Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, ambitious film actor, singer, and dancer
Hollywood, Spring 1927
Film: Singin’ in the Rain
Release Date: April 11, 1952
Directed by: Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen
Costume Designer: Walter Plunkett
What better way to welcome April showers than by celebrating the 70th anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain, which was widely released on this day in 1952, just two weeks after it premiered at Radio City Music Hall.
Now considered not just one of the best musical films but one of the best movies of all time, Singin’ in the Rain centers around Hollywood during the waning months of the silent era as studios made the shift to “talkies” following the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927. The transition is no problem for the multi-talented Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), who shares his portrayer’s finely honed abilities to sing, act, and dance, but previews for Don’s latest feature—the period drama The Dueling Cavalier—illustrate that Don’s brassy, vain co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is woefully underprepared for the new phase of their career, her shrill accent eliciting laughter and frustration from the test audiences.
Brainstorming over late-night sandwiches and milk with his professional partner Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) and his new love interest Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), Don’s brain trust determines that The Dueling Cavalier could potentially be retooled as a musical, with Kathy dubbing Lina’s grating voice behind the scenes. This being a musical, the trio celebrates their breakthrough with a rousing rendition of “Good Mornin'” as the rain falls outside, followed by a gleeful Don kissing Kathy goodnight and—delighted with the prospects of his professional and romantic futures—singing the titular ditty as he dances home in the downpour. Continue reading
Sean Connery as Mark Rutland, publisher
Philadelphia to Baltimore, Spring 1964
Release Date: July 22, 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Men’s Costumes: James Linn
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Months before Goldfinger was released and cemented Bond-mania among the cinematic zeitgeist of the 1960s, Sean Connery got the opportunity to show audiences that he was capable of more than just suave secret-agenting with the back-to-back releases of thrillers Woman of Straw and Marnie. The latter has been celebrated as the better-regarded of the two, with some even calling it Alfred Hitchcock’s underappreciated masterpiece, though Hitch himself was more dismissive when discussing the work with François Truffaut:
I wasn’t convinced that Sean Connery was a Philadelphia gentleman. You know, if you want to reduce Marnie to its lowest common denominator, it is the story of the prince and the beggar girl. In a story of this kind you need a real gentleman, a more elegant man than what we had.
Say what you will about Connery’s performance, but I’ve considered Hitchcock’s criticism to be somewhat undeserved, particularly considering that the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1961 novel of the same name condensed the characters of Marnie’s husband, Mark Rutland, and the psychoanalyst that Mark forces Marnie to see. Thus, Connery’s characterization requires him to convincingly depict Mark as first a charismatic cad, then a manipulative rapist, and—ultimately—a quasi-therapist whose motives are depicted more through the lens of spousal support than domination. Given the challenge of the role, I believe Connery ably rose to the occasion, bringing out more savage sides of the character than we may have believed in the hands of Hitch’s erstwhile stalwarts like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart.
Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd British agent and anti-Bolshevik
London, Fall 1918
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “After Moscow” (Episode 9)
Air Date: October 26, 1983
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
I consider Sidney Reilly to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the 20th century. There’s little consensus on when he was born, when he died, or how he exactly spent he spent the fifty-odd years in between, though his oft-exaggerated exploits as a shadowy agent of the British secret service has established his enduring reputation as “the Ace of Spies”, aided by his own memoirs and an excellent 1983 twelve-part mini-series starring Sam Neill in the eponymous role of the Russian-born adventurer. Continue reading
James Stewart as George Bailey, reluctant banker
Bedford Falls, New York, Spring 1932
Film: It’s a Wonderful Life
Release Date: December 20, 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Costume Designer: Edward Stevenson
Released 75 years ago today, It’s a Wonderful Life has become an enduring Christmas classic… almost by accident! Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s self-published novella The Greatest Gift, the movie had been relatively well-received at the time of its release, even earning five Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, but it would be overshadowed by the epic blockbuster The Best Years of Our Lives that told the story of servicemen returning from World War II.
Despite being a personal favorite of director Frank Capra and star Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life seemed destined for obscurity as just another “old movie” when a clerical error prevented proper renewal of the copyright. Though small royalties were still owed as it was derived from Stern’s story, TV stations leapt at the chance to air high-quality, low-cost seasonal programming, launching It’s a Wonderful Life to its status as a perennial favorite for holiday viewers by the 1980s.
Elliott Gould as Miles Cullen, mild-mannered bank teller
Toronto, Christmas 1977
Film: The Silent Partner
Release Date: September 7, 1978
Director: Daryl Duke
Wardrobe Credit: Debi Weldon
One of the most fun yet under-celebrated of Christmas-adjacent thrillers, The Silent Partner should sell most new viewers on the simple elevator pitch of Christopher Plummer as a gun-toting robber in a Santa Claus suit who increasingly torments Elliott Gould as a scheming teller.
The action begins on Tuesday, December 14—set exactly 44 years ago today—as the meek Miles Cullen (Gould) wraps up his daily duties at a First Bank of Toronto branch when his flirtatious sketches on a deposit slip wise him to a potential robbery plot. Continue reading
Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, vigilante family man
New York City, Winter 1974
Film: Death Wish
Release Date: July 24, 1974
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Charles Bronson, one of the most legendary cinematic ass-kickers perhaps best known for his starring role as family man-turned-street vigilante Paul Kersey in the 1974 revenge thriller Death Wish.
Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, former teacher, aspiring writer, and potential hotel caretaker
Silver Creek, Colorado, Fall 1979
Film: The Shining
Release Date: May 23, 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Want to inject some Halloween spirit into your office attire this week without sending your co-workers into a panic? Take seasonal inspiration from Jack Torrance’s tweed jacket and tie as he successfully interviewed for the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining.
Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson, ambitious high school student-turned-pimp
Chicago, Fall 1983
Film: Risky Business
Release Date: August 5, 1983
Director: Paul Brickman
Costume Designer: Robert De Mora
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As we enter “Back to School” season, I want to look at one of the most famous cinematic intersections of style and scholastics, a dark coming-of-age comedy starring a young Tom Cruise as a high school student whose desire to compete in the modern materialistic marketplace leads to his engaging in some perilous pursuits… or Risky Business, if you will.
Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner, Hollywood screenwriter
Malibu, California, September 1947
Film: The Way We Were
Release Date: October 19, 1973
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins & Moss Mabry
Don’t take any crap…to the both of us… and all the absent friends, class of ’37.
Navy pals-turned-Tinseltown teammates Hubbell (Robert Redford) and J.J. (Bradford Dillman) cynically reflect on the decade since they graduated from college together, one world war and sold-out script later.
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