Every so often Hollywood’s leading men will play a role that takes on a life of it’s own, turning an on-screen persona into a legendary character, that we still find as fascinating today as its original audience. Christopher Raymond Brocklebank has found some male vintage film characters we continue to love, not least for their sartorial brilliance.

Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Beatty’s Clyde is a typical example of Hollywood’s shameless habit of ‘improving’ upon the looks of less genetically blessed real-life characters. And so rather than the skinny, sallow, down-at-heel mobster of reality, we have a super-handsome, cleft-chinned, squint-eyed, gun-toting Southern charmer resplendent in double-breasted pin-striped suits and soft felt Fedoras with shimmering moiré bands.

Clyde’s also fond of two-tone brogues, patterned ties and silk pocket squares, all the more handy for wiping nervous sweat from the brow after he and Bonnie have been engaging in their latest bout of mindless violence against some poor bank teller or other.

Jack Nicholson as JJ Gittes in Chinatown (1974)

Trampling all over the clichéof the down-at-heel private detective in hock to the bottle and several dames, Nicholson’s upwardly mobile JJ Gittes is the swankiest exemplar of the Seventies version of the Thirties, swanning around corrupt and dazzling 1937 Los Angeles looking as cool as a julep. His double-breasted suits and Oxford Bags are the colour of desert sand, his waistcoats as snug as straitjackets, and his slicked hair like Brylcreemed suede.

The Accessorised Man loomed large in the Thirties, hence Gittes’ gold cigarette case and cufflinks and his being hip to the notion of sunglasses, one of LA’s more welcome contributions to 20th century accessorising.

greatRobert Redford as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (1974)

Gatsby is a hopeless romantic driven to acquire vast wealth and a fabulous wardrobe in order to win back the spoiled Daisy, who he’s inexplicably crazy about. Redford’s Gatsby may look like he’s at a Seventies Beverly Hills Twenties fancy dress party, but his attire is mouth-watering: a smouldering white tux offset by a buttery tan, a deep-chocolate summer suit, and shirts (naturally, bought in London) woven of such elegance, softness and quality, that they literally reduce Daisy to tears at one point.

He even makes powder blue look cool. The last we see of the tragic Jay, he’s sporting a clingy two-piece bathing suit, a facsimile of which I’ve been keen to display down my local pool for some years.

Marlon Brando as Johnny Stabler in The Wild One (1954)

Whatever you’ve got, he’s against it. While the intervening half century may have reduced Brando’s small-town rebel to a cultural stereotype in some quarters, Strabler’s sex appeal hasn’t dimmed a jot – not least because his attire of beaten-up leather and dirty, tough denim eternally suggests raw youth. His defeat of a tight, white t-shirt rarely goes unnoticed, too.

Cool, complex and inscrutable, whether he’s resting on the handlebars of his Triumph or the glossy Formica of a diner counter, his plump lips curling beneath the shadow of his cap peak, he fuels a million fantasies that have stretched from the Cold War to Global Warming. You’ve got him to thank for your local engineer-booted rockabillies, leather queens, and drag kings. All hail the Wild One.

bouleJean-Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard in Breathless (1960)

Living for jazz, Bogart and kicks, beautiful bruiser Belmondo didn’t have to work hard at playing the physical, unselfconscious, coolly intense Poiccard – he could have worn a polka-dotted shift dress while traversing the Champs-Elysees and still melted ice-cubes in Nice. Poiccard is a Vintage King before his time, disporting a Thirties Fedora and a plaid jacket, with a fat Gauloise lodged permanently between his pillow-like lips.

Even during a philosophy-in-bed session with the breathtaking Jean Seberg, Poiccard looks better dressed than anyone you’ve seen before or since, despite wearing only a pair of white jockey shorts and a tan.

delonAlain Delon as Jef Costello in Le Samourai (1967)

Costello is a strict, spartan, silent, perfectionist hit man, whose modus operandi, apartment and wardrobe are all seamless. We see him in little other than an immaculate charcoal-grey suit, banded fedora and spotless Crombie coat, and yet this adds up to an unrivalled style statement which proves, if nothing else, that chic isn’t always the opposite of sexy.

Not a crack appears in Delon’s icy, amoral prettiness; he remains unlined as his attire. Like his more human Gallic counterpart, Poiccard in Breathless, Costello is a Vintage King of his time – you’d never catch him in loon pants, stinking of patchouli oil. And if you did, he’d probably shoot you, protection of image is paramount for him.

Liberace as Tony Warrin in Sincerely Yours (1955)

‘Simplicity Mr Liberace! Simpl-ic-it-y!’ You could strap him to his (gilded, brocaded) throne and scream this in his bejewelled ears through a megaphone and it still wouldn’t sink in. And thank God for that, because the world needs life-enhancing sparkle. In this Razzie-winning flick, Liberace’s Tony Warrintakes the garlanded wedding cake by simply being – and reminding us what he was capable of: wearing an entire polar bear (sick), a surplus of rings so that his fingers resemble five jewel-encrusted batons, and of course, a pomp so thick, high and resplendent that it could have been squatted by eunuchs.

Add more brocade than a Victorian sofa showroom and a fondness for accessorising with gilded candelabras and you have a recipe for vintage style unparalleled.

bondSean Connery as James Bond (1962-71)

But of course. Bond’s reputation, not least sartorially, will forever precede him. No one moved quite like Connery’s Bond; that is, like a leopard in Savile Row’s finest. Stunningly tuxed in Dr No, sharp suited and ultra-Mod in Goldfinger and Thunderball, Connery’s killer in black will always be top banana.

Even the sight of him poolside in a baby-blue towelling shorts-and-hoodie monstrosity in Goldfingerdoesn’t diminish his style stature – or Shirely Eaton’s ardour.
clintClint Eastwood as Dave in Play Misty for Me (1971)

Clint’s Californian DJ Dave may not be down with the kids (he fondly spins cool Fifties jazz in a post-psychedelic era and keeps his mind while the rest of the state, presumably, were happily losing theirs) but he cuts a smooth dash through the sometimes atrocious men’s fashions of the day and comes out unscathed, though the same cannot be said of his relationship with Jessica Walter in the film.

Craggy as hell but carrying off a youthful sun-streaked shag and sideburns, Dave is sharply suited here, bedecked in denim there, and all the while displaying a variety of patterned or boldly striped shirts with lapels like spearheads. He’s a West Coast man through and through.

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