Dolly Tree’s Cellophane Bridal Veil for Man-Proof (1938)

By: Megan McGurk

What are your favourite bridal looks on film?

The organdie gown with floral spray buttons that Joan Crawford wears in Love on the Run (1936) captures the mood of a garden wedding. It moves like a spring breeze.

Ginger Rogers looks like a Madonna in a starry halo, one of many bridal ensembles she wears to play a serial runaway bride in It Had to Be You (1947).

Gene Tierney’s husband Oleg Cassini created a classic romantic confection for her wedding scene in The Razor’s Edge (1946).

But try and find another duchess satin turtleneck gown onscreen, with a wimple, that carries a forty-foot plastic veil, like the one Dolly Tree designed for Rosalind Russell in Man-Proof (1938). There’s nothing else like it in the history of cinema.

Forget sweetheart necklines, or lace, or beading, or any other detail that’s so last century by comparison.

There’s no traditional promise in Roz’s wedding look.

 

Rather than opt for demure or dainty, Roz looks remote and inaccessible, bolstered by satin and luxe plastic.

Dolly Tree created something more complicated than expected, something myth-bound, like a labyrinth with a Minotaur at the centre. It announces ‘unwrap me at your peril’.

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Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 6

Join me on Wednesdays this autumn for another round of classic woman’s pictures from the Pre-Code era.

Screened in the gorgeous Denzille Cinema in Merrion Square for 19.00, 26 September-24 October.

Soda & snacks included.

Tickets available from Eventbrite.

Night Nurse (1931)

26 September

‘I’m Nick—the chauffer’.

If Clark Gable’s line delivery doesn’t make you gasp the way it does Barbara Stanwyck, you’re probably in the wrong cinema. Stanwyck proves why she’s Queen of the Pre-Codes in this gritty picture about injustice, corruption and the most vicious cruelty. When no one else cares or intervenes, Stanwyck charges the bullies full steam. She can’t go wrong with Joan Blondell on her side. This was the first of five pictures Stanwyck made with director William Wellman. He said of her ‘she not only knew her own lines but everyone else’s. I love her.’

Possessed (1931)

3 October

Joan Crawford works in a paper box factory. She watches the train cars full of glamorous people on their way to New York one night after work, when a stranger in the caboose pours out her first taste of bubbles, and then tells her to run to the big city to be done wrong by. Crawford makes her way to New York and snags the first rich man she encounters—Clark Gable. In a love nest feathered by Gable, she does everything that becomes a lady. Without a wedding ring, society will always regard her as a chippy from the sticks. Joan made life-long fans among women for this tale about double standards and social climbing.

Thirteen Women (1932)

10 October

If only we had the fifteen minutes that were cut from the original picture. No doubt the edited sequences contained additional stylish revenge scenes. Myrna Loy plays a biracial girl who suffered untold misery from the privileged white girls in an exclusive boarding school. She was tormented by her classmates. All grown up, Myrna mesmerises a famed astrologer into sending horoscopes that she designs with the power of suggestion to bring about a series of gruesome tragedies. Irene Dunne plays one of the former pupils who denies the power of the star charts. This is the only horror picture I’ve included in the series so far. Not to be missed.

No Man of Her Own (1932)

17 October

What does a small-town librarian do for fun? Well, if you’re Carole Lombard, you hook up with a random dude (Clark Gable) one night after the library closes and parlay that into wedded bliss. Lombard soon learns what her husband really does for a living, which rocks her to the core. Can she make him go straight? This was the only picture that Lombard and Gable made together. Although their romance did not commence until the Mayfair Ball in 1936, they still generate enough heat to burn down the stacks.

Bombshell (1933)

24 October

Jean Harlow stars in a picture that borrows from Clara Bow’s life story. Beset by moochers who feed stories to the tabloids, Harlow’s character endures the studio’s demanding schedule, while she picks up the tab for a shower of freeloaders. Harlow strips the varnish off the glamour factory and shows viewers the grind behind the glitz. She’s at her snarling-best in this picture. Sass mouth dame all the way.

 

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 5

 

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club Series 5 presents four stellar woman’s pictures from 1930-1935 in the lovely Denzille cinema in Dublin, Thursdays, 31 May-21 June.

Tickets available through Eventbrite.

Megan McGurk hosts each classic film.

Soda and snacks are included.

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

Roommates Barbara Stanwyck and Marie Prevost pay the bills with sex work. One night after a narrow escape from a party boat, with smeared mascara and a torn dress, Stanwyck’s character meets a rich man who drives her back into the city. Ralph Graves plays an artist with his own roof top studio. He offers her a job posing for a portrait. Stanwyck assumes that it’s only a matter of time until he proves himself to be after only one thing, like every other man she has met. Despite her misgivings and his society name, she falls for the guy. Things look swell until his mother attempts to thwart the romance. Can Marie Prevost protect her dearest friend from disaster? This is the first of four pictures that Stanwyck made with director Frank Capra.

Dancing Lady (1933)

A huge hit for MGM, this picture has everything. Joan Crawford performs in a burlesque show that’s raided by police for offence against public decency. Franchot Tone (Joan’s future second husband) sees her in court, pays her fine, and takes her out for a bite to eat. Despite the condescending note he sends the next day (along with fifty dollars) to buy a dress without zippers and shoes without bows, in a snobbish appraisal of her current wardrobe, she falls for the rich man. Crawford’s Janie Barlow dreams of a part in a Broadway show. To speed up the process, she stalks Clark Gable, who plays a big-time producer. They enjoy more than a little bit of sexual tension. Crawford and Gable flirt in a scene set in a gym that’s one of the best onscreen seductions. Other highlights include Fred Astaire in his screen debut as Joan’s dancing partner. The Three Stooges join the cast.

The Girl from Missouri (1934)

Anita Loos (mother of all sass mouth dames) wrote the script about a chorine gal-pal team on the hunt for men with deep pockets. Only Jean Harlow could pull off a woman who waits for her wedding night without suggesting a virginity fetish. Harlow’s so over-sexed, clearly gasping for it, that you can’t blame her for waiting until he puts a ring on it. One night after dancing in a club, Harlow and Kelly finagle an invitation to perform for a private party attended by rich men. Harlow’s character puts the moves on a man with considerable assets, who makes a present of some jewelled cufflinks, right before he puts a gun in his mouth. The gals add suspected of murder to the list of their problems. Patsy Kelly steals the show, like always, by playing the wisecracking loyal friend. She also makes up for her friend’s chastity by giving every man she fancies a tumble.

The Devil Is a Woman (1935)

The last of seven pictures Marlene Dietrich made with Josef von Sternberg, this one has the best tone and aesthetic. Marlene is a glorious nut-buster throughout the picture as a woman who works in a tobacco factory and later becomes a sensation singing in nightclubs. Although not technically a Pre-Code, von Sternberg’s picture has all the hallmarks of the era when women could prioritise their own pleasure at the expense of men without suffering consequences. Dietrich fleeces a self-important army captain (Lionel Atwill), while she juggles other men including a bullfighter and a dashing young Cesar Romero. In each scene, Dietrich is dressed by Travis Banton in show-stopper ensembles, with every fabric in creation, embellished with countless veils, fans, gloves, jewellery and accessories. This picture will cure what ails you because it proves that sass mouth dames need take no prisoners.

Sartorial Crisis for Jean Simmons in Home Before Dark (1958)

By: Megan McGurk

Home Before Dark (1958) tells a story with four dresses. Jean Simmons plays a woman whose psychological recovery stalls through an inability to choose a dress that fits, both in terms her of body and personality. Her character Charlotte Bronn, released from the scary Danvers psychiatric institution, buys two dresses that are wrong on every level. Poor shopping choices signal that she still doesn’t know herself after a year in hospital. Each sartorial travesty shows her effort to gain purchase on reality and find her place within it. Charlotte tries to become someone else, someone her husband desires, when she buys the frocks. The dresses match a streaky peroxide dye-job for an awkward style. Two other dresses and natural hair colour indicate Charlotte’s stable mental health. In between tragic attire, Jean Simmons looks adorable in menswear: a soft wool cap, pea coat with popped collar, relaxed tops and turned up jeans with loafers. She looks most comfortable in shoreman-on-leave gear, accessorised with a mug of sweet black coffee and a cigarette.

Hectored by her step-mother (Mabel Albertson) to buy new clothes, Charlotte visits a boutique in their small New England town, and selects the dress on display she had examined in a previous scene. The shop keeper questions whether Charlotte can charge the items and rings Arnold, her button-down college professor husband (played by Dan O’Herlihy) for permission. Since it’s Charlotte’s inheritance they live on (she also supports her step mother and step sister, Joan, played by Rhonda Fleming, who live with them) the scene builds a moment of humiliation for Charlotte. With no money in her pocket and no access to her bank account, she’s furthered estranged from herself. Who is a woman if she can’t even charge something in a backwater shop?

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Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series 4

Join Megan McGurk 10 April to 12 May for another round of woman’s pictures from Hollywood’s classic period.

Screened Thursdays at 7 in the lovely Denzille Cinema, Merrion Square.

Snacks and soda are included.

Get your tickets

 

A Woman’s Face (1941)

12 April

Joan Crawford believed A Woman’s Face earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress as much as Mildred Pierce. Crawford stars as Anna Holm, a scar-faced woman who runs a blackmail ring. Conrad Veidt plays Torsten Barring, a scapegrace who recognises the power she wields and draws her into a torrid love affair. He manipulates her with sex until she agrees to participate in a scheme to eliminate his rival heir. In an odd twist of fate, she meets Melvyn Douglas, a world-renowned plastic surgeon who specialises in scar removal. What happens after the surgery? Will Anna become a beautiful monster?

The Great Lie (1941)

19 April

Bette Davis and Mary Astor took one look at the lousy script about two women who compete for George Brent and decided they would re-write it to salvage the picture. Their collaboration made the man an afterthought in a story that locates the drama between two women. Mary Astor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a temperamental classical pianist who dallies with Brent and ends up pregnant with his child. Bette handed the juicy part to her friend for what amounts to a high-toned study of how women transcend jealousy so they can both get what they want.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

26 April

Charles Boyer (king of woman’s pictures) plays a European gigolo down on his luck, waiting at the Mexican border for a visa into the States. Paulette Goddard, an ex-lover and fellow scam artist, tells him to follow her example and marry an American for citizenship. When he sees Olivia de Havilland shepherding her pupils around on a school trip, he dials up the charm to warp factor ten. Olivia’s character had held out for romance and now she’s unable to resist the elegant man who murmurs in her ear at sunrise. Paulette still carries a torch. She suggests they resume their act bilking rich folks once he’s legal. What does he do about the teacher with cheeks plump like summer fruit, who plans on hanging curtains for her new husband?

The Hard Way (1943)

3 May

Based on the life story of Ginger Rogers, Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie play sisters (rather than mother and daughter) determined to leave a small town and find success on Broadway. Ida Lupino’s character does everything in her power to make her sister a star. Director Vincent Sherman thought it represented his most personal expression to develop a story. The Hard Way features outstanding performances from Lupino and Leslie, but also from Gladys George (as the washed up star) and Jack Carson (as the first husband who launched the teenager’s career). James Wong Howe’s cinematography creates gritty realism to produce one of the best woman’s pictures during the war made by Warner Bros.

Lady in the Dark (1944)

10 May

Although this production had plenty of trouble on the set, with everything from bitter feuds, health and safety hazards, costume snafus, to schedule and budget problems, virtually none of it shows on-screen. Mitchell Leisen’s picture uses elaborate set and costume design to stage the psychological crisis Ginger Rogers experiences as a fashion magazine editor who has sudden panic attacks and can’t make up her mind. In her first film shot in technicolour, Ginger shines in dream sequences dipped in a primary colour palette of blue, white and red. Edith Head designed the mink skirt lined with red sequins that Ginger wears for the show stopper ‘The Saga of Jenny’. Not to be missed.