Tag Archives: Humphrey Bogart

Style on Film: Sabrina

This stunning yet simple black cocktail dress which Audrey Hepburn wore in the 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina is – believe it or not – one of the most controversial frocks in cinema history. It helped to make Sabrina one of the most stylish films of the 1950s – and to establish its young star’s famous chic gamine look. It also marked her first collaboration with Hubert de Givenchy, the French couturier, with whom her style would be inextricably linked for the rest of her life. Being a Cinderella-style love story, Sabrina opens with its heroine dressed in rather dowdier attire, however …

Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe in Sabrina was originally to be designed by Paramount Studios’ costume supremo, Edith Head. In the film, Sabrina, the chauffeur’s lovesick daughter, goes to Paris as an awkward adolescent and returns transformed into an elegant young lady. Edith Head was put out to learn that, after their first meeting, Audrey had asked director Billy Wilder if she could wear “a real Paris dress” in the film. Mrs Wilder suggested Audrey go to Balenciaga but when the young star turned up, the couturier was too busy see her and sent her to his young friend, Hubert de Givenchy.

Givenchy later recalled: “When the door of my studio opened, there stood a young woman, very slim, very tall, with doe eyes and short hair and wearing a pair of narrow pants, a little T-shirt, slippers and a gondolier’s hat with red ribbon that read ‘Venezia’. I told her: ‘Mademoiselle, I would love to help you, but I have very few sewers. I am in the middle of a collection – I can’t make you clothes.’  Audrey asked to see the collection – and ended up choosing all of Sabrina’s post-Paris capsule wardrobe from it, starting with the super-elegant ensemble with which she wows her childhood crush when she arrives back on Long Island from France.


For Sabrina’s first-ever date with David Larabee (the dashing William Holden), the playboy with whom she has been besotted all her life, Audrey (for it really was her choice) selected from Givenchy an exquisite strapless evening gown with a boned bodice and flowing, full, ankle-length skirt. She asked the designer to alter it to that it would hide the hollows behind her collarbone. He later said: “What I invented for her eventually became a style so popular that I named it ‘decollete Sabrina’.”

Needless to say, Sabrina is the belle of the ball in her black and white Paris dress. It certainly opens the otherwise-engaged David’s eyes, prompting him to say: “Oh Sabrina, if I’d only known…”. But the “if I’d only known” dress isn’t my favourite from the film; I love the cocktail dress and cute catwoman-like hat that our fickle heroine wears when she’s being romanced by David’s brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart). What made this cocktail dress so controversial? Well, here’s a clue:

You would assume that this sketch, by Edith Head, is evidence that she designed the dress which sums up Sabrina’s seductive blend of playfulness and elegance. But that isn’t actually the case – though Head herself allowed the misconception to go uncorrected for the rest of her life. The truth – as explained in Jay Jorgensen’s superb book, Edith Head – The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer (Running Press) – is that Head’s department was supposed to make this dress, with its distinctive bows on the shoulder and boat neck, from a sketch by Givenchy. Jorgensen explains: “Confusion about the designs in the film began as sketches were done in the wardrobe department to execute all the clothing needed. Edith began sending the sketches out to publicize the film, leading to the assumption that all the clothes were her designs.” Here’s Sabrina wearing it on her pre-theatre dinner date at The Colony with Linus.

The boat neck of what became known as “The Sabrina Dress” – the design of which was translated into a best-selling dressmaking pattern when the film was released – became a hallmark of the Hepburn look. As did the black legging-like trousers and pumps which she wore, along with a slash-necked top, for a casual visit to Linus’s office.

It’s only when Sabrina removes her coat – a collarless number which anticipates the Givenchy coats she sports in their classic 1960s collaboration Charade – and turns around that we see the sly sexiness of the ensemble:

There aren’t that many different outfits in Sabrina – just enough to immediately establish it as a must-see for style lovers. Which must help explain why Edith Head presumably kept quiet about the extent of Givenchy’s involvement in the film and the fact that, with Audrey, he created Sabrina’s Parisian-inspired look, the look that dominates the movie. Not only did Givenchy’s name appear nowhere in the credits, but Head accepted an Oscar for Sabrina and didn’t even acknowledge the French designer’s contribution to the film.

According to Jorgensen’s book, Head even had the gall to parade the original dress down the runaways of her fashion shows. It was only after Head’s 1980 death, that Givenchy, a true gentleman, finally confirmed that the dress had been his design but had been made under Head’s supervision at Paramount…

 

 

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Style on Film: The Big Sleep

This was the scene that made me sit up and start paying serious attention to the fashions of The Big Sleep, the classic 1946 film noir which is best remembered as the second movie to star the sizzling hot team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The lady in the chic, tiered black dress didn’t even get her name in the titles – despite being more prominently featured than some of the other character actors. Her name is Sonia Darrin and she played Agnes, the hard-hearted dame who worked for the blackmailer Geiger. The first sighting of the movie’s leading lady Lauren Bacall finds her lounging in a stylish jacket, black trousers and loafers, as her character Vivian has an informal chat with private eye Philip Marlowe (Bogie).

Vivian and Marlowe’s next meeting is even less formal: he brings home her kid sister, the troublesome Carmen, who has been found drunk in charge of the dead body of her father’s blackmailer.

The next morning, Vivian visits Marlowe in his downtown office. The checked suit and beret combo sported by Bacall here is the best known outfit from The Big Sleep, and the publicity shots featured Bacall working what had been christened “The Look” – her unique way of holding her chin down and casting her eyes up as she spoke.

Bacall later explained that “The Look” had been born out of necessity: when she made her first film, To Have and Have Not, she found that the only way she could disguise her nerves, stop herself shaking and her voice from trembling was to hold herself like that.

A rendez-vous at a bar provides Marlowe and Vivian with a chance of trading a little bit more banter – and affords us a glimpse of one of the most contemporary-looking outfits of the movie: the shiny jacket..

Later that evening, in Eddie Mars’ casino, Marlowe discovers that Vivian – like only a couple of other film noir femme fatales – fancies herself as a singer. Wearing good-girl white (well, she is one of the least dangerous of forties FFs), she is the centre of attention – and quickly captures Marlowe’s interest once more.

And to finish? Two dresses for the price of one as both Agnes and Vivian feature in the next scene – the point in any normal thriller when matters come to a head and the real goodies and baddies are exposed. But this being The Big Sleep, the film with the most convoluted and confusing plot of them all (so convoluted and confusing that even the writer of the original book, Raymond Chandler, couldn’t say who had committed one of the murders), that doesn’t quite happen. Better to revel in the performances, the chemistry and badinage between Bogie and Bacall and the fabulous clothes.

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Style File: Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall was one of the sexiest and most elegant stars of the 1940s and 1950s.  On screen, she was often seen  in sharp little suits and slinky evening gowns – which still look utterly fabulous today. Here’s how she looked teaching Humphrey Bogart to whistle (“You just put your lips together and blow… “) in her debut movie To Have And Have Not, in 1944 when she was 19 years old.

She had a different checked suit but a similarly sultry pout and sullen mood in her second movie with Bogie, The Big Sleep, the archetypal film noir, which was made in 1946 not long after their marriage.

As the spoilt daughter of a wealthy colonel, Bacall’s character Vivian spent a fair bit of time in the casino – and this black satin gown with the cutaway midriff made a big impression on audiences at the time.

In the noirish thriller Dark Passage (1947), Bacall played a San Francisco-based writer who lets escaped convict Bogie hide out in her dupleix while he recovers from the plastic surgery which he hopes will make him unrecognisable. Bacall looks quite different in this film, with her hair tied up in a super-feminine chignon.

Bogie and Bacall’s final film together was John Huston’s atmospheric thriller Key Largo, in 1948. This film featured Bacall’s most relaxed wardrobe to date, and she looks the picture of laid-back elegance in this simple ensemble.

Searching for photos of Bacall for this item, I stumbled across this shot which looks like it could have been taken during the filming of the 1950 melodrama Young Man With a Horn, in which Bacall played a jazz-loving ingenue.

Finally, one of my favourite publicity pictures of Lauren Bacall – one that looks as if it belongs to an Estee Lauder advertising campaign for a new lipstick ..

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Happy Birthday Ms Bacall

Today is the 85th birthday of one of the last great movie stars of the golden era: Lauren Bacall. She may have been among the sexiest screen goddesses, but she was born plain-old Betty Joan Perske in New York City in 1924. Her mother was Romanian-German and her father was Polish. Bacall’s parents divorced when she was six years old, and she was brought up by her mother and grandmother.

When she left school she won a place at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in her home city. However, lack of funds and the refusal of the academy to grant scholarships to women meant that she had to abandon her studies at the end of the first year. Desperate to get an acting job, Bacall frequented theatrical hang-outs and earned her crust by working as a model in the bustling “garment center”, where girls were hired to model gowns for buyers. Her first modelling job ended when her boss found out that she was Jewish.

After months of pavement-pounding, Bacall made a breakthrough of sorts into Broadway when she landed the job of usher in a chain of theatres. She made her Broadway debut – as Lauren Bacall (Bacal had been half of her mother’s maiden name) in March 1942, in a tiny role in an ill-fated production entitled Johnny 2×4. Later that year, Bacall modelled for a fashion shoot for Harper’s Bazaar. When the magazine came out, it changed her life.

Slim Hawks, Mrs Howard Hawks, saw the cover photograph of this sexy and sullen-looking newcomer and brought it to the attention of her director-producer husband who immediately arranged for Bacall to have a screen test. The result was a role in Hawks’s To Have and Have Not (1944), an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s book, with the action transferred from Cuba to French Martinique and cracking dialogue by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman.

As Marie, nicknamed Slim, the girl who suggestively teaches Humphrey Bogart’s bemused but beguiled character how to whistle, Bacall was an instant hit – a new kind of tough femme fatale, with a deep, manly voice and a masculine way of pursuing her romantic quarry. She smouldered as, with a knowing smile, she traded suggestive dialogue with Bogart. And her habit, which he taught her as a way to stop her nerves from showing, of keeping her chin down when she was on camera was a crucial part of what became known as “The Look”.

Their chemistry was immediate – and very obvious. Bacall and Bogart, who was 45 to her 19, fell in love and began an affair – he was married at the time – which led to their marriage in 1945.

Bogie and “Baby” went on to work together in several of what were the best films of both their careers – notably Hawks’s archetypal film noir The Big Sleep (1946), in which she exuded even more cynicism than in her first film. Other Bogie-Bacall collaborations include the thriller Dark Passage (1947) and the atmospheric melodrama Key Largo (1948).

Bacall had her first child, Stephen (“Steve” was the nickname Slim gives to Harry Morgan, Bogie’s To Have or Have Not character), in January 1949, but was back at work soon afterwards – in the 1950 melodrama Young Man With a Horn, opposite her teenage beau Kirk Douglas. Other notable 1950s films included the colourful comedy How To Marry a Millionaire (1953), in which, as the brains behind an apparently fool-proof gold-digging operation, she has to babysit dumb blondes Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and the all-star soap opera Written on the Wind (1956). However, Bacall – who gave birth to a daughter, Leslie, in 1952 – spent much of that decade caring for Bogart, who had lung cancer.

Shortly after Bogart’s death in 1957, Bacall moved to New York and the stage, and was absent from the screen for five years. In 1961, she married Jason Robards Jr and during their eight-year marriage, she had another son. She then divided her time between Broadway and Hollywod, winning a Tony award for her performance in the show Applause in 1970 and, in 1996, an Oscar nomination for her role as Barbra Streisand’s mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces.

Bacall, who has emerged as a feisty, no-nonsense grande dame of the showbiz world, continues to work – she has three films in post-production at the time of writing – and to terrify interviewers with her frankly expressed opinions on everything from ageing (“Your whole life shows in your face – and you should be proud of that”) to being a “legend”. Her two volumes of autobiography are among the best published by anyone in the movie business. A striking woman, even in her mid-80s, she stands for an era in which stars had personalities and principles – they certainly don’t make them like her anymore. Her forthcoming Honorary Academy Award is well-deserved and long-overdue..

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Chandler On Screen

It’s Film Noir weekend on BBC4, so it seems like a good time to talk about Raymond Chandler – especially since the 50th anniversary of his death earlier this year only seems to have been commemorated by the literary world.
 
More than any single director and more than most stars, the name Raymond Chandler is synonymous with film noir. It appears on the credits of three of the handful of movies which gave birth to the genre: Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep and Murder, My Sweet (AKA Farewell My Lovely, its British title). These masterworks – directed by Billy Wilder, Edward Dmytryk and Howard Hawks respectively – are the grandparents of such diverse modern-day classics as the The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and LA Confidential.
 
 Chandler, an American educated in upper middle-class England, brought style and panache to the detective thriller. His laconic yet poetic descriptions and the wisecracking, cynical observations made by his alter ego, the “shamus” Philip Marlowe, set him apart from other crime writers.

His stories were more than merely whodunits – which is just as well, given that plotting wasn’t his forte at all. Indeed, so complex and confusing was the plot of his 1939 novel The Big Sleep that when Howard Hawks was in the middle of filming it, he had to wire Chandler to ask him who had committed one of the peripheral murders. After re-reading his own book, Chandler replied that he had no idea.

What distinguished Chandler’s stories and books was that they were rich in atmosphere and packed with quotable passages. The language was authentically slangy, and the banter between the sexes crackled with playful and witty eroticism.

So, in 1943, when Paramount Studios bought the rights to former journalist James L Cain’s taut novelette Double Indemnity, Chandler was hired to collaborate on the screenplay with the director Billy Wilder. The Austrian emigre director had decided that Chandler was the man for the job after reading The Big Sleep and being impressed with what Chandler biographer Al Clark called the “poetic toughness” of the writing. He also appreciated Chandler’s knowledge of Los Angeles and his instincts about the kind of duplicitous seductress they would be portraying in their script.

Despite this, working together turned out to be an ordeal for both men. Wilder later recalled that “there was a lot of Hitler in Chandler” while Chandler wrote to his publisher saying: “Working with Billy Wilder on Double Indemnity was an agonising experience and has probably shortened my life”. Nevertheless, the tense collaboration produced a seminal film noir.

Double Indemnity, like a typical Chandler novel, was told in flashback with its central character, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), narrating his story into a dictaphone as he lies dying. It featured a classic Chandler-esque “big-league blonde”, the femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) who entices the hapless hero into a web of murder and deceit. With its night shots, and shadowy sequences, it, to use the slang of the day, reeked from atmosphere; Wilder’s arresting images the visual equivalent of Chandler’s evocative descriptions.

Billy Wilder, whose great run of success really began with Double Indemnity, later said of his grumpy, alcoholic, middle-aged writing partner: “He was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence.” He also admitted that he learned from Chandler “what real dialogue is”.

None of Chandler’s other forays into screenwriting in the 1940s were as successful – not even his excellent original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia, the 1946 thriller which starred the popular team of Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd and lent part of its title to the sensational, real-life “Black Dahlia” murder story that broke shortly after it opened in cinemas.

Of course, Chandler’s most easily recognisable gift to cinema is one of the most iconic screen personalities in movie history – of his private “dick”, Philip Marlowe. He made his movie debut under another name when the 1940 book Farewell My Lovely was used as the plot of one of the “Falcon” series of films about a gentleman sleuth played by debonair George Sanders.

Chandler’s Marlowe was no gentleman sleuth; he was very much a working, streetwise detective, available to hire for $25 a day (“plus expenses”). A loner with morals and a soft spot for the little guys whose inevitable deaths nobody else in the story cares about, Marlowe armed himself with a wry sense of humour despite being routinely “slugged” by brainless henchmen, and double-crossed by vampy blondes.

He has been portrayed numerous times on screen: Robert Altman’s spoofy The Long Goodbye (1973), has Elliott Gould portraying him as a pot-smoking slob in 1970s LA, while the reverential reworkings of Farewell My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978) cast Robert Mitchum as a crumpled, middle-aged Marlowe. James Garner had a crack at the character in the 1969 Marlowe, while back in 1947, the actor Robert Montgomery made an admirable attempt at recreating for the cinema the first person viewpoint of The Lady in the Lake by having the camera/viewer as detective.

By far the best adaptations of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, however, are The Big Sleep 1946) and Murder, My Sweet (1944), based on the book Farewell My Lovely. Both films met with Chandler’s approval, even though huge chunks of plot were lost as the stories were condensed for cinema audiences’ consumption.

The Big Sleep was rejigged at director Howard Hawks’s insistence so that the burgeoning romance between Marlowe and Mrs Rutledge onscreen – and Bogie and Bacall off it – was the main thread. But Chandler, who was the first to describe it as “a detective yarn that happens to be more interested in people than plot”, didn’t mind and actually felt that Humphrey Bogart was the ideal Marlowe. “Bogart can be tough without a gun,” he said. “Also, he has a sense of humour that contains that grating undertone of contempt.”

However, Dick Powell’s Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet is pretty impressive too – especially when you consider that instead of being established as a tough guy, Powell had to shake off his image as the crooning, goody-two-shoes hero of a string of 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals. In addition to its stylish direction – by the about-to-be blacklisted Edward Dmytryk – it boasts a terrific script which was able to utilise excerpts of Chandler’s brilliant prose by retaining Marlowe as its narrator.

And it doesn’t get much better than this: “‘OK, Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm till you’re as crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now, let’s see you do something really tough – like putting your pants on.’”

 
CHANDLER TRIVIA
* Walter Neff, the character played by Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, was also the name of the local newspaper editor in The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
* Fred MacMurray only got the part of Neff after Wilder had been round the houses trying to find an actor willing to play the sap of an insurance salesman. Among those who turned it down were George Raft. As MacMurray later said: “If he’d got Bogart or somebody like that, the audience would have known instantly that the couple were going to knock off the husband.”
* Billy Wilder wasn’t the only director to have a hellish time working with Chandler. Alfred Hitchcock binned the screenplay that Chandler wrote for Strangers on a Train (1951) after the pair failed to see eye to eye.

* Two less well-known 1940s films were based on the Philip Marlowe story The High Window: Time to Kill (1942) – which starred Lloyd Nolan (best remembered now as the father in the 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters) and was one of the Michael Shayne series of movies – and The Brasher Doubloon (1947), which starred George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe.

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