James Stewart as John “Chip” Hardesty, earnest FBI agent
Oklahoma, June 1930
Film: The FBI Story
Release Date: October 1959
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Costume Designer: Adele Palmer
One of the greatest stars of the 20th century, James Stewart—known to friends and fans as “Jimmy”—was born on this day in 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, just about an hour west of Pittsburgh.
Among the less celebrated titles in the actor’s extensive filmography is The FBI Story, a J. Edgar Hoover-influenced epic exploring the early successes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jimmy plays our fictional all-American agent John “Chip” Hardesty, whose Forrest Gump-like decades-long career with the Bureau includes a role in nearly every major investigation from tracking down the bank-robbing “Public Enemies” of the Depression and World War II spies to the bombing of United Flight 629 in 1955.
An interesting chapter of The FBI Story sends Chip to Oklahoma in the summer of 1930 to investigate the “Reign of Terror” in Osage County, Oklahoma, represented on screen as the obsoletely named “Wade County”. These murders of dozens of Osage Native Americans throughout the ’20s were recently explored by David Grann in his fascinating book, Killers of the Flower Moon, which provided the basis for a Martin Scorsese film of the same name currently in production starring Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Continue reading
David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, ambitious humanoid alien
New Mexico, Summer 1975
Film: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Release Date: March 18, 1976
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Costume Designer: May Routh
Tailor: Ola Hudson
In the spirit of Earth Day, let’s check in with The Man Who Fell to Earth. Only David Bowie could have truly played the idealistic humanoid alien who makes a desperate voyage to Earth in order to gather the technology to save his drought-ridden home planet, only for his ageless character to succumb to the materialistic pleasures offered by the sex, drugs, and capitalism that characterized American zeitgeist in the ’70s.
Glenn Ford as Ben Wade, bandit leader
Arizona Territory, 1880s
Film: 3:10 to Yuma
Release Date: August 7, 1957
Director: Delmer Daves
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
Looking for a movie to watch on 3/10? I recommend 3:10 to Yuma, the swift, suspenseful, and compelling Western based on an early short story by Elmore Leonard.
Modern audiences may be more familiar with the 2007 adaptation starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the outlaw and the rancher, respectively, though the original black-and-white version was produced in 1957, four years after Leonard’s story was published in Dime Western Magazine.
A decade before revisionist Westerns would become fashionable in “New Hollywood”, the original 3:10 to Yuma followed in the allegorical tradition of High Noon (1952) with complex characters and moral questions that paint a worldview where the concept of right and wrong are less black and white than the cinematography.
Andy Samberg as Nyles, aka “Misty’s boyfriend”, time-looped slacker focused only on “the next bite”
Palm Springs, California, November 2019
Film: Palm Springs
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
Costume Designer: Colin Wilkes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This is today, today is yesterday, and tomorrow is also today… it’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might’ve heard about.
Shorthand descriptions of Palm Springs have summed up the movie as “Groundhog Day for millennials,” though I was pleasantly surprised by the poignancy and philosophical complexity of this incredibly entertaining movie… particularly in the context of the much-publicized fact that the Lonely Island tacked on a nice 69 cents to the record-setting $17.5 million sale price to Neon and Hulu after its premiere at Sundance in January 2020.
Clint Eastwood as Blondie, aka “the Man with No Name”, taciturn bounty hunter
New Mexico Territory, Spring 1862
Film: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(Italian title: Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo)
Release Date: December 23, 1966
Director: Sergio Leone
Costume Designer: Carlo Simi
Today marks the 90th birthday of screen legend Clint Eastwood, born May 31, 1930, in San Francisco. (Between John Wayne on May 26, James Stewart on May 20, and Gary Cooper on May 7, there must be something about being in born in May that positions an actor for stardom in the Western genre!)
After Eastwood’s initial success on the TV series Rawhide, he traveled to Italy to star in a trio of Westerns directed by Sergio Leone, firmly establishing the significance of the “spaghetti Western”. In A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Eastwood ostensibly played a variation of the same mysterious, laconic gunfighter alternately known as Joe, Manco, or Blondie, respectively, but immortalized in cinema as “the Man with No Name.”
Gary Cooper as Will Kane, newlywed city marshal
Hadleyville, New Mexico Territory, Summer 1873
Film: High Noon
Release Date: July 24, 1952
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Men’s Wardrobe Credit: Joe King
Born 119 years ago today on May 7, 1901, Gary Cooper received his second Academy Award for Best Actor in recognition of his now-iconic performance in High Noon as a laconic lawman whose sense of duty compels him to make a lone stand against a band of dangerous outlaws.
Dean Martin as Matt Helm, smooth secret agent and photographer
New Mexico to Phoenix, August 1965
Film: The Silencers
Release Date: February 18, 1966
Director: Phil Karlson
Costume Designer: Moss Mabry
Tailor: Sy Devore
Dean Martin infused his lounge lizard persona into a James Bond-like spy for his four-film portrayal of Matt Helm, a playboy whose love for turtlenecks, womanizing, and drinking above actual spying may make him more of an antecedent for the character of Sterling Archer than of 007 himself.
With a bossa nova score by Elmer Bernstein and a hip mid-sixties sartorialism styled by costume designer Moss Mabry and the Rat Pack’s go-to tailor Sy Devore, the Matt Helm series serves as a swingin’ time capsule to the waning heyday of hi-fis and hedonism. Though it may be dated, the series—particularly this first film, The Silencers—seems perfectly content with that and, in fact, it may be an intentional way for the 1966 zeitgeist to remain intact for modern audiences. Never taking itself too seriously, packed with decent talent, and sticking to a tight, quick-paced plot, The Silencers differentiates itself from its contemporary spy spoofs like Casino Royale in that it can still entertain 50 years later.
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