The Bette Davis Project: Fashions (of 1934) (1934)

Fashions (of 1934) (1934)

Synopsis:

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 fashion artist, Lynn Mason (Bette Davis), and photographer, Snap (Frank McHugh, Parachute Jumper).

Reaction & Thoughts:

There is nothing terribly wrong with Fashions, directed by William Dieterle (Juarez). It’s an amusing piece of depression era fluff. Today, it looks a bit baffling that so much talent and energy was put at the service of such slight confection of mindless entertainment. It’s quite the chic spectacle that somewhat fails to look as good as MGM’s similar themed puff balls.

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

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. The flim-flam man keeps doing the wrong thing, but Powell’s charming persona keeps the character relatable.

Ironically, Davis’s fashonista is the only thing I hated 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 giving 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 not to be the studio’s puppet. Eventually her perseverance paid off, but not immediately …

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Fashions is a pretty silly, but I have to admit that it amused me. The film redeems itself somewhat by Busby Berkeley’s superb choreography. Co-starring Hugh Herbert (The Great Waltz), Henry O’Neill (Santa Fe Trial), 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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