Tony Bickley as Donald Westerhazy, affable and affluent advertising executive
Suburban Connecticut, Summer 1966
Film: The Swimmer
Release Date: May 15, 1968
Director: Frank Perry
Wardrobe Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.”
… begins John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer”, which was adapted by the husband-and-wife team of director Frank Perry and screenwriter Eleanor Perry into a hallucinatory drama starring Burt Lancaster as the eponymous Ned Merrill, a well-tanned embodiment of the failed American dream.
The focus of today’s post is a little more esoteric than usual, not necessarily because of the movie—which is relatively well-known, if offbeat—but more the relatively minor character and his little-known portrayer, Tony Bickley. The Swimmer was Bickley’s fifth and final screen credit and his only significant movie role, more than a decade after his four sporadic appearances in TV anthologies during the early 1950s.
Bickley co-starred in The Swimmer as Donald Westerhazy, a gregarious suburbanite whose palatial home is Ned’s first stop on what becomes his route to “swim home” through the backyard pools of his neighbors. Donald and his wife Helen (Diana Van der Vlis) are nursing hangovers from the previous evening’s party… with the help of martinis, of course. Continue reading
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
This weekend, I saw Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis chronicling the life of the King of Rock and Roll with Baz’s characteristic splendor. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, most likely due to Austin Butler’s revelatory performance. (I’d need some more dedicated Elvis experts to confirm for me whether or not Colonel Tom Parker actually sounded as much like Goldmember as Tom Hanks’ performance portrayed.)
Elvis addressed the King’s cinematic ambitions, hoping to follow in James Dean’s footsteps but arguably ill-treated by his frequently banal material, as illustrated by the 1963 vehicle Fun in Acapulco. Continue reading
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, New Jersey mob boss
Miami Beach, Fall 2007
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Remember When” (Episode 6.15)
Air Date: April 22, 2007
Director: Phil Abraham
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
Even gangsters get to go on spring break! Of course, being gangsters, Tony Soprano’s trip to Florida with Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) is less about tequila shots on the beach and more about laying low to avoid the heat after an old murder resurfaces from 1982… but the two wiseguys still get plenty of time to relax in the sun while the remaining arm of the DeMeo crime family scrambles to control any potential damage. Continue reading
Alain Delon as Jean-Paul Leroy, moody ad agency writer on vacation
French Riviera, Summer 1968
Film: The Swimming Pool
(French title: La Piscine)
Release Date: January 3, 1969
Director: Jacques Deray
Costume Designer: André Courrèges
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
More than a half-century after its release, La Piscine remains hailed as one of the most stylish movies, not just for French designer André Courrèges’s costumes but also its sun-drenched Côte d’Azur setting, Michel Legrand’s jazzy score, and the smoldering expressions of its quartet of stars. “The less you put in words, the more you will oblige me to have imagination,” director Jacques Deray reportedly screenwriter instructed Jean-Claude Carrière.
Deray’s “imagination” draws the most from the dangerously intense sexual tension among its leads, beginning with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as the vacationing couple spending their summer in an opulent villa secluded in the French Riviera. Continue reading
Mel Gibson as Dale “Mac” McKussic, retired drug dealer
Los Angeles, Summer 1988
Film: Tequila Sunrise
Release Date: December 2, 1988
Director: Robert Towne
Costume Designer: Julie Weiss
Following his success as a screenwriter—credited and uncredited—on some of the most memorable movies of the ’70s, Robert Towne intended for his sophomore directorial film, Tequila Sunrise, to be something of a spiritual follow-up to Chinatown, which… it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I did get some enjoyment out of Tequila Sunrise and there’s no denying that it’s refreshingly original—almost to a questionable degree—but I would argue it’s not even close to the same league as Chinatown, let alone Bonnie & Clyde, The Godfather, The Last Detail, Marathon Man, or the other excellent films that benefited from Towne’s contributions.
Several had recommended Tequila Sunrise to me for its style, and I’ll admit the name intrigued me, so I mentally scheduled to watch it and write about it in time for #NationalTequilaDay, celebrated annually on July 24… so happy National Tequila Day!
Alexander Skarsgård as Gadi Becker, aka “Peter”, mysterious Mossad agent
Naxos, Greece, Spring 1979
Series: The Little Drummer Girl (Episode 1)
Air Date: October 28, 2018
Director: Park Chan-wook
Costume Design: Sheena Napier & Steven Noble
Today marks the start of my beach vacation, an annual getaway that finds me clad almost exclusively in tropical-printed or terry cloth shirts as I laze about in the sun and sand with tequila in hand, trying not to think about the hundreds of emails amassing to greet me when I open my inbox exactly one week from now.
And then there are those lucky enough who actually get to do this for a living, particularly the globe-trotting super-spies penned by the likes of Ian Fleming and John le Carré, whose 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl was recently re-adapted for the screen via a stylish six-part miniseries starring Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgård. Continue reading
John Garfield as Frank Chambers, restless drifter-turned-diner worker
Laguna Beach, California, Summer 1945
Film: The Postman Always Rings Twice
Release Date: May 2, 1946
Director: Tay Garnett
Costume Supervisor: Irene
As #Noirvember continues, let’s step away from the trench coats and fedoras to see how our hardboiled anti-heroes dress for a day at the beach. An ode to deviance that originated from James M. Cain’s 1934 novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice was adapted twice by European filmmakers before Hollywood dared to tackle it during the golden age of noir in the 1940s.
The lascivious source material had presented a challenge for presenting the story in a way that would satisfy the draconian Motion Picture Production Code and, even before it was published, a synopsis of Cain’s story had been deemed “definitely unsuitable for motion picture production” by the pearl-clutching Hays Office. After the two European adaptations were released, MGM was finally ready to proceed with its own version, inspired by the success of Double Indemnity, another piece from Cain’s poison pen centered around adultery and murder. By this time, nearly a dozen years into the rigid enforcement years of the Production Code, American filmmakers had mastered the art of stylized shadows and suggestive innuendo that allowed—and often enhanced—these films noir set in lurid worlds filled with unscrupulous and unsavory elements.
“It was on a side road outside of Los Angeles,” Frank Chambers begins his story, as the down-on-his-luck hitchhiker stumbles into the Twin Oaks diner boasting a $1.25 “best in the world” chicken dinner. The simple sign, “Man wanted,” echoes both the restaurant’s staffing needs as well as the sensuous needs of Cora (Lana Turner), the ambitious young platinum blonde who runs the roadside lunch room with her proud yet oblivious husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway)… and, even if you haven’t read or seen it, you probably already see where this is going.
Sean Connery as James Bond, British government agent
Miami Beach, Summer 1964
Release Date: September 18, 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Supervisor: Elsa Fennell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy birthday, Sean Connery! On his 90th birthday, let’s take a look at one of the Scottish legend’s most talked-about (and controversial) outfits as James Bond… and see how it can be updated for the modern Bond style enthusiast catching some late summer rays or rubdowns by the pool.
Andy Samberg as Nyles, aka “Misty’s boyfriend”, time-looped slacker focused only on “the next bite”
Palm Springs, California, November 2019
Film: Palm Springs
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
Costume Designer: Colin Wilkes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This is today, today is yesterday, and tomorrow is also today… it’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might’ve heard about.
Shorthand descriptions of Palm Springs have summed up the movie as “Groundhog Day for millennials,” though I was pleasantly surprised by the poignancy and philosophical complexity of this incredibly entertaining movie… particularly in the context of the much-publicized fact that the Lonely Island tacked on a nice 69 cents to the record-setting $17.5 million sale price to Neon and Hulu after its premiere at Sundance in January 2020.
Troy Donahue as Johnny Hunter, college student and “silly sentimentalist”
New England, Spring 1959
Film: A Summer Place
Release Date: November 18, 1959
Director: Delmer Daves
Costume Designer: Howard Shoup
Sixty years after shaking up more genteel audiences with its frank but ultimately tame depictions of adultery and sexuality, A Summer Place may be most widely remembered for its serene theme song. Originally written by Max Steiner, it was Percy Faith’s arrangement of “Theme from A Summer Place” that transformed the instrumental ballad into a #1 hit that took the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking nine consecutive weeks in early 1960.