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.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, eccentric and ambitious aviation and movie mogul
Hollywood, Fall 1927 through Summer 1928
Film: The Aviator
Release Date: December 25, 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Sandy Powell
The Aviator wastes no time in establishing why the film is titled as such, providing the first look at the adult Howard Hughes as he’s beginning production on his World War I epic Hell’s Angels (1930). Hughes hires Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly) to run his business enterprises—”and do a damn good job,” he adds—so he can focus his obsessive Capricorn energy on Hell’s Angels, a production combining the ambitious young mogul’s passions for aviation and movie-making. After beginning production on October 31, 1927, the film would take nearly three years to complete.
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…
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
Lee Marvin as Nick Devlin, mob enforcer
Kansas City, summer 1972
Film: Prime Cut
Release Date: June 28, 1972
Director: Michael Ritchie
Costume Designer: Patricia Norris
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Lee Marvin’s submachine gun-packing mob enforcer Nick Devlin gets plenty of opportunities for badass action in Michael Ritchie’s sophomore film, Prime Cut, but the smooth gangster also takes the chance to show a more genteel side, such as when escorting Poppy (Sissy Spacek) to a fancy dinner in a hotel restaurant.
Tony Musante as Eddie Hagan, smooth and ruthless fringe mobster
Kansas City, Summer 1931
Film: The Grissom Gang
Release Date: May 28, 1971
Director: Robert Aldrich
Costume Designer: Norma Koch
The Grissom Gang had intrigued me ever since I was in eighth grade. I was flipping through a book about crime cinema from the school library when I found myself paused on a full-page photo of a man in a bloody white dinner jacket stumbled out of a roadster while Kim Darby sat in the passenger seat with her mouth agape. I had been newly introduced to Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, and other films depicting that famous 1930s crime wave, but The Grissom Gang remained elusive.
Half a decade later, I was a college student with a considerably better budget and the vast resources of the internet at my disposal. I finally managed to track down a DVD of The Grissom Gang and, despite what the critics said, I was far from disappointed. Granted, I had no idea what to expect, so a sweaty, exploitative period crime piece from The Dirty Dozen was exactly what I was happy to get.
The Grissom Gang was the second major cinematic adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s 1939 novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish, following the poorly received British-made noir wannabe from 1948. When Robert Aldrich stepped into the wheelhouse for his adaptation, he kicked the setting back to the early 1930s when the Depression-era desperadoes reigned from powerful organized crime figures down to the lowliest highway robbers.