Warren Beatty as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, “celebrity” gangster and casino builder
Los Angeles, Spring 1945 and Las Vegas, Fall 1946
Release Date: December 13, 1991
Director: Barry Levinson
Costume Designer: Albert Wolsky
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Everybody deserves a fresh start once in a while.
At least three times while wearing this outfit alone, Warren Beatty’s Bugsy Siegel pontificates on the power of fresh starts. While the real Siegel may not have been quite as forgiving, Beatty plays him with the actor’s characteristic charisma to better communicate to audiences how a violent gangster could have charmed the stars of “golden age” Hollywood.
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
Ken Takakura as Ken Tanaka, disciplined ex-Yakuza
Kyoto, Japan, Spring 1974
Film: The Yakuza
Release Date: December 28, 1974
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Today would have been the 90th birthday of Ken Takakura, the Nakama-born actor with a record four Japan Academy Prizes for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. His presence in yakuza films through the 1960s brought him to the attention of screenwriting brothers Leonard and Paul Schrader, who wrote their action drama The Yakuza with Takakura in mind. Continue reading
James Caan as Frank, professional jewel thief
Chicago, Spring 1980
Release Date: March 27, 1981
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Supervisor: Jodie Lynn Tillen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Michael Mann—born today in 1943—directed (and wrote) his feature-length debut, Thief, a moody neo-noir thriller that would portend his particular brand of stylized crime dramas to follow like Manhunter, Heat, and Collateral, as well as his work on the landmark series Miami Vice. The source material was the 1975 novel The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar by “Frank Hohimer”, a real-life criminal named John Seybold who served as an on-set technical advisor despite the pending FBI warrants against him.
As the eponymous thief, James Caan’s Frank establishes an early template for the professional criminals that populate Mann’s work, subdued in appearance and demeanor but ruthless against any target getting in the way of his payday…and his freedom.
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, one-time 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
Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos, urbane but dangerous heroin smuggler
St. Cyril’s, Greece, Spring 1981
Film: For Your Eyes Only
Release Date: June 24, 1981
Director: John Glen
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
Wardrobe Master: Tiny Nicholls
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of my favorite James Bond movies, For Your Eyes Only, the grounded espionage adventure that brought 007 back down to Earth after Roger Moore’s space-trotting adventure in the polarizing Moonraker.
Subdued and serious, For Your Eyes Only was a departure from the underwater cars and land-going gondolas of Sir Roger’s previous outings, realigning itself with Ian Fleming’s stories after borrowing from the author’s 1960 short story of the same name as well as “Risico”, a story from the same volume that introduced the warring smugglers Columbo and Kristatos, portrayed on screen by Chaim Topol and Julian Glover, respectively.
As in “Risico”, Bond aligns with Columbo after realizing that his initial ally Kristatos is actually his enemy. Glover portrays Aristotle Kristatos with the sinister sophistication that made him a popular villain across ’80s franchise films from The Empire Strikes Back to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Continue reading
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, calculating Mafia boss
Havana, December 1958, and Lake Tahoe, Spring 1959
Film: The Godfather Part II
Release Date: December 12, 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
When “gangster style” comes to mind, you may think first of the silk suits from Goodfellas or tracksuits of The Sopranos, but Michael Corleone established an aristocratic sense of style as he grew into his leadership role in accordance with his reserved nature. Continue reading
Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke, “King of Soul”
Miami, February 25, 1964
Film: One Night in Miami
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Director: Regina King
Costume Designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Soul legend Sam Cooke was born 90 years ago today, on January 22, 1931. Although Cooke died young, shot at a Beverly Hills motel just over a month before his 34th birthday, his smooth voice endures as the pioneering “King of Soul” who not only wrote and recorded scores of classic hits but also supported, produced, and influenced some of the most talented musicians of the day.
A week ago today, One Night in Miami was released to stream on Amazon Prime Video, adapted by Kemp Powers from his own one-act play. The night in question is February 25, 1964, the night that Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight boxing championship in a surprise victory over Sonny Liston. Powers brings Clay together to celebrate his victory with Cooke, Malcolm X, and Jim Brown on a night that proves to be pivotal for all four icons. Continue reading
Rod Taylor as Bruce Templeton, charismatic aerospace lab chief
Long Beach, California, Spring 1966
Film: The Glass Bottom Boat
Release Date: June 9, 1966
Director: Frank Tashlin
Costume Designer: Ray Aghayan (credited with Doris Day’s costumes only)
In honor of Aussie actor Rod Taylor’s birthday on January 11, 1930, today’s post explores the first movie of his that I’d seen. The Glass Bottom Boat reteamed Taylor with Doris Day after their collaboration the previous year in Do Not Disturb, this time in a Cold War-era romantic comedy where Doris’ PR flack is suspected of being a spy sent by Mother Russia to seduce scientific secrets out of Bruce Templeton, the debonair head of a NASA research facility.
Frank Sinatra as Dan Edwards, workaholic advertising executive
Los Angeles, Fall 1965
Film: Marriage on the Rocks
Release Date: September 24, 1965
Director: Jack Donohue
Costume Designer: Walter Plunkett
Kick back on this chilly #SinatraSaturday with the mid-century comedy that reunited Rat Pack pallies Frank and Dean, the duo’s final on-screen collaboration until Cannonball Run II, twenty years later.
Marriage on the Rocks stars FS as Dan Edwards, a buttoned-up businessman who—thanks to madcap circumstances—ends up swapping lifestyles with his swingin’ pal Ernie… played by who else but Dean Martin? Continue reading