Steve Martin as Neal Page, advertising executive and family man
New York City to Chicago… via Kansas and Missouri, Fall 1987
Film: Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Release Date: November 25, 1987
Director: John Hughes
Costume Designer: April Ferry
Steve Martin’s Costumer: Dennis Schoonderwoerd
It’s two days to Thanksgiving! If you’re an ad man in New York for a creative presentation with an indecisive client, that should give you just enough time to unsuccessfully race Kevin Bacon for a taxi and join up with a talkative shower curtain ring salesman—excuse me, shower curtain ring sales director—for a series of transportation-related hijinks to make it home to Chicago just as that stuffed bird is ready to come out of the oven on Thursday.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles remains one of the few bona fide classic Thanksgiving comedies, released 35 years ago this week as commemorated today with an all-new 4K home video release that includes more than an hour of deleted and extended footage. The movie arguably succeeds best thanks to the comedic chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy, balancing humor and heart as both the banal Neal and garrulous Del are humanized beyond initial stereotypes in what both actors described as a career-favorite film. Continue reading
Griffin Dunne as Paul Hackett, mild-mannered data processor
New York City, Spring 1985
Film: After Hours
Release Date: September 13, 1985
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Rita Ryack
Friday the 13th is traditionally a day for bad luck, so it’s appropriate that Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, centered around one New Yorker’s evening of arguably bad luck, was released on Friday the 13th in September 1985.
A surreal black comedy with elements of neo-noir, After Hours begins just before 5:00 for Paul Hackett, a data processor ostensibly living the yuppie dream with his secure job and Manhattan apartment… but the job sucks, his apartment’s cramped despite no one to share it with, and he has no social life outside of training new employees. In search of any human connectivity into his life, Paul takes his dog-eared copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to an all-night diner. Continue reading
Walter Matthau as Henry Graham, self-serving profligate
New York City, Summer 1969
Film: A New Leaf
Release Date: March 11, 1971
Director: Elaine May
Costume Designer: Anthea Sylbert
Tailor: Roland Meledandri
I’d long been intrigued by Elaine May’s directorial debut A New Leaf, released 50 years ago this spring, but it was an Instagram story posted by my friend Jonathan (@berkeley_breathes) showcasing Walter Matthau’s dapper wardrobe that finally prompted me to watch this offbeat classic.
Matthau brings his characteristically cantankerous charisma to to role of Henry Graham, a wasteful heir gradually blowing his family fortune on capricious spending from his immaculately tailored wardrobe to weekly maintenance for his Ferrari. The wry family lawyer Beckett (William Redfield) is tasked with managing the unmanageable Graham, who ducks Beckett’s calls of cautions as long as he can… until his last check bounces.
James Dean, enigmatic young actor and rebellious emblem
Los Angeles, Summer 1955
Photographs by Sanford Roth
Part of BAMF Style’s Iconic Photo Series, focusing on style featured in famous photography of classic stars rather than from specific productions.
Today would have been the 90th birthday of James Dean, born in central Indiana on February 8, 1931. Considering his cultural impact, it’s remarkable that Dean condensed his entire career into less than a half decade in the early 1950s, acting in a series of commercials, TV anthology programs, and uncredited bit parts in movies until delivering a trio of enduring performances in East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant that would be released within a year and a half of each other.
Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green, ambitious blues cornetist
Chicago, Summer 1927
Film: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Release Date: November 25, 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Costume Designer: Ann Roth
The late Chadwick Boseman was being named as an Oscar contender for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play of the same name, even before it came out. We’re still two months away from the Academy Award nominations being announced, but Boseman has already received posthumous Best Actor wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and Music City Film Critics’ Association for what turned out to be his final screen role.
The praise is well-deserved as the actor delivered a powerhouse performance as the hotheaded horn-blower Levee Green, an ambitious (and fictional) member of a four-piece band backing Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), the Mother of the Blues herself. The North Side neighborhood in my hometown of Pittsburgh was transformed to resemble roaring ’20s Chicago when production came to the Steel City two summers ago; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one of the ten plays in the Hill District-born Wilson’s “Century Cycle” not actually set in Pittsburgh.
Chadwick Boseman had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, never speaking publicly about his illness all the while delivering some of his most iconic performances in Marshall, Black Panther, and the two Avengers films to follow. Indeed, Boseman’s vigorous performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom belies his health at the time, and his fellow cast members remained unaware of his ongoing treatment for the cancer that would progress to stage IV before it ended his life at the age of 42 on August 28, 2020. Continue reading
William Powell as Nick Charles, retired private detective
San Francisco, New Year’s Eve 1936
Film: After the Thin Man
Release Date: December 25, 1936
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Wardrobe Credit: Dolly Tree
Happy New Year! Dashiell Hammett and “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke continued the runaway success of The Thin Man by reuniting William Powell and Myrna Loy as crime-solving power couple Nick and Nora Charles, coming home to San Francisco after solving the famous “Thin Man” case during their holiday in New York. The three-day train ride returns Nick and Nora to the City by the Bay just in time for New Year’s Eve, where they find their home commandeered by revelers that have already kicked off their celebrations.
Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello Rubini, playboy gossip journalist
Rome, Spring 1959
Film: La Dolce Vita
Release Date: February 5, 1960
Director: Federico Fellini
Costume Designer: Piero Gherardi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The two headlining stars of Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita would have celebrated their birthdays this week—Marcello Mastroianni tomorrow (September 28, 1924) and Anita Ekberg the following day (September 29, 1931)—and watching these two Libras glide together through the Trevi Fountain at daybreak has become one of the most enduring images of Italian cinema.
Pierce Brosnan as Julian Noble, tired hedonistic hitman and “magnificent cold moron”
Mexico City, Spring 2004
Film: The Matador
Release Date: December 30, 2005
Director: Richard Shepard
Costume Designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After this week’s 00-7th of the month post featured the reigning James Bond wearing a light brown suede zip-up jacket, I wanted to address a different way of approaching that look from Daniel Craig’s predecessor. The Matador starred Pierce Brosnan in one of his first post-Bond roles, inverting his own suave screen image by portraying a chain-smoking, nail-painting assassin “soiling” his way through life. (And thank you to BAMF Style readers Ryan and R.M. for long ago suggesting this film for a post!)
Indeed, the porn-stached and ill-mannered killer Julian Noble shares little in common with 007 aside from his dangerous profession and a penchant for drinking. There seemed to be an ongoing campaign after Brosnan found success as Bond where filmmakers asked themselves “how debauched and despicable can we make Pierce Brosnan’s character while still making it impossible to root against him?” leading to his welcome turns in movies like The Tailor of Panama (2001), After the Sunset (2004), and The Matador (2005), playing crude, cheeky criminals drinking, smoking, and womanizing their way through the tropics.
Elvis Presley as Mike Windgren, expat singer, part-time lifeguard, and former circus performer
Acapulco, Summer 1963
Film: Fun in Acapulco
Release Date: November 27, 1963
Director: Richard Thorpe
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Tailor: Sy Devore
On the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death on August 16, 1977, I wanted to celebrate the entertainer’s legacy with a look at one of the singer’s under-celebrated summer films.
I imagine the debate about what to call the movie lasted no more than ten seconds (“What’s Elvis doing in this one?” “Having fun in Acapulco.” “There it is.”) Continue reading
Don Johnson as Harry Madox, drifter and used car salesman
Texas, Summer 1990
Film: The Hot Spot
Release Date: October 12, 1990
Director: Dennis Hopper
Costume Designer: Mary Kay Stolz
One of the benefits of writing BAMF Style the last eight years has been learning about movies from readers that may have otherwise never crossed by path. Thanks to suggestions from two readers, Peter and Cecil, I discovered The Hot Spot, a neo-noir in the pulp tradition with shades of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Jim Thompson’s hardboiled fiction. Continue reading