Unearthing Borsalino – The Most Stylish Movie I’d Never Heard Of

Borsa1There’s this scene just over halfway through Borsalino, where Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character arrives at Alain Delon’s character’s newly acquired mansion and the two men reflect on their rapid rise from foot soliders to kingpins.  As Belmondo stepped out of his open air coupe, wearing a double-breasted overcoat brown with this faint windowpane check and is greeted by Delon in a satin shawl collar belted robe, that he’s wearing as a jacket (complete with pocket square,) I couldn’t help but stop and think that Borsalino might be the best dressed movie that no one ever talks about.  What strikes me though is that the film seems like it was specifically designed to be high scripture for the menswear community, right up there with Three Days of the Condor, Breathless and the Godfather Trilogy   Borsalino plays out like an amalgam of all these films combined, it’s French Nouvelle Vague, meets gangster flick, all wrapped up in meticulously tailored outfits complete with a bevy of Borsalinos.

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The film’s title is actually how I found it in the first place, during my annual hunt for a winter hat that I would actually look halfway decent in.  After seeing a poster of the film pop up during one of my searches, I was intrigued, and I soon learned that despite having a fairly decent commercial run when it was released in 1970, by the turn of the century, Jacques Deray’s Borsalino had practically faded into oblivion.  While it’s sequel Borsalino & Co. has since been released on DVD, the original can only be found on used VHS tapes.  Fortunately for me though I was able to find a crude, non-subtitled copy on Youtube.  Unfortunately for me though, I don’t speak a lick of French, but nonetheless I decided to watch the film credits to credits, and what I discovered was a movie that blended Belmondo’s and Delon’s own styles with 1930′s Marseilles to create some pretty awe-inspiring, and just genuinely inspiring looks.

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Within the first ten minutes or so, Delon and Belmondo square off in probably one of the longest straight up fist fights I’ve ever seen a film, yet what caught my attention was their respective outfits. Here was Delon in a deep navy double-breasted peak lapel suit with a slightly askew fedora, and Belmondo in a double breasted waistcoat, pleated trousers, striped shirt, and striped tie, beating each other to a bloody pulp, in a scene that really set the tone for the rest of the film.

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Throughout Borsalino, Delon leans more toward the classic, while Belmondo always tends to favor the bold.  Together though the two men play off each other perfectly, Delon in his subtler patterns, and solid ties, is a visual foil to Belmondo’s collage of patterns and layers of contrasting stripes.  The tailoring in the film seems to run very true to France during the thirties with lower gorges, wider lapels, stronger shoulders, and pinched waists to produce more dramatic silhouettes throughout.  Then of course there’s the reoccurring overcoat look that everyone seems to share: double breasted peak lapel overcoat, typically grey or brown, with dual boutonniere button holes on each side, and finished off with a scarf looped prominently through the front.

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What I enjoyed most though was the moments when the film deviated from what became Delon and Belmondo’s respective uniforms.  Be it when Delon steps out in a deep indigo work shirt, navy boatneck sweater, and neckerchief, or when they show a rival boss playing tennis in an all-white outfit, or when one of them shows up to a party in an all white two-by-one double breasted peak lapel suit, the film is full of these incredible little clips that show the depth of Borsalino.

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As a movie that’s named after one of the world’s most famous hat companies (the name is quite literally taken from Borsalino, as their hats were used exclusively in the film) I suppose it’s to be expected that the hats were impeccable.  Each character seems to wear their hat in this identical manner, titled ever so slightly toward the back and pushed off to the side just so, in a way that’s as much about class as it is nonchalance.  To be honest, I couldn’t follow Borsalino worth a damn, but I could certainly discern that these were probably some of the best dressed characters I’d ever seen on screen.  Now if only I could find a copy in English so I could figure out what the hell was going on.

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5 comments
  1. It was a wonderful film that I recall fondly. Thanks for reminding me of it and its great style.

  2. Ralph Dratman said:

    I remember thinking that Belmondo, in those clothes and hats, was the handsomest man I had ever seen.

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