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: Dublin 12 Oct-9 Nov

Join Dublin’s hottest new film club to catch titans of Pre-Code woman’s pictures. Join us for screenings of the best from the early 1930s: Joan Crawford, Joan Blondell, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck star in racy plots about women with ambition to burn.

They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

19.00-21.00, Thursdays, 12 Oct-9 Nov.

Minerals, coffee & tea, snacks included.

Get your tickets here.

Why We Need Sass Mouth Dames, Woman’s Pictures 1929-1959

 

Our current cinema stinks.

Instead of settling for crappy re-boots or second string roles, we should embrace the time when Hollywood believed that a film could only profit if it appealed to women.

Join the new Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series One, Pre-Codes. Dublin 12 Oct-9 Nov.

Get your tickets.

Here’s the Foreword from my book on woman’s pictures:

Sass Mouth Dames: 30 Essential Woman’s Pictures 1929-1939

By Megan McGurk

A punchline from Howard Hawk’s Monkey Business (1952) echoes into Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), the last film directed by Mike Nichols. In the original screwball classic, Cary Grant appears puzzled by Marilyn Monroe as a secretary who pleads with her boss for another chance at typing. Charles Coburn, as the boss, tells her no, that it’s very important, and to get someone else to do it. Crestfallen, Monroe accepts the sheet of paper and leaves to find a typist. The men watch Monroe wiggle out of the room. Coburn deadpans an explanation: ‘Anybody can type’.

Wynn Everett, listed in the credits as receptionist ‘Charlie’s Angel #1’, delivers the revised line in Charlie Wilson’s War.  She responds to a similar query from a visitor about the bevvy of centrefold-grade office staff employed by the Texas Congressman (played by Tom Hanks) in her boss’s knuckle-dragger wisdom: ‘You can teach ‘em to type, but you can’t teach ‘em to grow tits.’ Perhaps they felt the line wouldn’t seem as terribly sexist if it came from a woman. The original was funny because it need not state the obvious, while the updated version feels ugly and crass. ‘Grow tits’ has an odious ring to it, particularly when women are named in the cast after the man they happen work for, which recalls the grim totalitarianism of Ofglen and Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. Who needs a name when you have great breasts, I suppose the logic follows.

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Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series One Pre-Codes, Dublin, 12 Oct-9 Nov

Sass Mouth Dames Film Club: Series One Pre-Codes

Your hosts: Megan McGurk & Danielle Smith

Thursdays, 12 Oct-9 Nov, 19.00-21.00

Denzille cinema

13 Denzille Lane

Merrion Square North

Dublin 2

Tickets: €10.50

Soft drinks, tea & coffee, snacks included

 

SADIE MCKEE (1934)

12 October, 19.00-21.00

Joan Crawford stars in the title role as a cook’s daughter serving rich folk their dinner. Over the first course, their son Michael (Franchot Tone) condemns Sadie’s boyfriend Tommy (Gene Raymond) as a thief. Sadie threatens to throw the soup in his face, quits, then runs off to New York with Tommy. They meet Opal (Jean Dixon) in a greasy spoon, who gets them a room in her boarding house. The next day, left alone for five minutes, Tommy takes off with mantrap vaudevillian Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston). Jilted and penniless, Sadie takes a job dancing in the nightclub where Opal works as a hostess. Millionaire dipsomaniac Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold) soon proposes. Can money buy Sadie’s happiness?

Based on a story by bestselling author Viña Delmar, directed by Clarence Brown, with gowns by ADRIAN.

 

BLONDIE JOHNSON (1933)

19 October, 19.00-21.00

In laddered hosiery and shabby clothes, Joan Blondell’s Blondie Johnson petitions for help in the relief office, a desperate plea for mercy on behalf of her sick mother. The clerk rules against Blondie, and as a result, her mother dies. Rather than sink into the gutter, Blondie devises a plan that involves taxi driver Red (Sterling Holloway) to fleece men with a sob story about a need for crosstown fare. Blondie splits the money with Red. After a big celebratory meal, one of the marks—Chester Morris, as Danny—calls her out on the scam. She compensates by helping him move up the ranks of a crime syndicate. Blondie proves a dab hand at gangster politics and before long, she runs the rackets. Backed by Mae (Mae Busch) and Lulu (Toshia Mori) and a phalanx of men, how long will Blondie occupy the corner office?

Directed by Ray Enright, with wardrobe by Orry-Kelly.

With bonus short: BABES IN THE GOODS (1934) Starring Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly.

 

 

VIRTUE (1932)

26 October, 19.00-21.00

Carole Lombard plays Mae, a sex worker ordered by the court to board a train out of New York. She sneaks off the train and seeks refuge with her friend Lil (Mayo Methot). On the way to see Lil, Mae had stiffed cab driver Jimmy (Pat O’Brien), but she later tracks him down to settle the debt. Mae and Jimmy bicker on the street, sparks flying. While she dates Jimmy, she works behind a lunch counter and allows him to believe that she was previously a secretary. After they marry, a detective from the vice squad tracks her down and mistakes Jimmy for a customer. Their marriage licence satisfies the cop that she has gone straight, but will Jimmy accept the truth about Mae’s past?

Directed by Edward Buzzell.

With bonus short: BEAUTY AND THE BUS (1933) Starring Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly.

HOLD YOUR MAN (1933)

2 November, 19.00-21.00

Jean Harlow’s Ruby relies on patronage from men and sales from bathtub gin to pay bills. Eddie (Clark Gable), a con man pursued by police, bursts into her flat to hide. Ruby assists, passing him off as her husband. Ruby and Eddie begin a romance which goes over like a lead balloon with his former lover, Gypsy (Dorothy Burgess). Eddie receives a custodial sentence and later so does Ruby, thanks to her dim but handsome partner in crime. In the reformatory, she finds Gypsy among her new roommates. How will Ruby survive in prison? Will Eddie remain true?

Story by bestselling author Anita Loos, directed by Sam Wood, and gowns by ADRIAN.

 

 

BABY FACE (1933)

9 November, 19.00-21.00

Barbara Stanwyck, as Lily Powers, was put to work in the sex trade at age 14, servicing men in her father’s speakeasy. Lily prevents lowlife Mr Powers from sacking her best friend, Chico (Theresa Harris). When she’s not pouring hot coffee on the johns, or breaking bottles over their heads, Lily learns about Nietzsche’s will to power from a kindly old cobbler who offers her advice to use men to get the things she wants. Lily and Chico ride the rails to New York, where Lily takes a job in a bank and uses sex to ascend the financial ladder. Men lose the run of themselves over Baby Face, who meanwhile fills a treasure chest she trusts only to Chico. Bank president Trenholm (George Brent) attempts to manage the scandal that results from Lily’s conquests. Lily’s life has been bitter and hard. Will she ever find happiness?

Directed by Alfred E. Green, with wardrobe by Orry-Kelly.

With bonus short: TOP FLAT (1935) Starring Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly

Joan Bennett, Artist: ‘They’ll be masterpieces’

By: Megan McGurk

Whenever an article talks about a New York ‘It’ girl, I automatically figure they must mean Joan Bennett. She did not match her sister Constance’s fame or salary, but because she flew a bit lower on the radar, she earned a cooler status than Constance could reach. Something in Joan’s wry manner—aloof but keen, a tell-tale squint that indicated missing glasses and bookish habits, along with an imperviousness toward Cary Grant’s mugging in Big Brown Eyes and Wedding Present (both from 1936), suggest a woman who knew her onions and could navigate any encounter with surefooted nonchalance. Joan Bennett, with her boarding school education and theatre denizen bona fides from a family tradition on the stage dating back to the mid-19th century, seems like the type who has read books you don’t know, owns records you don’t have, and hangs with people who would never invite you for cocktails.

By strange coincidence, Joan Bennett boasts more credits featuring plots about artists than any other women of the silver screen, probably since she manifests a bohemian sensibility that naturalises close circles with the brush and palette set. Cast next to characters who paint, she looks a dab hand to assume an artist role, and even appears more convincing in the creative role.

Despite the misleading title of Artists and Models Abroad (1938) which applies a loose definition of ‘artist’ to connote the stage rather than garret studio, if the film had concerned painters, viewers would assign the role to Bennett rather than her co-star, Jack Benny. Fans of woman’s pictures discern an equanimity Bennett possesses as the hallmark of an artistic temperament. Benny doesn’t look like he could be quiet or stand still long enough in front of an easel to finish anything. And how many socialites ran off to Paris to study art over the years? It would have been a plausible script for a plot that flounders except for a stunning makeover sequence.

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