Telly Savalas as Theo Kojak, NYPD lieutenant
New York City, Fall 1973
Episode: “Dark Sunday” (Episode 1.08)
Air Date: December 12, 1973
Director: Charles R. Rondeau
Creator: Abby Mann
Who loves ya, baby?
As today would have been the 100th birthday of Telly Savalas—born January 21, 1922—it felt like the time to take a long-overdue look at the Greek-American actor’s signature role as the tough and tenacious Theo Kojak.
Kojak’s famous lollipops were introduced in the eighth episode, “Dark Sunday”, which begins with the murder of a small-time criminal named Artie Fowler (Marc Alaimo). “He used to love to play with cars, you know,” recalls Kojak. “Strip ’em, drive ’em, steal ’em… oh well, what else?” Through his investigations of the murder, Kojak welcomes Artie’s girlfriend Maria Cranston (Lara Parker) to his office. He has a lit cigarillo in his mouth when she enters, but he swiftly tosses it away in favor of a Tootsie Pop pulled from his desk… the first of what would become one of the character’s trademarks. Continue reading
Sean Connery as Mark Rutland, publisher
Philadelphia to Baltimore, Spring 1964
Release Date: July 22, 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Men’s Costumes: James Linn
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Months before Goldfinger was released and cemented Bond-mania among the cinematic zeitgeist of the 1960s, Sean Connery got the opportunity to show audiences that he was capable of more than just suave secret-agenting with the back-to-back releases of thrillers Woman of Straw and Marnie. The latter has been celebrated as the better-regarded of the two, with some even calling it Alfred Hitchcock’s underappreciated masterpiece, though Hitch himself was more dismissive when discussing the work with François Truffaut:
I wasn’t convinced that Sean Connery was a Philadelphia gentleman. You know, if you want to reduce Marnie to its lowest common denominator, it is the story of the prince and the beggar girl. In a story of this kind you need a real gentleman, a more elegant man than what we had.
Say what you will about Connery’s performance, but I’ve considered Hitchcock’s criticism to be somewhat undeserved, particularly considering that the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1961 novel of the same name condensed the characters of Marnie’s husband, Mark Rutland, and the psychoanalyst that Mark forces Marnie to see. Thus, Connery’s characterization requires him to convincingly depict Mark as first a charismatic cad, then a manipulative rapist, and—ultimately—a quasi-therapist whose motives are depicted more through the lens of spousal support than domination. Given the challenge of the role, I believe Connery ably rose to the occasion, bringing out more savage sides of the character than we may have believed in the hands of Hitch’s erstwhile stalwarts like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart.
Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, novice high school teacher
London, June 1966
Film: To Sir, with Love
Release Date: June 14, 1967
Director: James Clavell
Wardrobe Supervisor: John Wilson-Apperson
The death of Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE, was announced last Friday, prompting countless fans to recall memories of the great actor’s lasting legacy. Born February 20, 1927 in Miami to a Bahamian family, Poitier’s screen acting career took off during the 1950s, following his breakthrough performance in Blackboard Jungle (1955) with a charismatic turn in Edge of the City (1957). His Academy Award nomination for The Defiant Ones (1958) marked the first time a Black actor was nominated for Best Actor, and his ultimate win for Lillies of the Field (1963) established Poitier as the first Black recipient of the Best Actor Oscar.
Poitier’s career continued through the decade, with 1967 a particular banner year as he delivered three of his most iconic performances in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir, with Love. 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
Don Cheadle as Buck Swope, adult film star-turned-stereo entrepreneur
Los Angeles, Winter 1983
Film: Boogie Nights
Release Date: October 10, 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
WARNING! Spoilers and gore ahead!
Approaching the new year and the prospect of fresh starts, I wanted to revisit the modern masterpiece Boogie Nights and in particular one of its ensemble cast that I have always found most compelling: Don Cheadle’s performance as the well-meaning but oft-hindered Buck Swope, a former porn actor looking to build a new life with his wife and fellow ex-porn star Jessie (Melora Walters).
After his employment history interferes with his prospects to fund his entrepreneurial endeavor to open his own stereo shop, Buck encounters a reversal of fortune just two weeks before Christmas. Continue reading
James Stewart as George Bailey, reluctant banker
Bedford Falls, New York, Spring 1932
Film: It’s a Wonderful Life
Release Date: December 20, 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Released 75 years ago today, It’s a Wonderful Life has become an enduring Christmas classic… almost by accident! Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s self-published novella The Greatest Gift, the movie had been relatively well-received at the time of its release, even earning five Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, but it would be overshadowed by the epic blockbuster The Best Years of Our Lives that told the story of servicemen returning from World War II.
Despite being a personal favorite of director Frank Capra and star Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life seemed destined for obscurity as just another “old movie” when a clerical error prevented proper renewal of the copyright. Though small royalties were still owed as it was derived from Stern’s story, TV stations leapt at the chance to air high-quality, low-cost seasonal programming, launching It’s a Wonderful Life to its status as a perennial favorite for holiday viewers by the 1980s.
Tom Neal as Al Roberts, hitchhiking nightclub pianist
Across the United States, especially Arizona to California, Spring 1945
Release Date: November 30, 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Wardrobe Designer: Mona Barry
On the last day of #Noirvember, let’s also kick off #CarWeek with a look at one of the best examples of “road noir” with Detour, the enduring B-movie that saw a limited release 76 years ago today on November 30, 1945, just over two weeks after its initial premiere in Boston.
Martin M. Goldsmith worked with an uncredited Martin Mooney to adapt his own 1939 novel of the same name into a screenplay. Known as “the King of PRC” for his reputation as an efficient director working for the Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation, the Austrian-born Edgar G. Ulmer filmed Detour in less than a month in the summer of 1945, with a shoestring budget of less than $100,000; for comparison, this was less than 10% of the final budget for that year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Lost Weekend. (Perhaps overstating his efficiency, Ulmer would later cite that he made the movie in six days for $20,000.)
Detour was my gateway to film noir, thanks to a multi-pack DVD that I was gifted in high school that included many pulp classics like D.O.A., The Hitchhiker, Quicksand, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, many of which—like Detour—were regularly available in budget-friendly home video releases as they had fallen into the public domain. Clocking in at just over an hour, the story may be simple, but it contains all the characteristic noir themes and stock characters, including the femme fatale (and how!) and the wrongly accused man whose questionable ethics and unfortunate circumstances launch him headway into increasingly dangerous circumstances.
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
Elvis Presley as “Lucky” Jackson, mechanic and aspiring race car driver
Las Vegas, Summer 1964
Film: Viva Las Vegas
Release Date: May 20, 1964
Director: George Sidney
Costume Designer: Donfeld (Donald Lee Feld)
Tailor: Sy Devore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the sad anniversary of the King of Rock and Roll’s death, I wanted to celebrate Elvis Presley’s legacy via his style in one of his best-regarded movies, the 1964 musical vehicle Viva Las Vegas.
Set in the bright-lit berg known as America’s Playground, Viva Las Vegas united Elvis with Ann-Margret, a fellow multi-talent with whom the King quickly bonded to form what was first a romance and would evolve into a lifelong friendship. Continue reading
Griffin Dunne as Paul Hackett, mild-mannered data processor
New York City, Spring 1985
Film: After Hours
Release Date: September 13, 1985
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Rita Ryack
Friday the 13th is traditionally a day for bad luck, so it’s appropriate that Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, centered around one New Yorker’s evening of arguably bad luck, was released on Friday the 13th in September 1985.
A surreal black comedy with elements of neo-noir, After Hours begins just before 5:00 for Paul Hackett, a data processor ostensibly living the yuppie dream with his secure job and Manhattan apartment… but the job sucks, his apartment’s cramped despite no one to share it with, and he has no social life outside of training new employees. In search of any human connectivity into his life, Paul takes his dog-eared copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to an all-night diner. Continue reading