Felix Leiter: The Seersucker Suit

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Leiter-Seersucker

Rik Van Nutter’s Felix Leiter in Thunderball wears a blue and white striped suit made of a thin, puckered cotton cloth called seersucker. The blue and white seersucker suit is an American warm-weather staple and an fitting suit for a CIA agent in the tropics. The stripes on Leiter’s suit are narrower than usual for seersucker, but they aren’t nearly as narrow as the stripes on the related pincord suit are.

Leiter-Seersucker-2Whilst Cec Linder—Van Nutter’s predecessor as Felix Leiter in Goldfinger—dresses all out in the American Ivy League style in a suit with natural shoulders and an undarted front, Van Nutter wears his American classic in an updated cut. His button three suit jacket has straight shoulders, a full chest and a darted, suppressed waist. The lapels are a classic width and reach halfway from the collar to the edge of the shoulder. The jacket also has flapped hip pockets, double vents and three buttons on the cuffs. The suit’s buttons are made of mother of pearl. The suit trousers have reverse pleats, tapered legs and plain bottoms. The suit is more of a 1950s style than a 1960s style, but Leiter still looks cool and confident in it.

Leiter-Seersucker-3Under the suit Leiter wears a white shirt with a spread collar—another break from the traditional American style—and button cuffs. His black silk knitted tie is tied in a four-in-hand knot. He wears black shoes and a narrow black belt. The black accessories may be unimaginative, but they provide a needed gravitas to his otherwise casual outfit. Leiter carries with him a fedora-style straw Panama hat that has a tall C-crown and a black ribbon. Leiter’s black sunglasses look like they’re by Ray-Ban, but if anyone knows better than I do feel free to comment below.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Not in the very best of taste. I am not particularly fond of the black tie and the black shoes – I think brown shoes and a blue tie would be more appropriate (it’s Nassau and not New York City). It looks as if he’d just come over from NY or LA for a quick visit (jumped into the plane) and had no time to change clothes. Remember his first appearance on the beach – he looks totally out of place in his outfit. Big mistake – especially for a secret agent (everybody notices him at once).

  2. All this time I thought the suit was actually a semi solid light gray color – similar to Cec Linder’s suit in Goldfinger. I have to look at your screenshot to notice that it is actually blue/white stripes. I think Rik Van Nutter looked pretty good as Leiter. It always kind of bothered me the way they recast Leiter. Not only because they do it on almost every movie, but they also do it with very different looking actors. It makes the camaraderie between Bond and Leiter feel a bit fake to me. I really hope Jeffrey Wright stays in the role for another film or two.
    While I agree with Renard’s observations that Leiter stands out too much in the beach, I think this is just one of those things where it is done for the audience instead of realism. I think that the audience were meant to notice Leiter in the beach looking shifty and mistook him for one of Largo’s men.
    I think it’s similar to when Bond didn’t shave for one third of Skyfall. I know it’s done for the narrative and to set up the shaving scene with Moneypenny but it still bothers me everytime I watch it (you’ve bought a whole new wardrobe to wear to the office to meet your boss and her boss and you don’t shave? I mean, really?)

  3. I think these colors work well with Van Nutter’s hair. The seersucker is a warm weather classic and still a common fixture in some areas of the East Coast and the American South. I’m not sure it’s right for Nassau but I think the choice gives Leiter a hint of backstory. I also agree that the whole series has been hurt from the continuous recasting of this part, especially considering that M, Q, and Moneypenny were played by the same actors for many years. The Leiter character almost always comes across as a stranger when he should be a familiar friend.

  4. I agree with most of the above. I like this suit on Leiter and even accepting that the accessories might not be top drawer, it fits with a pragmatic CIA agent, not a preening fop following all rules – real and imagined – of menswear.

    I also think the series was harmed by constantly recasting Leiter but I suppose on a fledgling series, working actors couldn’t afford to keep their schedules clear for a few scenes in a series of films that until Thunderball did moderately well but would be unlikely to provide the ‘F-You’ money that Humphrey Bogart spoke of. All about priorities I suppose.

    I think Van Nutter was the best of all the actors to play Felix until Geoffrey Wright. Jack Lord was fine but a bit cold and distant, David Hedison was OK and got two shots, the rest are all unremarkable but RVN seemed to hit the right note between a not too subservient sidekick and a reliable drinking buddy too.

    In Skyfall all the new supporting elements (M, Q, Moneypenny) were put in place so I’m hopeful that Geoffrey Wright is invited back in Bond 24 as a reminder of Craig’s enduring tenure since Casino Royale and as a worthy partner to Bond.

  5. Van Nutter’s slightly mismatched accessories really sold him as Felix to me – another man, like Connery’s Bond, a killer trained to be refined, rather than a gentleman trained in killing. There’s something rascally and American about it that not only matches Fleming’s “sandy Texan touting the superiority of American hot rods” perfectly, but feels like just the guy Bond would really genuinely be friends with. They could have fed Van Nutter to a shark and had him affably drive a Studillac with a hook for a right hand and he’d have sold it perfectly. Bond himself notoriously bucked the rules of fashion in instances where A. It was impractical not to, like his shoes or B. He just liked something better – like carrying an inefficient gun and holster.

  6. I applaud the costumers of the films for keeping their eyes on quintessentially American details for whichever actor is playing Leiter, such as Jeffrey Wright’s button-down collar. I also hope we continue to see Wright in the role, at least throughout Craig’s tenure. However, even as recently as QoS, Americans are portrayed as uncouth and unrefined in the series. No doubt this is mainly to contrast with the unfailingly suave English characters of the series- especially Bond himself. In QoS, Leiter’s boss is a “typical” American- after oil and without a care to the consequences of getting it. The earliest good example I can remember of this kind of treatment is in YOLT in which the Americans are only too ready to start a nuclear war and the British Secret Service are tasked with calming them down like some dog barking at the end of its chain.
    Wright’s portrayal is the only one I know of Leiter being quintessentially American WITHOUT looking like a slob compared to Bond, and I am quite happy that they’ve moved past intentionally making Leiter a sloppy character (especially since I’m a fan of the American style). Of course, most of today’s audience wouldn’t tell the difference between well-tailored and slouchy anyway.
    Especially after Skyfall, it’s clear that the producers are evermore intending Bond as a symbol of English patriotism but I’m not sure why they so often gain it at the cost of insulting Americans.

  7. I don’t see it that way and conversely see the series as supposedly quintessentially English from the start but in order to tap I to the American market there has to be an American connection which is often provided by the link to Felix and the CIA.

    I hadn’t really thought about ‘insulting Americans’ – at first blush I’d say that case is pretty circumstantial – but even if more substantial it surely is a drop in the bucket compared to Hollywood’s predisposition for making villains English. (Thank you Mel Gibson!). Even in the first Tobey McGuire Spider-Man I seem to remember Willen Defoe curiously getting a change in accent when he became the Green Goblin!

    • Have you seen the American Jaguar commercial this year that features English actors talking about how Hollywood often makes villains British? The actors in the commercial don’t seem to mind playing the parts. There are certainly occasions in the Bond series where Americans are played in a less-than-flattering way. Jack Wade is certainly one example.

  8. Of course you are right, Matt. And don’t forget Brad Withaker (Joe Don Baker’s villain role) and Clifton James as Sheriff Pepper – two rather extreme examples on how (bad) Americans were portrayed in the series. Both rather cloddy or even fat, not the brightest ones, showing bad manners and bad taste in their choice of clothes and both with fascist and racist tendencies – the latter applies especially to Pepper as a (“typical”) representant of the southern American states. Both characters are such that they can be considerd as insults to the American people (on purpose, without any doubt). Of course this must be considered in connection with the political situation at the times.

  9. The Ipcress File has several Bondian connections. Harry Saltzman produced the movie, Ken Adam designed it, John Barry wrote the music. Guy Doleman (Count Lippe in Thunderball) was one of the stars.

    And the Ipcress File’s sequel, Funeral in Berlin, was directed by Guy Hamilton.

  10. Perhaps my computer monitor isn’t calibrated the same as everyone else’s: Leiter’s suit looks more like a grey seersucker than a blue one to me. If so, all the black accessories would not seem nearly as out-of-place. However, I happily defer to the author of this excellent blog on the issue.

    • When you look at the suit in the outdoor scenes the blue is much more vivid. Black accessories go perfectly well with blue, but they look rather serious for such a casual suit.

  11. Matt , do you think someday we will see Bond in a seersucker suit ? I know that it’s dastardly unlikely , since a seersucker suit is so quintessentially American. But it could make a good suit in a summer or tropical setting. Maybe not blue and white , but a soft tan and white perhaps ?

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