Archive for September, 2009


Furs in Film – The Dr. Phibes Films

City Heat is a movie from 80’s about 30’s, two great fur fashion decades that film great together. What about movies from the 70’s about 20’s? The films in questions would be a couple low-budget camp horror films featuring Vincent Price as a guy who really holds a grudge well.

Dr. Phibes – The Films

1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes and 1972’s sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again are rather similar films. Price plays the titular doctor, who in the first film enacts some very complex revenge on the doctors and nurse whom he blames for his wife’s failed care after a car accident 4 years previously. In the sequel he does the same thing against the people who stole his scrolls’o’resurrection and burned his house down. In both cases his ultimate goal is the return of his well-preserved dead wife, and in both cases he is assisted in his multifarious murder plots by the voiceless Vulnavia.

Dr. Phibes – The Furs

It is Vulnavia and her signature outfit that provides the lions share of the furs in the films. This outfit is a lovely black cape, blouse, boots, gloves, and a very full black fox hat. A version of this costume is seen in both the first film and the sequel. It’s not the only fur, though. Vulnavia appears once in The Abominable Dr. Phibes in the negative of her usual outfit, a white mink jacket and fur hat. Dr. Phibes Rises Again features more than just Vulnavia in furs. Fiona Lewis plays the love interest of one of the Dr’s foes and she appears in a couple of full foxes.

In The Abominable Dr. Phibes Vulnavia is played by Virginia North in what was her final film role. Miss North appeared in another film notable for fur, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The first appearance of Vulnavia in her signature hat is as chauffeur to Phibes.

Vulnavia’s other white fur outfit appears later, as she calmly assists the good Doctor in another homicide.

Virginia North had experience as a model, which served her well for this role, since she had no lines, and retained the appearance of cool detachment throughout.

Chauffeur, murder accomplice, dog walker… Vulnavia does it all, and looks great doing it. Here she wears a black cape to complement the fox hat.

The nature of the character is never explained, and theories include her being a clockwork android. One that does pause for a smoke break…

…and look directly at the camera from time to time.

Both the Doctor and Vulnavia appear to have died by the end of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but, hey, it’s a horror movie and the antagonist always comes back for the sequel. 1972’s equally campy low-budget affair features more than just Vulnavia in fur. Here we have Fiona Lewis, as the main squeeze of the Doctor’s foe in Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Miss Lewis not only has a full fox wrap, but accents with a bit of a short cigarette holder.

While they chat, Vulnavia has returned and is up to her usual, calm, cool, and collected homicidal tricks. Her black fox hat and matching black cape/boot/glove ensemble are sadly not seen so much in the sequel.

The silver fox and black fox sequences are inter-cut allowing us to admire both at once.

Though the stylish fox hat returned, the head supporting it did not. If you’re comparing closeups and thinking, “hey, wait just one gosh-darned second here!”, you’re right, that’s not Virginia North, that’s Valli Kemp. Miss North could not don the black fox hat once more as she was supposedly pregnant by the time the sequel began rolling.

Valli Kemp had even fewer credits to her name, though her ability to stand and look very beautiful catapulted her to being Miss Australia of 1970, and subsequent runner up for Miss World of the same year. Here she and Miss Lewis pass on the deck of an ocean liner bound for Egypt, with Miss Kemp sadly not as warm.

I would nitpick about it still being the 20’s and this pretty full white fox jacket was, perhaps, a tad anachronistic, but I don’t really care. I’d nitpick more it was worn by Fiona Lewis and not Valli Kemp, who would have done it more justice.

The horror genre doesn’t generally serve up a lot of furs, so this was a nice exception to the rule. Though I grant Vulnavia’s signature outfit is a little light on fur. Still, the fox hat is great, and in combination with rest of the outfit, it is an excellent look for the character of a calm, detached-yet-stylish assassin. Yes, ideally the cape would have been black fox as well, that would have nailed it perfectly.

One gallery for both films: The Furs of Doctor Phibes


Furs in Film – They All Kissed The Bride

Another film in the costumed-like-it’s-1939 category, we have 1942’s They All Kissed the Bride, with a 37 year old Joan Crawford. If your mental image of Miss Crawford snaps to the 50’s and beyond, that’s unfortunate, as vintage 30’s and early 40’s Crawford is a truly spectacular beauty. Sadly most b-roll of Crawford always defaults to this “aged” period as, unfairly, it’s become her most “iconic.” This film is also notable as the female lead was to have been played by Carole Lombard, who died in a plane crash before filming started, leading to Crawford taking the role.

They All Kissed the Bride – The Film

Margaret J. Drew (Crawford) is the tough-as-nails head of both family and business, the latter being a trucking corporation. She learns she and her business are being targeted by a muckraking journalist, Michael Holmes (Melvyn Douglas) and is none too pleased. At her sister’s wedding, she meets and is smitten by a “mysterious stranger” who turns out to be… the Pope! No… of course it’s Mike Holmes, the muckraking journalist. To say they eventually fall in love and live happily ever after shouldn’t require a spoiler alert.

They All Kissed the Bride – The Furs

This film mostly falls into the 1 epic fur category, though it has at least one other of note. The one epic fur in question is the full length silver fox fur coat Margaret Drew wears as she goes to visit Mike Holmes at his humble abode. The second is a more 40’s contemporary silver fox shawl/wrap seen later in the film, also after going to visit Mike’s place. Mike’s a lucky guy.

And here it is, Joan Crawford in a big, full, full length silver fox coat, accented with a dark hat with what appears to be a veil that’s never actually used, unfortunately.

Oddly, Joan’s the nervous one here. Not sure how that’s possible in a power fox like that, but it defiantly speaks her range as an actress to pull it off.

She finally makes it up to his apartment, and again balks at the door, but looks great doing so.

Margaret finally works up the courage to have a brief chat.

She returns to the office wearing what may be the same large fox coat, though I do note the difference in the brightness of the highlights, which means it may be yet a different large fox coat, perhaps crystal. Or it could be the lighting…

Later, Margaret returns, this time in a large silver fox wrap and an even taller feathered hat.

She ends up in the pouring rain with the wrap, leading to its use an impromptu umbrella.

Though rain generally isn’t all that detrimental to a long haired fur as long as the leather doesn’t get too wet (and that’s what the fur is for), she does find a convenient awning keep the rain off.

Crawford had a great streak of films in the late 30’s for fur, with The Bride Wore Red, Mannequin, and Ice Follies of 1939, all which I hope to profile, if TCM would just show them again so I can get more up-to-date screen caps. The full length fox in They All Kissed the Bride is a great example of a 30’s fur showing up in the early 40’s, much like the furs in Lady of Burlesque and Lady Be Good.

They All Kissed the Bride Image Gallery


Furs in Film – City Heat

I’ve covered Night Shift, and Forever Lulu, so, next up in the famous furs of 80’s Hollywood series: City Heat.

City Heat – The Film

City Heat is part of a long Hollywood tradition of the buddy cop movie, the “half twist” here is one of the cops had retired and is now a private eye. The other twist is, get this, they don’t like each other! Imagine that, a buddy cop movie where they start out not liking each other then grow to respect one another by the end of the film. Burt Reynolds plays former cop, current fast-talking private eye Mike Murphy, and Clint Eastwood plays Lieutenant Speer, a hard nosed cop who thinks actions speak louder than words. Utterly brilliant casting here, folks. Murphy and Speer team up against a gangster… and… yeah, I don’t care either.

City Heat – The Furs

So, onto the important stuff. This is a movie set in the 30’s filmed in the 80’s. Jackpot. Though there is more than one fur in the film, the only one that anyone remembers is the full length white fox coat worn by Madeline Kahn’s character, Caroline Howley, who ends up being Murphy’s love interest in the film. The other furs are a bit more conservative though, ironically, perhaps more historically accurate than the one worn by Ms. Kahn. More on that in a moment.

Very early on, we need to establish some villainy and this lady is on the receiving end of it, looking good in a red fox collared coat. It’s a rather short sequence in which she spends most of it with a gun pointed at her head.

Fast forward (literally, I recommend it) to the third act where Madeline Kahn and her full length white fox fur coat show up and are promptly kidnapped by the minions of the big bad, mob boss Primo Pitt.

She calls Murphy to tell him about it.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I call into question the historic accuracy of Ms. Kahn’s white fox coat. The fur appears to have a bit of an off-the-rack flavor for the time, “the time” being the 1980’s. This is not to disparage it at all, the fact you could find big, thick white fox coats off the rack in 1980’s what made it such a magical time.

Kidnapped, Madeline passes the time playing poker with her gangster hosts.

In another total non-cliche, she beats the tough, experienced gangsters at their own game.

I’m guessing the excuse to have her wear the coat the entire time was the fact that she’s in her “underwear,” since no one else in the room seems the least bit chilly.

Murphy rescues Caroline, and they exit out onto the street for a little smooching.

Finally, Clint Eastwood’s love of jazz requires a final scene in a random jazz club where he plays the piano. Murphy and Caroline show up, with Caroline expressing how thrilled she is to be there. Her fox trimmed jacket is more reminiscent of actual period dress, though.

City Heat as a film is about a formulaic as they come, lest my earlier sarcasm was missed. Still, Madeline Kahn and her white fox fur coat in combination with judicious use of fast forward, make it quite the enjoyable cinematic experience. If you like Madeline Kahn in fox, you can squint at a younger version playing the Hitchcock Blonde in High Anxiety‘s lounge scene where she’s got a blue fox stole or wrap on the chair behind her. Bonus there is it’s also a really great film you won’t have to fast forward through.

Fur on Film Gallery – City Heat


Gallery Comments Enabled

Quick note to say you can now comment on individual gallery pages and not just posts. Want to agree that the blush fox mega-wrap in the Let’s Do It Again gallery is really great?  Well, now you can.

There is an update coming soon, too, more 30’s fox… from the 80’s.


Furs in Film – Lady Be Good

Lady Be Good – The Film

An Oscar winning film you’ve probably never heard of, mostly because there’s a bunch of Oscars most people don’t consider all that memorable and they’ve been around for along time, thus the winner for Best Original Song in 1942 isn’t really what get’s featured on the usual Oscar B-reel. That would be Lady Be Good, by the way, for the song “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”

The movie itself, like many musicals, is about a struggling songwriting team, played by Ann Southern and Robert Young, who end up writing a big hit, and making the big time. Like, for some strange reason, many of the films I’ve profiled here, they end up getting a divorce because of all that fame. If classic Hollywood has taught me anything, it’s “get a divorce, you’ll encounter women in great fur coats along the way.” Naturally this little hiccup in their relationship doesn’t outlast the third act, and everyone gets married again, and, depending on your views about marriage, lives happily ever after.

Lady Be Good – The Furs

This is another good example of an early ’40’s film costumed like it’s 1939. The film features both Ann Southern and top bill Elanor Powell in large foxes, including some white fox that would be rare in the next ten or thirty years or so. Two very large white foxes appear, in fact, one a coat, one a wrap, as well as a silver fox wrap, that, thankfully, portends the end of fashion’s love affair with the head and legs remaining attached to any combination of silver fox and stole. Those stoles were the sour pill in an otherwise perfect decade of fur fashion.

Newly successful songwriting team of Dixie Donegan (Southern) and Eddie Crane (Young) zip to their societal rounds in whatever passes for a limo at the time. Dixie is wrapped up in a big white fox wrap with veil that accents it well.

Eddie leaves Dixie behind to continue clubbing. Eddie’s hard partying ways will eventually lead to, you guessed it, divorce for the happy couple. I’d like to point out, briefly, I love the name Dixie Donegan.

Bending over to say hello to the doggie is Elenor Powell, playing the equally alliterative but less interestingly named Marilyn Marsh. I put this up mostly because in the still, though it looks like Ann Southern has bunny ears, it’s just her feet.

The costume designer liked veils in this flick, as Elenor displays her black net veil as a complement to her silver fox wrap. Bonus points awarded for the matching black gloves, of course. She’s a long, slim cigarette holder away from perfection.

The cast assembles at the justice of the peace, or maybe a minister. The finer points are hazy to me at this point. Though I’m sure mink fans are pleased, I must state Elenor’s mink get’s a buy because of Ann’s fox.

Not sure why they insisted on the heavy metal breaking up the lines on the fox, I could certainly do with out it, but it doesn’t sully the overall product too much. A rare example of a large white fox coat in the 40’s.

Overall, the 1941 Lady Be Good was positively epic for the time. If the costumer designer was stuck in the 30’s, that’s fine by me. I wish costume designers were still stuck in the 30’s. I have noticed a conspicuous lack of white fox trimmed dresses on prime time television and films these days. Really, would it be so conspicuous if Claire Bennet’s cheerleader outfit was made of fox, or Kara Thrace lounged around the ready room in a crystal fox flight jacket? No, not at all. Oops, my genre cred is showing.

And… here’s a link to the full Lady Be Good Gallery.


Furs in Film – Forever Lulu

Hi there.

Good thing I’ve already posted Night Shift, because we have a new heavyweight champion for “great fox screen time”, one that will be hard to beat. Also can be added to that very short list of films where a fur coat is actually integral to the plot. Fortunately this one has a better screen presence than the one in Butterfield 8.

Forever Lulu – The Film

Forever Lulu is the story of German immigrant and aspiring writer named Elaine (Hanna Schygulla), who’s having a particularly bad day, leading to a minor psychotic break in a rainy back alley where she waves a gun around like a lunatic. In the general vicinity, a couple mistakes these antics for a stickup, and before you know it, Elaine walks away one soaking wet, full length white fox fur coat richer. This was really charity, as the coat’s previous owner clearly did not do it any justice at all.

With the coat comes another man’s coat and a wallet with a photo of a blonde woman with the words “Forever Lulu” penned upon it. Thus Elaine embarks on a journey to find Lulu (Deborah Harry), who always seems to turn up where she is, though she never notices.

Forever Lulu – The Furs

There’s a full length white fox coat in the film Forever Lulu. That, in and of itself may not be particularly notable for something that came out in 1987, but, beyond its role in motivating the flimsy plot, let’s just say you may actually get tired of seeing it before the movie is over… and it’s not the only fur in the film.

Here’s the stats… Forever Lulu‘s run time is 85 minutes, of them, the white fox coat is on screen for approximately 22 minutes, or about 38% of the entire film. Basically, once it’s found, Elaine rarely takes it off. Even when she does, she had on other furs.

Remember how there’s more than 1 fur in the film? Here’s Eline’s more successful friend (Kathleen Gati, I think) lording that success over her at dinner, including her black fox stole.

Leading in part to Elaine’s little mental issue in the alley, where these fine people turn over their valuables, including the white fox coat, to her.

Returning with her “loot”, Elaine catches her reflection in the mirror with the coat hoisted over her shoulders and proceeds to wrap her face with the soaking wet fox coat, openly admiring the results in the mirror. A rare direct cinematic exploration of the power of a beautiful fur coat.

Life turning around, Elaine lets her lovely new fur coat dry out and takes it for a spin.

Following up on the photo in the wallet, she arrives at an address only to become witness to a mob deal gone bad, escaping notice by throwing a sheet or something over her head and standing very still, in a move I think Bugs Bunny probably pioneered.

The cops arrive and she reveals herself, leading to this image. No further comment.

Elaine’s good luck is inversely proportional to the luck of everyone around her, and the cops and everyone else die, leaving a very large suitcase of cash around, to which Elaine helps herself.

There’s not much point to recounting the plot from here, so here’s another shot of Miss Schygulla in an great white fox coat.

Despite having her white fox coat, Elaine seems to borrow her friend’s black fox stole form time to time, just to give us some variety.

And, yes, Elaine finally bumps into Lulu at the end of the film, where Debby Harry utters one of her around 3 lines total, and everyone lives happily every after (except all the dead guys, we presume).

Elaine has yet other fur I skipped near the end as kind of drab in comparison. The fur time ratio is probably pushing 40-45% percent when you factor in the other furs. This is the kind of bold costume design all films could take a lesson from. Imagine how much more visually compelling it would have been if Agent Starling wore a full a full length blue fox coat the whole time? Scarlett O’Hara?

Just sayin’…

Fur On Film – Forever Lulu Complete Gallery