James Mason as Maxwell Fleury, short-tempered plantation owner
On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955
Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes
Today’s post celebrates the great James Mason, who was born 113 years ago today on May 15, 1909. Whether playing a hero or villain or navigating a moral gray area in between, the velvet-voiced Mason brought a dignified presence to his performances.
Opposing the shining talents of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, Mason stars in this vividly photographed but dark-hearted drama as Maxwell Fleury, a privileged aristocrat dwelling on one of his family’s estates on the eponymous island.
Upon returning home in his sleek new Jaguar roadster one afternoon, he finds Egyptian cigarettes in his ashtray that fuel his baseless paranoia regarding his wife’s marital fidelity, a suspicion that dangerously spirals as the summery Santa Marta heat intensifies. Continue reading
Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello, hippie private investigator
Los Angeles County, Fall 1970
Film: Inherent Vice
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
One of my favorite “new watches” over the last year was Inherent Vice, adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. Inherent Vice follows “Doc” Sportello, a stoner private eye dwelling in the fictional hippie enclave of Gordita Beach in southern California at the end of the ’60s. Like the best of P.I. pulp fiction, Doc’s case begins with a late visit from a young woman, in this case his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) seeking his help investigating land developer Mickey Wolfmann. When another client’s request also intersects with Wolfmann, Doc’s “paranoia alert” is triggered as he’s set on a path that intersects him with an aggressive detective, a plum-suited dentist, and a drug counselor who “[tries] to talk kids into sensible drug use.”
Harry Dean Stanton as “Lucky”, grizzled desert-dwelling nonagenarian
Piru, California, Summer 2016
Release Date: March 11, 2017
Director: John Carroll Lynch
Costume Designer: Lisa Norcia
Today’s post celebrates the great Harry Dean Stanton, the craggy and unapologetically authentic character actor born 95 years ago on July 14, 1926. Stanton’s prolific filmography included few leading roles, aside from a memorable turn in Wim Wenders’ 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas, and his final movie, Lucky.
Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja collaborated on the screenplay that would result in a cinematic love letter to Harry Dean Stanton, for whom Sparks had served as personal assistant for more than 16 years. Described by Movie Talk as “a poignant meditation on mortality”, Lucky provides a fitting swan song for the actor’s career, incorporating biographical details like Stanton’s Kentucky birthplace and service in the U.S. Navy, reuniting him with previous collaborators like David Lynch and Tom Skeritt, and even scored by harmonica riffs on “Red River Valley”, a song associated with his roles in Dillinger (1973) and Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), not to exclude the overall motif of roaming the southwestern desert that echoes his starring role in Paris, Texas.
The man at the heart of it all is “Lucky”, a cantankerous but not unkind 90-year-old who loves cigarettes, crossword puzzles, and coffee with plenty of cream and sugar. A man of routine, Lucky begins each day with a Natural American Spirit cigarette, his calisthenics (“five yoga exercises every day, 21 repetitions each”), and a glass of cold milk, before he slips into one of his identical shirts, jackets, and jeans to greet another day in the small desert town of Piru, California.