1969
Director: Paul Bogart
Costume Design: Florence Hackett & James Taylor
Save for a single season of a loosely adapted ABC TV series, he character of Philip Marlowe had gone more than two decades without a cinematic portrayal at the time Marlowe was released in 1969. Directed by the appropriately named Paul Bogart (no relation), this adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1949 pulp novel The Little Sister updated the setting to contemporary Los Angeles.
James Garner took some criticism for his take on the famous private eye, but I think the likable actor’s vulnerable sincerity works for his interpretation of Chandler’s anti-hero. Continue reading