Hollywood is generally guilty of some excess when it comes to period pieces. People complain that anachronistic tools, dialog, and fashion mar the audience’s immersion in the supposed “period.” I’ve never really had a problem with this, and it’s gratifying when it works in our fashionable favor, as with the 1935 spy flick, Rendezvous.
Rendezvous – The Film
The plot is about an American cryptology expert foiling German spies, which sounds like it was a bit ahead of its time in 1935, but is actually set in 1917, during the First World War. These are you Kaiser’s Germans, not the National Socialist variety. Ironically the film was remade in 1945 (badly, apparently) but set in the Pacific. Rosalind Russell gets her boyfriend, William Powell, assigned to a stateside cryptology unit to avoid heading overseas to France. In the process of foiling German spies, he meets up with Russian spy Olivia Karloff (Binnie Barnes), who’s working with the Germans. Thankfully Olivia’s wardrobe lives up to all the stereotypical images of Russian lady spies Hollywood has to offer
Rendezvous– The Furs
The film was set in 1917, but the furs are all 1930’s. Outside of the WWI vintage army uniforms, it’s hard to tell by visual inspection alone when the film was supposed to take place. Rosalind Russell is a bit hamstrung by having a very iconic role later in life. It’s easy to forget she was once a bit younger and more vibrant on-screen years before, and even more so surrounded by some glamorous fur. Here she shares the screen with the far less famous and unfortunately named Binnie Barnes as the Russian spy. Binnie manages to upstage Rosalind a bit with her Russian spy wardrobe.
As madcap girlfriend “Joel Carter,” Rosalind opens the film in this fox fur wrap. Though styled more like something from 1917, it is more ‘fox’ than it probably would have been in 1917.
Russian spy Olivia Karloff sweeps in later to provide a bit more sophistication with this large lynx collar.
Olivia is given a few spectacular close-ups in her furs. This is one of them. The shots are brief, but they are certainly a gift to your “pause” button. The cinematographer and editor were undoubtedly on the ball with this one.
Olivia and Bill Gordon meet in the ensuing game of Spy vs. Spy, though she is far more elegantly dressed in than the pointy comic version. The large silver fox muff and the veil are a seductive combination for the Russian spy.
Olivia spends a great deal of the film wearing this silver fox wrap over a black outfit. Not something prevalent in 1917, but I don’t really care.
Again, there are multiple close shots of Ms. Barnes framed perfectly by the silver fox. Check out the full gallery for a more complete selection.
Bookending the film somewhat, Rosalind returns with something a bit more substantial than her entry fox wrap. This massive lynx collar appears at the very end of the film, just before the credits roll.
Indeed ending the film on a high note for fur, Ms. Russell’s huge fur collar runs the entire length of her coat from top to bottom, as any collar should.
Definitely, a film where anachronistic fashions are a “welcome error.” Usually, period pieces from the ’30s ended up being of the late 1800s and generally far too accurate for their own good (read: devoid of any decent furs). Perhaps the comparatively recent historical period in which the film was made created a bit more of a lax atmosphere. If only Ms. Russell’s final coat had been more than just the collar, or our Russian spy swathed more completely in silver fox, but minor quibbles considering what thought to be worn in “1917”.