Thursday, February 2, 2012

5 Movie Costumes I Love (Winter '12 Edition)

It's that time again. Time to lace up the corsets, roll up the measuring tapes, and sketch my five movie costume favorites for this winter. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, I have a tradition on this blog. For each season, I pick five random movie costumes to talk about. I started this tradition because I love analyzing costume on film and making it a seasonal event allows me to give time to some less-famous ensembles. Sometimes I succumb to glamor and pick a dress that wows me but other times, I just want to talk about something that suits the character. None of my five picks today are appropriate for winter wear but oh well, it will be spring soon.

One last thing to mention. As before, my three cardinal rules for this list are as follows:
  1. Absolutely no costumes from an Alfred Hitchcock film.
  2. No costumes worn by Grace Kelly.
  3. No costumes worn by Audrey Hepburn.

And now, let us begin.

1. Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful
Costume Design by Helen Rose
("The Pajamas")

(photo credited to Film Noir Photos)

I know that singling out the pajamas in a Helen Rose/Lana Turner collaboration is a little like going to a gourmet restaurant and then raving about the after-dinner mints. But for me, one of the most thrilling moments in The Bad and the Beautiful is when Lana Turner, our Lady of Platinum and Plenty, emerges from a darkened room in these plain, ordinary pajamas. We've already been prepped that Turner's character, the tormented Georgia Lorrison, is a sexy lush and so we'd expect her to sleep in something more like this. Instead, we get the unforgettable image of Turner as an unhappy little girl in loose pajamas, huddled in a shabby room while Kirk Douglas tears her pretensions apart and her father's voice blares out poetry on the gramophone. Normally, I find Lana Turner's acting about as interesting as unsalted butter, but for that scene, I'm hers completely.

2. Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Costume Design by Travilla
("The Blue Suit")

I really should have made a rule against posting Marilyn Monroe costumes too, since she's every bit as iconic as Hepburn or Kelly. But for now, I'm going to take advantage of my own loophole to mention my personal favorite, this bright blue-violet number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It's one of the few costumes of hers that I could actually imagine wearing myself. Sure it's sexy (how many Marilyn costumes can you name that aren't?) but it's got that sharp snap to the collar and sleek skirt and form-fitting jacket. Nothing soft or cuddly about this; Monroe looks positively like a business woman. Watch how she dispatches her fiance's father with one cool, self-possessed speech. "I'm not trying to fool you. But I bet I could, though." Hell yeah, she could.

3. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in The Prisoner of Zenda
Costume Design by Ernest Dryden
("The Uniform")

Nobody does it better than Rupert of Hentzau, probably the best role Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ever had. Rupert is one of the most enjoyable villains of all time. Always laughing, always disloyal, and always teetering on the edge of sanity. Our hero Ronald Colman trades him quip for quip, but he's still no match for Fairbanks' cool. And lucky for Fairbanks, he got to play one of his best roles in this dashing uniform, complete with a black silk shirt and a pair of ever-present gloves. It's easy for a man to look smart in uniform, but Fairbanks just wears the hell out of this thing. Slanting his cap to give his leer that extra special touch. And the way he giggles into his gloves, almost biting his own fingers. And when he strips down to the black shirt, he looks like the most stylish man in the room, easily outpacing Colman. Sorry guys, but evil wins this round.

4. Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place
Costume Design by Jean Louis
("The Buttoned-Up Outfit")

(Screencap credited to xoxoxo e blog)

"She's not coy or cute or corny. She's a good guy, I'm glad she's on my side." So says Humphrey Bogart, as he admires the cool, composed Gloria Grahame. First impressions are everything and watching the way Grahame strides down the walk in that straight-lined skirt and turtleneck, it's hard not to agree with Bogart's assessment. But in spite of the costume's simplicity, it gives us clues to Grahame's whole character. There's the marching line of buttons down the side. Stylish yes, but closed off, controlled. Barely an inch of skin showing. And the way Grahame moves in it; no Violet Bick-style wiggling here. If Bogart had looked a little more closely, he might have realized that here was a woman who's not going to give herself away so easily. Watching the movie again, I was struck by just how many of Grahame's costumes cover her up, right down to the fur-cuffed robe that hides the restless motions of her fingers. The tragedy of In a Lonely Place is that Grahame and Bogart really believe that they have control, that they are covered-up. But in the end, they don't just surrender to their feelings. They're crushed by them.

5. Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man
Costume Design by Adele Palmer
("The Red and Blue")

Call it a triple victory for director John Ford, cinematographer Winton C. Hoch, and costumer Adele Palmer. Nobody ever forgets that moment when John Wayne sees Maureen O'Hara for the first time. Ford gives us only a brief flash of blue and red before he cuts to O'Hara's radiant face, staring back at Wayne with complete wonder. The emotion of the moment belongs to Ford and the actors. But it's Palmer who gives us those graceful lines and that brilliant blaze of primary color. It's more than just showing off O'Hara's beauty; she's become a living symbol of Ireland itself. Blame The Quiet Man for convincing so many generations of Americans that if they went to Ireland, they'd find Maureen O'Hara waiting for them.

The Yvonne de Carlo photo at top is credited to the wonderful Dsata at Pictures Blog. Go visit her, she's one of the best sources for actress photos on the web and she organizes everything by theme, from "women bathing their feet" to "stars eating grapes." You can find everything there.


  1. Yes Yes Yes to Marilyn's blue suit! Now, if only I could fill it like her....

  2. I love the blue suit too, not just the design, but that incredibly flattering color. It's my favorite scene in the movie because she looks perfect and she's being wickedly clever.

  3. FlickChick: That's the point where my imagination fails me too. :) But I still want it.

    KC: I love the color. It's so vivid and unusual and you can't take your eyes off her.

  4. Liked reading your fashion picks. I think the Marilyn outfit is great, too. And, I liked how you picked up on the pajamas for Turner.

  5. KimWilson: Thanks for commenting. Lana Turner is normally such a clotheshorse that seeing her in pajamas (and not the silky Technicolor kind either) came as a big shock.

  6. What a great post! I will be looking now for your picks from seasons past. Marilyn's dress is gorgeous, and I love Gloria Grahame's outfit, too -- that's the one I wish I could pull off!

  7. I love this post. When people think of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it's Marilyn's pink gown at the end that springs to mind. But so many of the outfits are great. Not only this bright blue one, but the complementary black suits the girls wear for "When Love Goes Wrong" ("No bows, honey, just 8 bars and off") are awesome. If I had read your entire post before composing my own, I may have included it. But here's my list:

  8. Shadowsandsatin: Gloria Grahame just looks fantastic all throughout In a Lonely Place; I was really tempted to just do a complete fashion review of the film and I might yet.

    The Gal Herself: Wow, you went and made your own list. I'll hop over to your blog to comment.

  9. I'll put a word in here for the guy in the piece. Frankly, I think Doug Fairbanks Jr would look good even in Lana Turner's pajamas, but that sleek all-black number he wears on that strapping torso -wow! Add the tousled hair, the half-smoked cig, those smoldering eyes, and the Smile - and you have the stuff that dreams are made of. Great post!

  10. Grandoldmovies: Fairbanks Jr is not an actor I used to think about much but in Prisoner of Zenda? Phwoar. The man had style to burn.