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.
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…
Tommy Wiseau as Johnny, a “misunderstood” banker and Lisa’s future husband
San Francisco, Fall 2002
Film: The Room
Release Date: June 27, 2003
Director: Tommy Wiseau
Costume Designer: Safowa Bright-Asare
It’s April Fools’ Day! The perfect time to switch gears from looking at timeless style in great movies and TV shows… and reflect on extremely questionable “style” from a movie celebrated as an unmitigated cinematic disaster.
The Room is nearly two hours of brain-numbing non-sequiturs, unresolved “plot” threads and an inconsistent narrative, more screen time for a single football than The Longest Yard, Any Given Sunday, and Rudy combined, and writing that fails to compare with a monkey pounding on a keyboard… and yet this bizarre melodrama has racked up one of the most loyal cult followings in American cinema. Its nonsensical dialogue (“Do you understand life? Do you?!”) has permeated pop culture and sent packs of people to midnight screenings each year, armed with plastic spoons and questions and praise for the film’s eccentric auteur, Tommy Wiseau. Continue reading
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, advertising creative director and whiskey aficionado
All around the United States, Summer 1968 through Summer 1969
Series: Mad Men
– “For Immediate Release” (Episode 6.06), dir. Jennifer Getzinger, aired 5/5/2013
– “The Better Half” (Episode 6.09), dir. Phil Abraham, aired 5/26/2013
– “Time Zones” (Episode 7.01), dir. Scott Hornbacher, aired 4/13/2014
– “The Strategy” (Episode 7.06), dir. Phil Abraham, aired 5/18/2014
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead! Continue reading
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, New Jersey mob boss
New Jersey, December 2000
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “The Telltale Moozadell” (Episode 3.09)
Air Date: April 22, 2001
Director: Dan Attias
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
In a late second season episode of The Sopranos, Christopher Moltisanti warns his fellow Italian-American mobsters about his vision of hell, “an Irish bar where it’s St. Patrick’s Day everyday forever.” Thus, let’s take a look at a stylish outfit from this seminal HBO drama on the first #MafiaMonday after St. Patrick’s Day!
Ken Takakura as Ken Tanaka, disciplined ex-Yakuza
Tokyo, Spring 1974
Film: The Yakuza
Release Date: December 28, 1974
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
The Yakuza was the first screenplay credited to either Paul Schrader or Leonard Schrader, whose experiences in Japan inspired his brother to write the story. Leonard returned to the United States, where he spend the holiday season in Venice co-writing the screenplay’s first draft with Paul, who would later famously collaborate with Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull among others. While the brothers watched many yakuza films for inspiration, what impressed them the most was the stoic screen presence of Ken Takakura, the Nakama-born actor who’d made his screen debut two decades earlier.
Gregory Peck as Harry Street, adventurous American expatriate writer and former newspaper reporter
Paris, Spring 1925
Film: The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Release Date: September 17, 1952
Director: Henry King
Wardrobe Supervisor: Charles Le Maire
The snowy month of January—and my shared half-birthday with Ernest Hemingway on the 21st—makes today a perfect time to look at Gregory Peck’s style in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the first of Henry King’s two adaptations of Papa’s work that would star Ava Gardner and Peck’s second go at playing a Hemingway protagonist.
Sammy Davis Jr. as Josh Howard, sanitation worker and World War II veteran
Beverly Hills, December 1959
Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: August 10, 1960
Director: Lewis Milestone
Costume Designer: Howard Shoup
Tailor: Sy Devore
The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are an ideal week for reunions. In the Rat Pack’s arguably most famous film, Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) organizes a reunion of eleven men from his 82nd Airborne unit for a heist to ring in the new year.
After deciding not to attempt the life of “a one-eyed third baseman in Mobile,” former paratrooper Josh Howard (Sammy Davis Jr.) took a job in sanitation. “Trash is where you find it,” Josh explains. “You gotta follow the fleet!” Continue reading
Louis Jourdan as Marc Champselle, “a gigolo… a buffoon… a professional diner-outer… a notorious sponger!”
Heathrow Airport, London, Winter 1963
Film: The V.I.P.s
(also released as Hotel International)
Release Date: September 19, 1963
Director: Anthony Asquith
Costume Designer: Pierre Cardin (uncredited)
Happy December! For the first month of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, we look to the stylish 1963 film The V.I.P.s, a cinematic celebration of jet-age luxury starring an impressive international cast as a group of travelers stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport and the neighboring Hotel International for a cold but passionate January night.