Tag Archives: Rosalind Russell

Style on Film: Gilda

This is arguably the most famous dress of the 1940s – and certainly the most iconic film noir frock -and it’s worn by the luminous Rita Hayworth in the 1946 noir melodrama Gilda which is currently enjoying a revival in British cinemas. However, it’s not the only gorgeous gown in the film: Rita gets through several wardrobes’ worth of Columbia Studios designer Jean Louis’s finest creations in the course of the movie, starting with the shimmering gown which her power-crazed husband has to help her in – and out – of.

For her second outing to her husband’s Buenos Aires casino, Gilda glides around in a Grecian-style gown – very now-looking, with its belt and matching cuff. And she carries her cigarettes in a teeny clutch bag..

Having left the casino with a new man, she hits the town wearing a sensational, sparkly, jewel-encrusted evening coat.

The first time we see Gilda in daywear, she’s singing her signature song – Put the Blame on Mame. Her chic outfit is – like her (or rather singer Anita Ellis’s) performance of that bluesy and witty song – extremely simple yet effective. The plain, slightly toga-esque, dress is accessorised with a studded belt and a deep, gladiator-style cuff. As a fan of cuffs (if you have skinny wrists they’re a godsend), I recommend this film as a source of inspiration! They’re definitely a running theme.

For her wedding to Johnny, about two minutes after her husband has apparently died in a plane crash, Gilda sports a chic black satin skirt suit – just the right touch for a widow-turned-bride, n’est-ce pas?

The pearls are a nice, un-Gilda-like touch – but the black sandals with ankle straps are pure femme fatale… Here’s the full-length rear view.

For her visit to her new husband’s office (it used to be her old husband’s), Gilda smoulders in a pale-coloured satin column gown; fur coat draped casually over one shoulder or held in front of her. Indeed, she never puts it down – even though she walks about the office smoking a cigarette. Was Rita perhaps sporting a baby bump? The positioning of the coat over that part of her dress makes you wonder..

With her husband disinterested in her, Gilda goes on the rampage – here’s the risque gown she wears as she seduces one poor chump …

Gilda flees her gilded cage and relaunches herself as a nightclub singer and dancer. For her first big musical number, she borrows Barbara Stanwyck’s signature midriff-bearing style of dress.

Returning to Buenos Aires to file for divorce, Gilda is very business-like in a pinstripe suit not dissimilar to (though not as sharp as) Rosalind Russell’s in His Girl Friday or Bette Davis’s in Now Voyager.

I don’t know that Gilda saves the best dress for last – but it’s certainly the one that is best remembered. Rita Hayworth was asked later what had held up the black satin column dress during the nightclub performance of Put the Blame on Mame – it comes dangerously close to slipping down as the song goes on. She replied: “Two things.” Here’s the number, followed by my preferred version of it (the day dress one) and the other song from the film, Amado Mio.

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Great Movie Hats of the 1930s

I grew up on a diet of old movies and I love to style-watch them – to play at spot the fabulous frock or the ace accessory. Recently I’ve been a bit obsessed with some of the ridiculous – but wonderful – hats that popped up in 1930s films. And they don’t come much more wonderfully ridiculous than Greta Garbo’s in the 1939 comedy Ninotchka.

The Ninotchka hat was much more than a fashion accessory; it was symbolic of the fact that its wearer had succumbed to the romance of Paris and was shaking off the shackles of communism…. Irene Dunne’s crazy black heatgear in the priceless 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth, on the other hand, was representative of nothing more than high fashion – though her newly ex-husband (Cary Grant) doesn’t look convinced…

Cary Grant looks much more at ease in the next picture, from the 1938 romantic comedy-drama, Holiday – maybe because he’s just resigned himself to the fact that he’s outnumbered (by Doris Nolan, left, and Katharine Hepburn) on the silly hat front..

I don’t know if Linda Darnell wore this next hat in a movie, but, given that it seems to be Saturn-inspired in design, it’s way ahead of its time: after all, the sci-fi movie genre didn’t take off until the 1950s!

Similarly, I don’t recall ever seeing Ginger Rogers wearing this next natty hat – by celebrated hat designer Lily Dache – in any of her 1930s films. Maybe the stars circling the pointy peak of the hat was too much like Paramount Studios’ logo for RKO’s (her home studio’s) liking..

And finally, my favourite daft hat of the 1930s – worn, as only she could, by the inimitable Rosalind Russell (pictured here with Joan Crawford) in the gloriously funny and stylish 1939 movie The Women..

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Hold The Front Page!

The Glasgow Film Theatre is currently showing a mini-season of films from a genre which is routinely overlooked but is as quintessentially American as the gangster movie and the western.

The season, Heroes and Villains, celebrates journalism on the silver screen and belongs to a bigger genre – the newspaper movie, which had its heyday in the 1930s.

The newspaper building (or at least newspaper buildings until ten years ago, when journalists became  bogged down by bureaucracy and cost-cutting) is an obvious setting for a Hollywood movie. All human life can be found there, and the pace – leisurely and laidback at the beginning of the day; frantic and frenetic as deadlines approach – is quite unlike that of any other workplace.

Many of the great newspaper movies have been based on true stories: after all, this was – like the gangster movie – a genre born out of topicality. The 1933 James Cagney comedy Picture Snatcher, for example, was based on the scandal surrounding the New York Daily News’s secretly snatched photograph of murderess Ruth Snyder in the electric chair. Cagney – like Jude Law in The Road to Perdition – played a snapper who often beat the cops to grisly crime scenes.

Some of the most memorable characters in newspaper movies were inspired by real people, proof that newspaper people are not only excellent sniffers-out of stories but also great material in themselves. It took only a handful of tyrannical editors to furnish Hollywood with enough material to create the stereotypical kick-ass editor character we see in such classic newspaper movies as Nothing Sacred (1937) and His Girl Friday (1940).

Both these films were comedies but the newspaper movie can also be a hard-hitting drama (in the case of Five Star Final), a fantasy (Superman) or a crime drama.

Indeed, the newspaper movie has most often functioned as a variation on the traditional crime movie, with the reporter playing the detective role. The Humphrey Bogart film Deadline USA (1952) and Ron Howard’s all-star comedy-drama The Paper (1994) focused on newspaper investigations into mob murders.  And, of course, All the President’s Men (1976) concerned the Washington Post’s investigation into what proved to be the scoop of the century – the Watergate scandal.

But what sets these films apart from crime dramas is that they are as much about the putting together of a newspaper and the people involved in that process as they are about the investigation.

The newspaper genre is one of the few which showed women working as men’s equals from day one:  in 1931, the year in which the newspaper genre broke through, Fay Wray starred as a hotshot reporter battling corruption in The Finger Points, and Loretta Young (above) played Gallagher, just “one of the boys” in the newsroom and the press bar, in Platinum Blonde.

The most popular film version of the hit Broadway play The Front Page was the second one, His Girl Friday, in which ace reporter Hildy Johnson was rewritten as a woman, and played – with great panache – by Rosalind Russell. And Katharine Hepburn portrayed a leading political columnist in Woman of the Year in 1942.

Roles like these were among the best that Hollywood had to offer since the characters were – by necessity, since they were operating in a male-dominated environment – feisty and street-smart.

THE newspaper genre came about as a result of coincidence. The 1920s had been a boom time for the newspaper and magazine industry in America. A new style of tabloid emerged in the 1920s: the sensationalistic rag which shied away from no topic and which would publish photos of murder victims, suicides, illicit lovers caught offguard – anything likely to titillate the readership. There was no level to which these papers wouldn’t stoop for a scoop. And the truth was rarely newsworthy.

Against this backdrop came the sound era in Hollywood, and studios suddenly found themselves in need of snappy, realistic dialogue.  The idealised characters and situations favoured by many of the filmmakers of the silent era were now passe, and audiences,  reeling from the effects of the Depression, demanded films which tackled the problems facing society.

Prohibition and gangsters quickly became favoured topics, and movies set in newspapers were seen as the perfect vehicles for debates about corruption, crime and poverty. The role of newspapers themselves could be dealt with in this new genre, and there was plenty of comic material to be found in the crazy stunts pulled off by some of the tabloids in the bid to increase circulation.

Five Star Final and The Front Page were two of the first newspaper movies. Both were made in 1931, both had their roots in reality, and both had been successful Broadway plays. Five Star Final was written by Louis Weitzenkorn, former editor of one of New York’s most salacious rags, The Evening Graphic (fondly known as the Pornographic). Randall, the editor, played by Edward G Robinson, was based on another Evening Graphic editor, Emile Gauvrau, who, like Lady Macbeth, was always washing his hands as if to rid himself of guilt for some of his dirtier deeds.

Five Star Final spared no detail about the way in which the sleazier papers operated. The opening shot is of an old news vendor being beaten up by thugs employed to ensure that the Evening Gazette is given the prime position on the news-stands.

Written by former newspapermen BenHecht and Charles MacArthur, The Front Page (remade as His Girl Friday, then again in 1974 as The Front Page, and then re-worked as Broadcast News in 1988) was a black comedy about a newspaper finding an escaped death-row convict, and trying to keep him hidden to protect its scoop. The editor, Walter Burns (most famously played by Cary Grant in His Girl Friday), was based on Walter Howie, the Chicago editor whom Ben Hecht claimed he would not work, “being incapable of such treachery as he proposed”.

Clearly, there was no scheme too odious for Walter and Hildy who, at one point reminisces: “Remember the time we stole old Aggie Haggerty’s stomach off the coroner’s table? We proved she’d been poisoned, didn’t we?”

Hecht also satirised the tabloids’ desperate publicity stunts in his 1937 comedy Nothing Sacred (above)  in which reporter Frederic March and his newspaper shamelessly exploit an apparently dying girl (Carole Lombard), little realising that she is in fact exploiting them.

Exploitation was also the theme of Billy Wilder’s blackly cynical Ace in the Hole (1951)  in which reporter Kirk Douglas artificially prolongs a human interest story so he can get as much mileage out of it as possible.

In the 1930s, when it was fashionable to look down on hacks, the newspaper genre was at the peak of its popularity. When the papers tidied up their act, and journalists – especially war correspondents – were looked on in a more respectful manner, the genre began to die. And by the 1980s, the setting for journalism-themed movies had switched to the TV newsroom. But I’ll bet there are still would-be hot-shot reporters and girl fridays out there who seek the thrills of the 1930s-style newspaper offices..

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