Archive for January, 2011

2011/01/30

Furs on Film – Father Takes a Wife

Back to my favorite part of the 1940’s, the bit where costume designers didn’t get the memo about how “fur is boring this decade.” Father Takes a Wife is from 1941, and falls into that period quite nicely. This was Gloria Swanson’s last film before a nine year hiatus that would eventually lead to her “comeback” role in Sunset Blvd. This was Swanson at 42, and while not quite the young hottie from her silent film days, she still cuts an impressive figure.

Father Takes a Wife – The Film

While I can’t really call this a divorce film, the plot veers close to it. Fred “Senior” Osborne (Adolphe Menjou), a shipping magnate, decides abruptly to get married to actress Leslie Collier (Swanson) and turn the company over his son, Junior. Don’t really get a lot of films about shipping magnates these days. The marriage is a little rocky as Senior turns out to be the jealous sort, and things don’t get easier when he invites a stowaway Latin singer they met on their honeymoon home with them. Hey, that’s what anyone would have done…

Father Takes a Wife – The Furs

As a successful actress and soon to be trophy wife, Leslie has quite the wardrobe. Swanson’s Wikipedia entry suggests her early history in silent film was as the first “clothes horse,” a tradition this film attempts to continue.

In a shot as brief as the fur deserves, Leslie heads off to her farewell performance in this 40’s mink. Thankfully it’s around for only about 5 seconds.

That farewell performance is apparently set in a cold place, as her stage outfit includes… this. Now, I don’t know what ‘this’ is, but I do know I like ‘this’.

Gloria Swanson putting on a muff that matches the coat and hat. That is all.

What’s odd about this fur is that I can’t recall seeing anything like it anywhere else. It’s like a mutant fox with extremely long black guard hairs.

We see it on stage in a very brief, very wide shot before she takes it off, leaving only the hat.

Which gets a close up, again, not really suggesting what kind of fur it is. I’m sure someone knows and may help us all out in the comments section. Or everyone will just skip reading all this noise and go right to the gallery page, which my analytics suggests is, in fact, the case.

Intercut with the final performance we see in the audience Leslie’s new family on her husband’s side, including Junior’s wife, Enid (Florence Rice), wearing a white fox fur wrap that is given the attention it deserves after the show.

Enid and Leslie smile at one another. The mystery fur is in the background.

This sequence could be a little longer, but the shots of the white fox are well done.

Returning from the honeymoon cruise, stowaway in tow, Leslie has a large dark fur coat.

This one is also a little quick, and not as well shot as should have been.

There’s a decent but quick full view as they all return home. The coloring in the sleeve suggests it may be fox, but can’t be 100% sure.

After the aforementioned stowaway gets kicked out of the aforementioned home, he shacks up with Junior and wife Enid. Enid takes him in wearing this very full fox jacket.

Not a common length for the time, but well done, and well shot.

If the stowaway is looking vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s Ricky Ricardo, er… Desi Arnaz in an early film role.

This one is a little short in the runtime department, but has a very nice variety of furs. Definitely could have used some rewrites to keep them in frame a little longer, but considering it was 1941, getting this many was amazing enough. There’s a couple more foxes on the character of “Aunt Julie” played by Helen Broderick, who wasn’t quite up to making the cut in the “looking at for any extended period of time” department. Still, they wouldn’t have done much to pad the runtime, and one of them was that standard 30’s silver fox stole I already dislike. I suppose pairing the two makes sense now.

Fur Runtime: approx 6 minutes
Film Runtime: 79 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 8%

Full Gallery: Fur Fashions of the 1941 film Father Takes a Wife

2011/01/23

Furs on Film – The Millionairess

I am a big fan of Sophia Loren, but the trajectory of her international stardom rests firmly in the late 50’s and 60’s. Those were the years fur fashion was merely phoning it in, a dreary wasteland of minks that were better suited to funerals than glamorous ladies on the big screen. Loren compounded this problem by doing a lot period and western genre pieces. History teaches us the only westerns with big fox furs in them starred Mae West. Thankfully, there’s at least one bright spot.

The Millionairess – The Film

The film is about the epicly named Epifania Parerga, a spoiled (not madcap) heiress. Not just any old heiress, the richest one in the world, who is having some dude trouble. Due to one of those plot device wills that seem ever so less common these days, has to marry a guy who can turn a profit in 3 months, a system she readily games. Finding no love that way, she eventually meets and falls in love with humble inner-city doctor named Kabir, played by Peter Sellers, doing Indian instead of French. Naturally humble inner-city doctors rebuff rich heiresses every day, so their love takes another couple acts to fully bloom, but, you know the drill, happy endings all around.

The Millionairess – The Furs

The richest woman in the world can apparently afford to buck the fashion tends of the day, a fortunate development for our viewing pleasure. Epifania wears 4 furs in the film, and 3 of them are actually interesting.

There’s a brief glimpse of fur number one before a full viewing while Epifania visits her psychiatrist after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. A very funny one, of course.

Later we get to see more of this lynx wrap on a windy day at the banks of the Thames. Sadly this, like the third entry, is filmed entirely in fairly wide shots. Still, it hangs around for a while and we get to enjoy Miss Loren adjusting it and her hair constantly in the breeze.

And here’s the rich nougaty center of the film. This is a long sequence where Epifania attempts to win Kabir’s love by showing him the big state-of-the-art clinic she built next door to his crappy one. While doing so, she wears this outfit, trimmed with rich, thick white fox fur.

Since the sequence is so long, they had to make with the closer shots from time to time.

The story even has an x-ray machine gag. It’s a comedy.

There’s a lot of Peter Sellers in these shots, almost makes me wish for the pan-and-scan version. Though then there’d be even more “solo” shots of him, and I’d have to cut more.

Final view, the sequence ends with a good shoot of Miss Loren they quickly mar with an overlay of the next sequence.

Later, Epifania shows up to again declare her intent and outline the terms of that will, the one where Kabir has to turn a profit of 15k on 500 pounds in 3 months. She does so in a lovely chinchilla wrap that, like the lynx wrap at the beginning, is mostly filmed wide.

There’s a very few shifts in camera angles for this one, though they pull in a little closer at one point.

Oh… is that how this works? You give me money? Awesome!

Finally, in something of a nod to the time, the costumer eventually relents and allows her wear this reasonably pedestrian wrap. Looks like ermine, but I wouldn’t rule out a sheared mink. At least it’s white and not brown.

For the time, this is an impressive film. Lynx, fox, and chinchilla, all in a film with the big “C” saying 1960. Even more notable that the most screen time is given to the white fox collar and cuffs and not one of the more (comparatively) conservative options. Sophia Loren is in her prime and looking magnificent, well suited to be framed by big fox furs. Sadly that was quite the rarity throughout her film career. The cinematographer wasn’t really up to the task of documenting just how magnificent she looked, relying far too much on wide shots, never allowing us to linger for very long on this beauty alone and in richly detailed close up.

Fur Runtime: approx 11 minutes
Film Runtime: 90 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 12%

Full Gallery: Fur Fashions of the 1960 film The Millionairess

2011/01/16

Furs on Film – Shanghai Express

So, everything is back to “normal,” which is to say all the reviews have been updated to replace the example shots and all the galleries have been returned. Wanted to get that out of the way before I went ahead with a new post. I haven’t done this since October, so I should probably start with an easy one without much personal significance so I picked… oh crap.

Shanghai Express – The Film

Yes, after months of my complaining, TCM ponied up with the Shanghai Express. This waste of Internet bandwidth pretty much is here again because they did. The story of the 1932 film is of a whimsical train ride through the Chinese countryside between Beijing and Shanghai. Among the notable passengers are “Shanghai Lily” (Dietrich) and Cpt. Harvey (Clive Brook) in addition to others, including an incognito rebel leader (Warner Oland) who eventually takes over the train to find a valuable hostage. Harvey and Lily are “old friends” whose career paths diverged a bit after they broke up five years ago. Harvey is a successful (and highly-ransomable) military surgeon on his way to perform a procedure on the Governor-General of Shanghai and Lily is a prosti- er “courtesan.”

Shanghai Express – The Furs

Actually mostly this film is about the camera making sweet, sweet love to Marlene Dietrich, as well it should. Actually, if you want to know more about the background to the film, check out this TCM Spotlight blog post on it. Lily’s obviously pretty good at her work, since she can afford a very nice wardrobe, which includes a couple of furs and a couple of “other.”

We’ll start with Lily’s “getting off the train” fur. It is thusly named because it is the fur she invariably takes with her anytime she leaves the train. It is a dark cloth coat with a very full silver fox collar. The sizable feathery hat is a one timer, though.

Chronologically this coat appears briefly first, then the “marquee” fur scene on the train appears, then it returns. I’m going to explore this fully instead of bouncing around. The cinematographer, Lee Garmes, should be congratulated for his work on both.

Some of the “iconic” shots of Dietrich come from this film, including this one, where, though it’s sadly hard to tell, she’s wearing the fox collar.

This is couple seconds later, a shot from the opposite angle where the size of the collar is very visible.

Another favorite of mine is in the film. Anna May Wong is Hui Fei, a friend and fellow courtesan who, as usual, is totally deprived of fur. Here Lily wears her silver fox while she talks Miss Wong’s character down from a rash course of action.

Building suspense… This isn’t fur, I know, and I don’t care, she looks amazing in it.

It appears in yet another iconic shot.

Here we are, the train sequence. On paper if you told me a scene featured a brown sable collar and cuff (singular), I’d probably not be too interested in watching it. Yet I will say this is probably one of the greatest fur fashion scenes of all time.

This is the scene where we learn the history of Lily and Captain Harvey, and where Dietrich’s, I believe the clinical term is “smoldering sexuality,” is not just on display, it’s burning through the screen.

There’s a catalog of closeups throughout, and I added way more than I probably should have to the full gallery.

We learn that Lily tested Harvey all those years ago and it didn’t go well. They start the process of kissing and making up.

All a deft move to borrow his hat and produce what I consider one of the most iconic images of Marlene Dietrich.

One of the important things to note as you’re watching this sequence is that her coat has only one cuff, the right.

The left is bare, yet as the sequence plays out, its hard to notice anything but Dietrich and the fur.

Sadly, all stupendously great things come to an end. Some needs to rediscover this “vertical collar” technology stat!

And that’s it. What would I improve? Well, sure, I could say that the train sequence would have been a little better had Dietrich been wearing Irene Dunne’s coat from The Awful Truth, but that almost seems a bit disingenuous. After all, part of the magic of the sequence is the fact that Dietrich and the cinematographer did so much with what, on paper, wasn’t all that great. The film as whole comes up well, with a solid 14% ratio that doesn’t even include that fancy feather number she wears at the beginning and end of the film.

Fur Runtime: approx 11 minutes
Film Runtime: 80 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 14%

Full Gallery: Fur Fashions of the 1932 film Shanghai Express

2011/01/05

Not So Grand Reopening

The site limps back to WordPress.com, which may be less hackable than the .Org version. We shall see, I suppose.

Right now the gallery pages are mostly down, because the previous version of the site used a gallery plugin that isn’t available in hosted WordPress. I have to reup everything one gallery at a time, and it seems I was a lot more productive than I remember over the last couple years.

Previous contact email is gone as well, I’ll try to get some else working, since this doesn’t come with email either.