Guy Pearce as Ed Exley, by-the-book LAPD detective-lieutenant
Los Angeles, Spring 1953
Film: L.A. Confidential
Release Date: September 19, 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson
Costume Designer: Ruth Myers
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today is the 25th anniversary since the official release of L.A. Confidential, which premiered at Cannes in May 1997 but would finally hit theaters four months later on September 19, introducing audiences to James Ellroy’s murky world of corrupt cops, crooks, celebrities, and courtesans in ’50s Los Angeles.
Among its ensemble cast, L.A. Confidential centers around three LAPD officers: the tough but unsophisticated “Bud” White (Russell Crowe), the smooth yet morally compromised Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and the ambitious and stubbornly upright Ed Exley (Guy Pearce). Not to spoil too much of the plot for those who have missed this gem in the last quarter-century, but one of my favorite Letterboxd reviews—submitted by user David Sims—compares the movie to The Wizard of Oz as “Bud gets a brain, Jack gets a heart, Ed gets the courage.” Continue reading
Burt Lancaster as Felix Happer, eccentric oil executive
Scotland, Fall 1982
Film: Local Hero
Release Date: February 17, 1983
Director: Bill Forsyth
Costumes: Shawn Dale, Pip Newbery, and Penny Rose
I’m talking about the sky, MacIntyre. The constellation of Virgo is very prominent in the sky right now in Scotland. I want you to keep an eye on Virgo for me. Will you do that?
As Leo season transitions into Virgo season, Local Hero feels like the appropriate focus, given the curious astronomy-themed orders under which Knox Oil and Gas president Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) sends underling “Mac” MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) to Scotland, urging him to keep watching the sky, particularly for comet activity under the Leo and Virgo constellations. Continue reading
Rock Hudson as Bob Merrick, conscience-stricken millionaire and ex-medical student
Brightwood, New York, Spring 1949
Film: Magnificent Obsession
Release Date: August 4, 1954
Director: Douglas Sirk
Costume Designer: Bill Thomas (gowns)
German-born director Douglas Sirk and actor Rock Hudson had collaborated on nine movies throughout the 1950s, though their association may be best remembered for a trio of lush Technicolor melodramas beginning with Magnificent Obsession, released 68 years ago this month in August 1954. Continue reading
John Garfield as Nick Robey, desperate small-time thief
Los Angeles, Summer 1951
Film: He Ran All the Way
Release Date: June 19, 1951
Director: John Berry
Wardrobe Credit: Joe King
John Garfield, one of the most talented and naturalistic actors of Hollywood’s “golden age”, died 70 years ago today on May 21, 1952. Garfield had long been troubled with heart health issues, but it’s been argued that the resulting stress brought on by harassment from the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee contributed to his early death at the age of 39, nearly a year after the release of his final film, He Ran All the Way (1951).
James Dean as Caleb “Cal” Trask, angsty and entrepreneurial farmer’s son
Salinas, California, Fall 1917
Film: East of Eden
Release Date: March 9, 1955
Director: Elia Kazan
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
James Dean’s first of only three major credited screen roles also resulted in his first of two posthumous Academy Award nominations, starring as the moody Cal Trask in Elia Kazan’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, itself a loose retelling of the story of Cain and Abel set in California’s Salinas Valley around the time of America’s entry into World War I.
Cal and his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) vie for the affections of their father Adam (Raymond Massey), a prominent farmer and draft board chairman, whom Cal hopes to impress by growing beans to raise funds that would support the family and supplant some of Adam’s own financial losses. As Cal’s success in the bean-fields grows, his competition with his brother extends to Aron’s girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris), growing closer to her after they meet up at a county fair. Continue reading
Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois, smooth-talking Martinican-American sleeper agent
New York City, Fall 1962
Release Date: December 19, 1969
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Following last month’s look at a “hero costume” from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 thriller Saboteur, I want to continue exploring style from the lesser-known entries in the Master of Suspense’s oeuvre. Loosely based on the “Martel affair” and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Topaz was Hitch’s final movie centered around espionage, though I consider it to lack much of the spark that fueled his earlier successes like North by Northwest.
The single exception in Topaz may be a brief scene made more memorable by the appearance of Martinican agent Philippe Dubois, portrayed by Roscoe Lee Browne, the multi-talented star of stage and screen born 100 years ago today on May 2, 1922. Continue reading
James Gandolfini as Anthony Soprano, precision optics salesman with an uncanny resemblance to heating systems merchant Kevin Finnerty
Costa Mesa, California, Spring 2006
Series: The Sopranos
– “Join the Club” (Episode 6.02, dir. David Nutter, aired 3/19/2006)
– “Mayham” (Episode 6.03, dir. Jack Bender, aired 3/26/2006)
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Who am I? Where am I going?
Sixteen years ago this week, The Sopranos first aired what became one of my favorite arcs from TV, exploring the mysterious, mythical adventures of the unconscious Tony Soprano, reborn as a de-Jersey-fied defense optics salesman on a surreal business trip in Costa Mesa. Continue reading
Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, recently resigned secret agent
“The Village”, Fall 1967
Series: The Prisoner
Created by: Patrick McGoohan & George Markstein
Wardrobe: Masada Wilmot & Dora Lloyd
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Born 94 years ago today, Patrick McGoohan emerged as one of the most unique auteurs of ’60s television as the star and executive producer (and, occasionally, writer and director) of the allegorical and avant-garde “spy-fi” miniseries The Prisoner, which he co-created with George Markstein.
The Prisoner centers around its title character who, upon his contentious retirement from a shadowy British intelligence agency, wakes up mysteriously transported to a picturesque Italianate island village from which he would spend the duration of the series trying to escape. Continue reading
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, smooth ad man
Cos Cob, Connecticut, Summer 1966
Series: Mad Men
Episode: “Signal 30” (Episode 5.05)
Air Date: April 15, 2012
Director: John Slattery
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
To commemorate Jon Hamm’s 51st birthday today, let’s return to his Emmy-winning performance as the conflicted advertising director Don Draper. After four stylish seasons set across the early ’60s, Mad Men‘s fifth season took a darker and experimental turn with its storytelling, reflective of the more disturbing events of a decade that was evolving from the idealistic ’50s into an violent age of assassinations, serial murder, and war.
Following the dark “Mystery Date” with its homicidal fever dreams and Richard Speck references, the fifth episode “Signal 30” took its title from the gruesome instructional film illustrating the dangers of the road, shown to new drivers like Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s ambitious but insecure account manager, who could be argued as the central character of this episode.
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner described “Signal 30″—which he co-wrote with Dog Day Afternoon‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson—as “probably the saddest episode we’ve ever had.”
Directed by series regular John Slattery, “Signal 30” is an episode of plumbing mishaps and forbidden passions, culminating in office fisticuffs. These passions range from Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) continuing his literary side hustle against the wishes of his employers, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) fighting his own battles with personal and professional masculinity, a business trip to a brothel where all attendees but Don indulge themselves, and Pete’s disturbing crush on a teenage girl in his driver’s ed class.
But before Pete lecherously throws himself at anything on legs—or throws any punches at colleagues—he and his delightful wife Trudy (Alison Brie) welcome the Drapers and Cosgroves for a dinner party. Perhaps appropriate for the only season of Mad Men where we don’t see him engaging in extramarital romance, Don allows his new wife Megan (Jessica Paré) to talk him into swapping his staid suit jacket out for a loudly checked sports coat more on trend for the middle of the swingin’ sixties. Continue reading
Paul Newman as Ram Bowen, temperamental jazz trombonist
Paris, Fall 1960
Film: Paris Blues
Release Date: September 27, 1961
Director: Martin Ritt
On this day in 1958, one of the most legendary marriages in Hollywood history began when Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward tied the knot in Las Vegas, three days after his 33rd birthday. The two had met earlier that decade during a Broadway production of Picnic and reunited while filming The Long, Hot Summer for director Martin Ritt. Newman and Woodward would co-star in several subsequent movies together, but their next collaboration with their ostensible “matchmaker” Ritt was Paris Blues, adapted from Harold Flender’s 1957 novel of the same name.