Gene Barry as Dr. Ray Flemming, smarmy psychiatrist
Los Angeles, Spring 1967
Film: Prescription: Murder
Original Air Date: February 20, 1968
Director: Richard Irving
Costume Designer: Burton Miller
This week in 1968, TV audiences were introduced to an unassuming yet indefatigable homicide detective in a wrinkled raincoat whose humble mannerisms and appearance belied an uncanny ability to bring murderers to justice. Oh, and just one more thing… that detective was named Columbo.
Peter Falk wasn’t the first to play the detective, nor was he even the first choice when Richard Levinson and William Link’s stage play was adapted for TV as Prescription: Murder, the first episode of what would become the long-running series Columbo. Bert Freed had originated the role in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show, to be followed by Thomas Mitchell when Levinson and Link debuted the play Prescription: Murder two years later in San Francisco.
Prescription: Murder establishes many trademark elements of Columbo, including the delayed introduction of the shrewd but shabbily dressed lieutenant himself until after we watch the murderer of the week commit his—or her—crime.
Gene Barry set a standard in Prescription: Murder that the killers foiled by Columbo would follow for decades to come: arrogant, well-dressed, and clever enough to pull together a murder scheme that keeps them above suspicion… from all but Lieutenant Columbo, of course. Continue reading
Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey, mystery novelist and wealthy patriarch
Massachusetts, November 2018
Film: Knives Out
Release Date: November 27, 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Costume Designer: Jenny Eagan
The great Canadian actor Christopher Plummer died a week ago today at the age of 91 after three quarters of a century honing his craft across stage and screen from Shakespeare to The Sound of Music.
In his penultimate screen credit, Knives Out, Plummer starred as Harlan Thrombey, a charismatic writer who built his fortune through writing mystery novels and, on his 85th birthday, resolves to finally set his free-loading family free. Continue reading
Fabian Forte as Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Depression-era bank robber
Kansas City, Spring 1930 and 1931
Film: A Bullet for Pretty Boy
Release Date: June 1970
Director: Larry Buchanan (and Maury Dexter, uncredited)
Wardrobe Credit: Ron Scott
After Warner Brothers’ success with Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, American International Pictures (AIP) leapt at the chance to capitalize on the emerging trend of Depression-era crime movies using their own brand of inexpensive, exploitative filmmaking. This wasn’t AIP’s first rodeo in the realm of ’30s public enemies, having earlier produced The Bonnie Parker Story and Machine Gun Kelly, both released in May 1958. Their B-movie output in the decade that followed Bonnie and Clyde ranged from fictional stories like Boxcar Bertha (1972) directed by Martin Scorsese to those loosely based on actual criminals like Bloody Mama (1970) starring Shelley Winters as a caricature of “Ma” Barker (alongside a young Robert De Niro as one of her sons) to Dillinger (1973).
Even before that arguably most famous ’30s bank robber would be played by a grizzled Warren Oates, former teen idol Fabian got a shot to rebrand his image by playing Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, the outlaw whose moniker alone lent itself to suit the fresh-faced Mr. Forte.
The real Charles Arthur Floyd was born 117 years ago on February 3, 1904, in Adairsville, Georgia, though his family moved to Oklahoma when Floyd was seven, and it was the Cookson Hills that he would consider home for the 30 years of his life.
A fellow Aquarius, Forte was born only three days (and 39 years) later on February 6, 1943, making him 26—the same age as Floyd was for his first bank robbery—when A Bullet for Pretty Boy was filmed from June to October 1969. A Bullet for Pretty Boy loosely follows the facts of Floyd’s life, albeit exaggerated and certainly simplified for the sake of AIP’s low-budget, short-runtime formula for success that would thrill teens at the drive-ins just before these audiences found the real thrills in their own back seats later that night. Continue reading
Spencer Tracy as John J. Macreedy, one-armed war veteran
Black Rock, California, Fall 1945
Film: Bad Day at Black Rock
Release Date: January 7, 1955
Director: John Sturges
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Bad Day at Black Rock may have been one of the most requested movies I’ve been asked to write about, so when I saw that the Criterion Channel had added it to their streaming collection in December, I wasted no time in finally watching this swift and spectacular thriller that had been recommended by so many of you.
Based on Howard Breslin’s short story “Bad Time at Honda”, the account begins in the sprawling desert of eastern California, specifically the isolated berg of Black Rock, where no train has stopped in four years—the duration of American participation in World War II—until this particular day in late 1945, when the one-armed John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) requests a stop.
Conductor: Man, they look woebegone and far away.
Macreedy: Oh, I’ll only be here 24 hours.
Conductor: In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.
Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott, fiery, independent-minded minister
aboard the S.S. Poseidon en route Athens, New Year’s Eve 1972
Film: The Poseidon Adventure
Release Date: December 12, 1972
Director: Ronald Neame
Costume Designer: Paul Zastupnevich
Happy New Year’s Eve… and #TurtleneckThursday? After this disaster of a year, I can’t think of a better movie to bid good riddance to 2020 than one of the most famous disaster movies of the ’70s.
Produced by “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen, The Poseidon Adventure followed the Airport template of a star-studded cast fighting to survive a perilous disaster while tackling their own personal issues. While Airport had originated the disaster film boom of the ’70s, The Poseidon Adventure proved its enduring box office power, recouping more than 25 times its initial budget and paving the way for a decade’s worth of similar stories set amidst tropical storms, within fire-prone skyscrapers, and even aboard a famous airship.
Unlike the ill-fated Titanic which sank during its maiden voyage in 1912, the fictional S.S. Poseidon—partially filmed aboard the decommissioned Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary—is making one last run before it will be scrapped in Athens. The cautious Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) finds his authority challenged by the ship’s aggressive owner Linarcos (Fred Sadoff), establishing the dangers of hubris that would remain a consistent theme throughout the disaster sub-genre.
Down in the ship’s elegant dining room, the Poseidon‘s glamorous passengers are celebrating New Year’s Eve amidst their own personal dramas or crises of faith. Seated at the captain’s table are New York detective Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), his ex-prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens), and Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a controversial cleric yet popular passenger who had captivated a congregation earlier that day with his religious philosophy said to be based on director Ronald Neame’s own hybrid of Christian, Buddhist, and New Age spiritualist beliefs.
While the champagne pops and auld acquaintances be forgot, the crew learns of a massive undersea earthquake that results in a rare wave that strikes the ship broadside, capsizing the S.S. Poseidon and quite literally turning the lives of its passengers upside down.
We’re floating upside-down… we’ve gotta climb up.
James Shigeta as Joe Takagi, Nakatomi Corporation executive
Los Angeles, Christmas 1987
Film: Die Hard
Release Date: July 15, 1988
Director: John McTiernan
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
My latest post focused on yet another chaotic Christmas party on The Office, though the drama of Dunder Mifflin’s holiday celebrations pale in comparison to how the employees of the Nakatomi Corporation are forced to spend Christmas Eve in Die Hard.
James Shigeta kicked off #Noirvember last month when I focused on his style in The Crimson Kimono so, in the spirit of the yuletide season, let’s revisit the actor via his arguably most memorable role as the stylish, unflappable, and ultimately doomed head of the Nakatomi Corporation.
Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi, born Kyoto, 1937. Family emigrated to San Pedro, California, 1939. Interned, Manzanar, 1942 to ’43. Scholarship student, University of California, 1955. Law degree, Stanford, 1962. MBA, Harvard, 1970. President, Nakatomi Trading. Vice Chairman, Nakatomi Investment Group… and father of five.
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.
George Clooney as Seth Gecko, dangerous fugitive bank robber and “real mean motor scooter”
Texas to Mexico, Summer 1995
Film: From Dusk till Dawn
Release Date: January 17, 1996
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Costume Designer: Graciela Mazón
Happy Halloween, BAMF Style readers! Over the last few years, I’ve received a few requests to explore George Clooney’s garb in From Dusk till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez and penned by Quentin Tarantino from a story by Robert Kurtzman.
The action horror thriller marked a significant departure for Clooney— then popular as the charismatic pediatrician Doug Ross on ER, playing against type as the ruthless, Caesar-cut baddie terrorizing the southern plains with his psychotic brother on the road to El Rey.
Peter Cushing as Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing, occult researcher and descendant of the famous vampire hunter
London, Fall 1972… A.D. 1972, that is
Film: Dracula A.D. 1972
Release Date: September 28, 1972
Director: Alan Gibson
Wardrobe Supervisor: Rosemary Burrows
Just days away from Halloween, today’s post responds to a request received earlier this year from BAMF Style reader Alan, who suggested the “extremely cheesy and, at times, ridiculous” Hammer production Dracula A.D. 1972, starring horror maestros and real-life pals Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing reprising their usual roles as Count Dracula and Van Helsing, respectively.
Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, recently resigned secret agent
“The Village”, Fall 1967
Series: The Prisoner
– “Arrival” (Episode 1.01, dir. Don Chaffey, aired 9/29/1967)
– “Fall Out” (Episode 1.17, dir. Patrick McGoohan, aired 2/1/1968)
Created by: Patrick McGoohan & George Markstein
Wardrobe: Masada Wilmot & Dora Lloyd
Tailored by: Dimi Major & Douglas Hayward (Major, Hayward Ltd.)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The Prisoner debuted in the UK on this date in 1967, a passion project from Patrick McGoohan after his rise to stardom on the British espionage series Danger Man. Mystery continues to surround the series, which has been argued as a surreal explanation of ego and individualism within the trappings of the then-fashionable “spy-fi” genre mix, inspiring more questions than answers over its seventeen-episode run, including the true identity of McGoohan’s character known only as “Number 6”, suggested to be a continuation of John Drake from Danger Man or possibly even an allegory for the actor himself. Continue reading