In recognition of POW/MIA Day, observed on the third Friday of September, let’s delve into one of the first major movies to shine a light on the POW experience.
William Holden as J.J. Sefton, USAAF Staff Sergeant and prisoner of war
“Somewhere on the Danube”, December 1944
Film: Stalag 17
Release Date: May 29, 1953
Director: Billy Wilder
Wardrobe Credit: J. Allen Slone
I don’t know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures… all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerrillas in the Philippines. What gets me is there never was a movie about POWs… about prisoners of war.
… and so Clarence Harvey Cook (Gil Stratton) begins his narration, setting the scene for the week leading up to Christmas 1944 when he and his fellow downed colleagues discovered a potential informant—er, a “dirty stinkin’ stoolie”—in their barracks.
After two airmen are shot trying to escape, suspicion eventually falls on J.J. Sefton, the cigarette-dealing but cigar-chomping staff sergeant whose cynicism has already rendered him unpopular with most of the Americans aside from Cookie, who serves as Sefton’s unofficial batman and describes him as “one of the most unforgettable ch-characters you’ve ever met.” Continue reading
Jerry Seinfeld, observational comedian
New York City, Winter 1990
Episode: “The Jacket” (Episode 2.03)
Air Date: February 6, 1991
Director: Tom Cherones
Creator: Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld
Costume Designer: Llandys Williams
Happy birthday, Jerry Seinfeld! Admittedly, the comedian typically doesn’t come to mind as a style icon; in fact, he may have been consistently the worst-dressed of the four leads on his eponymous ’90s sitcom, swimming in oversized sport jackets often paired with the incongruous combination of printed neckties, “dad jeans”, and white sneakers.
Having been a fan of the series since it was still airing new episodes (despite most of the jokes likely going over my head at that age), it wasn’t until rewatching the series beginning-to-end with my fiancée during one of my our many quarantine-inspired “comfort TV” marathons that I noticed just how frequently clothing drove the plot of the “show about nothing”, a series always propelled by the minutiae of everyday life.
Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne, American fur importer
Stockholm, April 1983
Film: Gorky Park
Release Date: December 15, 1983
Director: Michael Apted
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As winter rages on, you’d think I would be looking for escape via light movies set in tropical locations… but instead, I recently rewatched Gorky Park, adapted from Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel that begins with three disfigured corpses found in the snow outside a Moscow ice rink. (And I wonder why I get depressed!)
Our ostensible hero is Militsiya officer Arkady Renko (William Hurt), whose investigation of the grisly murders leads him to the sophisticated yet sinister sable importer Jack Osborne (Lee Marvin). Continue reading
Ryan O’Neal as Oliver Barrett IV, preppy Harvard student
New England, Winter 1966, and New York City, Winter 1970
Film: Love Story
Release Date: December 16, 1970
Director: Arthur Hiller
Costume Design: Alice Manougian Martin & Pearl Somner
Happy Valentine’s Day! In the spirit of the season of romance, it felt appropriate to explore the preppy style in one of the most famous cinematic love stories of all time… the perhaps uncleverly titled Love Story.
I went into my inaugural Love Story viewing this year familiar only with Larry Siegel and Mort Drucker’s Mad magazine parody and the movie’s reviled thesis that “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” so I was a little surprised to find myself non-ironically enjoying it more than I expected. Sure, my friend @berkeley_breathes had primed me to expect some standout Ivy-inspired style worn by Ryan O’Neal as our romantic hero Oliver, but I guess the half-century since Love Story has yielded considerably cornier products with the odd effect that this aged… relatively well? Or maybe I’m just speaking from behind the blinders of my enduring crush on early ’70s Ali MacGraw. Continue reading
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, calculating Mafia boss
Havana, December 1958, and Lake Tahoe, Spring 1959
Film: The Godfather Part II
Release Date: December 12, 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
When “gangster style” comes to mind, you may think first of the silk suits from Goodfellas or tracksuits of The Sopranos, but Michael Corleone established an aristocratic sense of style as he grew into his leadership role in accordance with his reserved nature. 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.
Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott, fiery, independent-minded minister
aboard the S.S. Poseidon en route Athens, New Year’s Eve 1972
Film: The Poseidon Adventure
Release Date: December 12, 1972
Director: Ronald Neame
Costume Designer: Paul Zastupnevich
Happy New Year’s Eve… and #TurtleneckThursday? After this disaster of a year, I can’t think of a better movie to bid good riddance to 2020 than one of the most famous disaster movies of the ’70s.
Produced by “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen, The Poseidon Adventure followed the Airport template of a star-studded cast fighting to survive a perilous disaster while tackling their own personal issues. While Airport had originated the disaster film boom of the ’70s, The Poseidon Adventure proved its enduring box office power, recouping more than 25 times its initial budget and paving the way for a decade’s worth of similar stories set amidst tropical storms, within fire-prone skyscrapers, and even aboard a famous airship.
Unlike the ill-fated Titanic which sank during its maiden voyage in 1912, the fictional S.S. Poseidon—partially filmed aboard the decommissioned Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary—is making one last run before it will be scrapped in Athens. The cautious Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) finds his authority challenged by the ship’s aggressive owner Linarcos (Fred Sadoff), establishing the dangers of hubris that would remain a consistent theme throughout the disaster sub-genre.
Down in the ship’s elegant dining room, the Poseidon‘s glamorous passengers are celebrating New Year’s Eve amidst their own personal dramas or crises of faith. Seated at the captain’s table are New York detective Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), his ex-prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens), and Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a controversial cleric yet popular passenger who had captivated a congregation earlier that day with his religious philosophy said to be based on director Ronald Neame’s own hybrid of Christian, Buddhist, and New Age spiritualist beliefs.
While the champagne pops and auld acquaintances be forgot, the crew learns of a massive undersea earthquake that results in a rare wave that strikes the ship broadside, capsizing the S.S. Poseidon and quite literally turning the lives of its passengers upside down.
We’re floating upside-down… we’ve gotta climb up.
Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, Broadway crooner and World War II veteran
Pine Tree, Vermont, December 1954
Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Merry Christmas to all BAMF Style readers who celebrate! After a turbulent year, I know I’ve found comfort in the warm familiarity of the 1954 holiday classic White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as a pair of war buddies-turned-producers who stage yet another “yuletide clambake” to support their popular general (Dean Jagger)… as if you hadn’t already seen it!
Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza, neurotic (but inventive) retiree
Queens, New York, Tuesday, December 23, 1997
Episode: “The Strike” (Episode 9.10)
Air Date: December 18, 1997
Director: Andy Ackerman
Created by: Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld
Costume Designer: Charmaine Nash Simmons
Fed up with the materialism around the holidays? Do you wish the holidays were less about forgiveness and cheer and more about directly telling people what they’ve done to upset you over the past year? Happy Festivus!
Robert De Niro as Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran, tough Mafia enforcer
Philadelphia, Christmas 1960
Film: The Irishman
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson
Last year’s holiday season, there was plenty of buzz around The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s latest mob epic which had been released to Netflix following a brief limited theatrical run. At 209 minutes, The Irishman clocked in as Scorsese’s longest movie to date, following real-life enforcer Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) through his connections to the mob via Philadelphia boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his friendship with outspoken labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Everything seems to change for the boys after the Kennedy administration puts the mob in the government’s crosshairs, but they get one final moment of peace at Christmas 1960, just less than a month before JFK would take office. Frank and Russell gather with their families for an intimate holiday celebration where the only real tension is Frank’s 11-year-old daughter Peggy withholding her affection for the Bufalino patriarch, refusing to see him as a benevolent “Uncle Russell” despite his Christmas gift of skates lined with a C-note.
On #MafiaMonday with just a week until Christmas, let’s look a little deeper at Frank Sheeran’s seasonal style during this brief holiday scene. Continue reading