Richard Burton as Dr. Edward Hewitt, boarding school headmaster
Big Sur, California, Spring 1965
Film: The Sandpiper
Release Date: June 23, 1965
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff
Today would have been the 95th birthday of Richard Burton, the Welsh actor born November 10, 1925 perhaps best known for his Shakespearean talent and his back-to-back marriages with frequent co-star Elizabeth Taylor.
After engaging in an affair during the course of their first two films, Cleopatra (1963) and The V.I.P.s (1963), Liz and Dick finally tyed the knot—for the first time—on March 15, 1964, shortly before production commenced on their third film together, The Sandpiper. Continue reading
Boris Karloff as Byron Orlok, aging horror actor
Los Angeles, Summer 1967
Release Date: August 15, 1968
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Production and Costume Design: Polly Platt
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
“Everybody’s dead… I feel like a dinosaur,” former horror icon Byron Orlok describes himself in a candid moment with Sammy Michaels (Peter Bogdanovich), an ambitious director and screenwriter played by Targets‘ own director and co-writer himself. Bogdanovich had written Orlok as a thinly disguised version of Boris Karloff, the elder statesman of horror cinema who was pushing 80 at the time of the film’s production. An embittered Byron shares with Sammy that his old-fashioned cinematic monsters—i.e. Frankenstein’s monster—are hardly the stuff to scare contemporary audiences as the local news horrifying enough with tales of senseless murder and random violence.
Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, architect and soon-to-be vigilante
Tucson, Arizona, and New York City, Winter 1974
Film: Death Wish
Release Date: July 24, 1974
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After a wave of films celebrating outlaws during the counterculture era of the late ’60s (i.e. Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), an opposing wave crashed through American cinema at the start of the following decade, centered around a philosophy of vigilantism. The trend arguably kicked into high gear with Clint Eastwood’s renegade detective in Dirty Harry who despised the proverbial red tape preventing him from bringing deadly criminals to justice with his famed .44 Magnum. Within five years, Martin Scorsese had already evolved the focus from an endorsement of vigilantism into a cautionary tale with the release of Taxi Driver. Before the troubled Travis Bickle took it upon himself to “wash all this scum off the streets” of New York City, there was Paul Kersey.
Walter Matthau as Zachary Garber, New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant
New York City, December 1973
Film: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Release Date: October 2, 1974
Director: Joseph Sargent
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Walter Matthau, perhaps best known to today’s audiences for his roles opposite Jack Lemmon such as The Odd Couple and the Grumpy Old Men movies, though the New York-born actor’s rich filmography expands a range of genres from westerns and war movies to comedies and crime capers. One of my favorites falls into the latter category, the action thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Continue reading
Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, nervous and aimless college graduate
Los Angeles, Late Spring 1967
Film: The Graduate
Release Date: December 22, 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Costume Designer: Patricia Zipprodt
The myriad impacts of the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic has included a halt on college graduation ceremonies, which would typically be occurring around this time; indeed, my own commencement was on April 30, nine years ago today.
The Graduate provided Dustin Hoffman with his breakout role as Benjamin Braddock, a recent graduate suffering from the ennui of balancing one’s achievements and desires with what’s expected of them. After a humiliating 21st birthday party where his parents forced him to scuba dive into the family pool in front of their friends, Benjamin asserts himself by arranging his first assignation with the seductive and unsatisfied Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) at the Taft Hotel (in fact, L.A.’s famous Ambassador Hotel), where he chain-smokes Parliaments and nurses a highball while waiting for her in the hotel lounge. At her prompting, he nervously reserves a room for them under the unconvincing alias of “Mr. Gladstone.” Continue reading
Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, CIA covert operations officer
Tehran, Iran, January 1980
Release Date: October 12, 2012
Director: Ben Affleck
Costume Designer: Jacqueline West
A month ago on my Instagram page, I posted about Ben Affleck’s tweedy look in Argo to coincide with the 40th anniversary of what became known as the “Canadian Caper”, the successful 1980 rescue of six American diplomats who had been taking refuge with Canadian diplomatic personnel after the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
The six diplomats—Bob Anders, Cora and Mark Lijek, Henry Lee Schatz, and Joe and Kathleen Stafford—had managed to escape after militants first stormed the embassy on November 4, 1979, evading the 444 days of captivity that befell more than 50 Americans who were detained in what would become known as the “Iran hostage crisis”. The escapees initially received help from the British embassy but deemed their situation too risky due to the militants’ raids of diplomatic compounds. Eventually, the sextet found a safer, longer-term solution sheltered at the homes of Canadian immigration officer John Sheardown and Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.
Taylor first contacted the Canadian government, who expressed support for the sanctuary and instigated a plan to create six Canadian passports for the Americans to safely fly out of Iran. The joint Canadian-American operation also required the participation of the CIA, particularly the efforts of Antonio “Tony” Mendez, a decorated agent and expert in disguises and exfiltration. Continue reading
Tom Selleck as Nick Lassiter, debonair jewel thief
London, June 1939
Release Date: February 17, 1984
Director: Roger Young
Costume Designer: Barbara Lane
While we’re still in the midst of tweed-friendly weather, I’d like to respond to a few requests I’ve had to focus on Tom Selleck’s gentlemanly style in Lassiter as an American thief in England, a far cry from the Aloha shirts he was famously wearing on Magnum, P.I. at the same time.
Released today in 1984, Lassiter starred Selleck as the titular jewel thief—Nick Lassiter—crafted in the daring and debonair tradition of cinematic cat burglars like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief and David Niven’s “Phantom” in The Pink Panther. Much like his previous film, High Road to China, this movie compensated for the fact that Selleck had to pass on the role of Indiana Jones by giving him the role of a charismatic, resourceful, and risk-averse rogue facing danger from under the brim of a fedora in the years leading up to World War II.
John Dall as Bart Tare, armed robber on the run
San Lorenzo Valley, California, Fall 1949, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Spring 1950
Film: Gun Crazy
(also released as Deadly is the Female)
Release Date: January 20, 1950
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Costume Designer: Norma Koch (credited with Peggy Cummins’ costumes only)
Fifteen years after armed robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were ambushed and killed on a rural Louisiana road, one of the first attempts to adapt their story for the silver screen arrived in theaters. Sure, there had been Fritz Lang’s sympathetic melodrama You Only Live Once (1937) and the FBI-endorsed propaganda Persons in Hiding (1939), but Gun Crazy—released exactly 70 years ago today—most effectively latched onto the intrigue of a gun-toting couple on the run, and, “more than any other, emphasizes the powerful attraction of weaponry in the growing legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” according to John Treherne, author of The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde.
Gun Crazy‘s telling original title of Deadly is the Female reflects the narrative leaning into the noir-esque premise of a dominating femme fatale, an expert in firearms who seduces her lovestruck fella into a life of crime… an inverse of the generally accepted reality of the relationship between violent manipulator Clyde Barrow and the vulnerable and troubled Bonnie Parker.
A year after his chilling turn as the calculating, Loeb-like murderer in Hitchcock’s Rope, John Dall stars as the malleable Bart Tare, who finds himself fatefully—and fatally—drawn to the voluptuous carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), “the darling of London, England,” though it’s a toss-up whether it’s her tight pants, knowing wink, or dueling pistols that sink the hook into the already doomed Bart. Continue reading
Sean Connery as Jim Malone, tough and honest Chicago beat cop
Canadian border, September 1930
Film: The Untouchables
Release Date: June 3, 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
Recently recruited off the streets of Chicago, aging beat cop Jim Malone is more than happy to bring his grizzled brand of tough justice to the Canadian border to assist federal agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and their small but effective band of “untouchable” lawmen in stopping an illegal shipment of liquor from making its way into the United States.
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, slick insurance salesman
Los Angeles, May through July 1938
Film: Double Indemnity
Release Date: July 3, 1944
Director: Billy Wilder
Costume Designer: Edith Head
What’d you think I was, anyway? A guy that walks into a good-lookin’ dame’s front parlor and says, “Good afternoon, I sell accident insurance on husbands. You got one that’s been around too long, one you’d like to turn into a little hard cash? Just give me a smile and I’ll help you collect?”
Let’s finally kick off Noir-vember with the quintessential film noir, Double Indemnity, the quotable masterpiece from the pen of James M. Cain, adapted for Billy Wilder’s screen direction by pulp writer Raymond Chandler and photographed by inventive cinematographer John F. Seitz. Double Indemnity is the one that has it all: the seductive femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck), the wisecracking protagonist willing to murder for her (Fred MacMurray), and the intrepid investigator, though in this case it’s not a trench coated private detective but an energetic, experienced, and irascible insurance claims manager played by Edward G. Robinson at his best.