Even if you've never heard of Jack Taylor, if you've seen a movie since the 1940s, you're familiar with his work. Taylor is - ironically- a tailor. More precisely, he's the probably the most famous tailor in the world, having been a fixture in Beverly Hills for decades. He's the man who started a modest clothing business in New York and wound up being the last word on style when it came to the personal clothing preferences for Hollywood legends ranging from Jackie Gleason to Frank Sinatra, and most notably, Cary Grant - the man who is regarded as the epitome of male glamour. All of these artists entrusted their sartorial matters to Taylor, a cantankerous, out-spoken, quick-witted and no-nonsense perfectionism who rules over his shop like a benign dictator. Most amazingly, he continues to do so even though he's in his 90s. His long-suffering, but adoring major domo is his charming wife Bonnie, who has been his inseparable partner for over 60 years. Jack and Bonnie are the subject of a wonderful documentary titled Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills. It's a first-time movie effort by novice filmmaker Cecile Leroy Beaulieu, an Italian who was raised watching classic Hollywood movies. She fell in love with the sense of style stars once had and while in Beverly Hills with her husband, accompanied him to Jack's store in the naive belief they would have a seersucker suit custom-made. Jack Taylor was appalled by the notion and flat-out refused to comply with their request, despite the fact that the job would have netted him a hefty sum. Beaulieu was so intrigued by this man of principle that she decided to make a documentary about his remarkable career.The result is Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills,which has won acclaim at film festivals and which has now been released on DVD through Indiepix. Considering the fact that it represents Beaulieu's first attempt at making a film, it's a rather remarkable achievement.
The movie traces Jack and Bonnie's adventures from their early days running a tailor shop in New York. Even then, Jack - a former boxer- had captured the attention of the rich and famous. He moved to Beverly Hills,where he has been as synonymous with tinsel town glamour as the Hollywood sign. Beaulieu's filmmaking approach is refreshingly old-fashioned, with a merciful lack of gimmicky editing and camera angles. One might think that an hour documentary set in tailor shop would be rather boring, but Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills is mesmerizing throughout. The film chronicles a typical day in Jack's life. He drives to work (causing Beaulieu to admit the experience was a rather frightening one for the camera crew), arrives at his imposing storefront and sets about drumming up business. He breaks out his yellowed Rolodex of phone numbers and begins to personally call clients to try to convince them they need a new suit. In Jack's world, every other tailor is a nobody. You either wear his custom-made clothes, or you have no sense of style. We watch as he cheerfully berates prospective customers, insulting their taste and physique. (He refers to one portly customer as an elephant.) The customers seem honored to be insulted by the master. It's a though Don Rickles went into the clothing business. Jack is abetted by his loyal staff, including his Chinese tailor and right hand man Sam, who has been with him for 60 years - and who can still barely utter a sentence of recognizable English. The pair descend on a new customer, fitting him out, measuring him and barking instructions left and right. God help the hapless soul who decides to quibble with Jack's 'suggestions' for the type of suit he should be attired in.
Privately, Jack reflects on the passing of the golden age of Hollywood, as well as the virtual demise of style in the world today. Given the roster of clients he has served, who can blame him? Sinatra was a guy who thought it was disrespectful to sit down before going onstage, because he felt it would crease his tuxedo pants, thus showing disrespect for his audience. Whenever Jackie Gleason's weight would fluctuate, he would simply have Jack tailor a new suit rather than look less-than-stylish. Where are such figures today? The film takes us through the fitting process for a new customer, and it's clear that you get far more than a suit from Jack Tailor. He becomes a mother hen who oversees every aspect of the lengthy, multi-day process - and then follows up personally by phone to make sure the customer is satisfied. There are testimonials from game show host Monty Hall (who Jack attired for every episode of Let's Make a Deal), and - in what proved to be probably their last interviews- talk show host Mike Douglas and comedian Jan Murray, both of whom profess their loyalty to Jack. Jack's shop (he has relocated since) was next door to Spago, and we join him on his daily lunch break, bantering with Wolfgang Puck.
The film is a bittersweet experience, as we realize that - with the passing of this man- an entire way of life will have vanished. Taylor extols the virtues of his clients, past and present, with only Burt Reynolds being singled out as a "bastard" and "bad payer" because he supposedly never picked up the clothes he had designed for him. He also recalls the day Elvis Presley made a surprise visit to his shop to get his shirts tailored. Taylor says Elvis had more hidden weapons on him than Q would provide for James Bond - including a walking stick with a secret knife. In a deleted scenes section, we see that underneath the gruff exterior, Jack does have a heart of gold. This is illustrated by an interview with his middle aged golf caddy at the country club. The man says he's had a hard life full of bad breaks and begins to cry when he recalls the acts of kindness Jack Taylor continues to afford him.
The DVD also contains a commentary track with Beaulieu, who has yet to recognize the need to avert long gaps between statements. Still, the asides she provides are hilarious and fascinating, including the fact that Jack never seemed to grasp the fact that she was shooting a documentary about his life. This obsessive pre-occupation with his work is what makes Jack Taylor a Hollywood original. It also helps to make Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills an example of independent filmmaking at its best.