What is it about that white tuxedo and red carnation?
In a cinematic sense, it establishes a certain air of clout, of integrity, of credibility for the character who wears the combination. The red carnation against the white tuxedo makes our actor prominent in the scene. Our eyes are drawn to the carnation. We can identify our lead even in a crowded room. It makes him the most important person.
Not everyone can pull off the look, especially today, which is why the actor who wears it has most assuredly arrived.
In honor of the recently released poster for Spectre, showcasing a nostalgic return to this iconic look, here’s a look at a few classic Hollywood characters, and the actors who portrayed them, who have worn the white tuxedo and red carnation, and who have been forever cinematically immortalized as a result…
Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942)
While his look doesn’t sport the carnation, any discussion of a white tuxedo begins and ends with Bogart. This shot perfectly demonstrates what I mentioned above. Bogart commands the room. All eyes are fixated on him. The white tuxedo is a physical manifestation of the power he exudes.
Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1964)
Perhaps cinema’s first homage to Bogart is James Bond, and the addition of the carnation makes it his own. In Goldfinger, Bond infiltrates a layer underwater, removes his wet suit with the iconic white tux underneath, and affixes the carnation to his jacket before walking into the room. When the film opens, he has already completed a previous mission. His look, which calls attention to himself in a room full of enemies, is an expression of his confidence.
Peter Falk as Sam Diamond in Murder by Death (1976)
Paying tribute to another iconic Bogart character, the hardboiled Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, Falk’s parody in Murder by Death is nothing short of genius. The film is in color, but Sam Diamond is in black and white, which includes his carnation.
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indy has a little Sam Spade and a little James Bond in him, and so it’s only fitting that he wear the white tuxedo with red carnation to the nightclub owned by his enemy, swarming with bad guys. Like Bond, Jones isn’t sneaking into the lion’s den. He’s coming in through the front door and demanding everyone take notice of him. Considering how ragged and bloodied and bruised Indy becomes by the end of the film, the pristine white tux at the beginning is a fun ironic juxtaposition.
Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Quentin Tarantino had made it very well known he had desires to remake Casino Royale before the Bond producers went about it themselves in Daniel Craig’s first outing. Perhaps it is only fitting then that in this pivotal scene with Raine and company infiltrating the enemy’s lair, he does so as James Bond has, and as Indiana Jones has, by wearing the white tuxedo with red carnation.
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre (2015)
Bringing the look full circle, we have Daniel Craig’s James Bond doing away with the black tux in this next installment of the franchise. It’s fantastic nostalgia for the character, bringing us all the way back to the Connery era. But as we’ve established, the purpose of the white tux and red carnation isn’t for the memories. It’s a depiction of the strength and confidence of the character, worn with intent and purpose, usually when he is right in the thick of the danger. Knowing what we know about Bond, the white tux and carnation will most assuredly have its purpose in Spectre.