Fashions (of 1934) (1934)


Swindler extraordinaire Sherwood Nash (William Powell, The Thin Man) has come up with an elaborate scheme to steal the latest Paris fashions. He is not only determined to go to France and steal original work by renowned designers, but also wants to promote his facsimiles in a musical show. Nash is ably assisted by fashionista Lynn Mason (Bette Davis) and photographer Snap (Frank McHugh, Parachute Jumper).

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Oh, I do wish he’d stick to one racket at a time.”

There is nothing terribly wrong with Fashions (of 1934). There is nothing great about it either. This is an amusing piece of Depression-era fluff. Today, it looks a bit baffling that so much talent and energy was put in the service of such a slight confection of mindless entertainment. Fashions is quite the chic spectacle that somewhat fails to look as good as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s similarly themed puff balls.

Orry-Kelly (Some Like it Hot) was responsible for the eye-popping gowns. Legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley (Footlight Parade and Dames) provided the film with his customary out-of-this-world musical routines. Composer Sammy Fain wrote the delightful songs. They all make you wonder if you are really watching a Warner Bros. production, the studio known for low-budget, tough gangster melodramas.

William Powell, who was one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors at the time the movie was made, does his charming con artist bit quite well. Powell’s flim-flam man keeps doing the wrong thing, but the actor’s charming persona makes the character likable enough. Powell’s witty performance alone makes the film enjoyable to watch.

Ironically, Bette Davis’s fashionista is the only thing I disliked about the film. It’s one of the worst casting decisions ever. It was a terrible idea to try to make Davis look like Jean Harlow. She is nearly unrecognizable under layers of make-up, jumbo eyelashes and a grotesque platinum wig. It hurts just to look at her. And she’s given so little to do! Davis is like a talking mannequin that is being dragged down the corridors.

It was around this time that Davis had been offered Of Human Bondage (1934), but Warner Bros. refused to loan her out to RKO, where the film was set to be produced. She begged and begged, but her bosses kept saying, “No way!” Warners thought that Fashions — a stylish production with the popular Powell — would placate her, but it did the opposite. After she saw the movie, Davis was more resolute than ever to find great roles in good films. Eventually her perseverance paid off.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Fashions is a pretty silly, but I have to admit that it amused me. Busby Berkeley’s superb choreography is a good enough reason to sit through it. The cast also includes Hugh Herbert (The Great Waltz), Henry O’Neill (The Story of Louis Pasteur), Reginald Owen (Mary Poppins), Jane Darwell (The Grapes of Wrath) and Veree Teasdale (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). B&W, 78 minutes, Not Rated.

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