Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Adrian channels Jane Austen, Esther Williams earns her nickname, and Barbara Stanwyck falls for Edith Head in this month's releases.
Fab costumes enjoy the spotlight in this quartet of July 2020 releases:
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Criterion Collection
Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
Directed by Preston Sturges
Costumes by Edith Head
Grifting has never seemed so delightful: Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn play a father-daughter team of con artists, who think they’ve hit the motherlode when they encounter Henry Fonda, a snake researcher who’s also the heir to a brewery fortune, aboard a cruise ship — until Stanwyck finds herself falling in love with him. This Preston Sturges comedy crackles with clever dialogue, slapstick, switched identities (the type that would only be believed in the movies), and some pretty terrific costumes by Edith Head, her first experience working with Stanwyck. That collaboration quickly proved to be a mutual fan club: Stanwyck loved that Head created high-fashion looks for her, while Head credited the actress with elevating her status as an arbiter of style in the studio system. Stanwyck would have Head’s costume-design services written into most of her future contracts.
This Criterion Collection release features a new 4K digital restoration and is packed with extras, including a collection of Head’s costume sketches, a new conversation that includes filmmakers James L. Brooks, Ron Shelton and Peter Bogdanovich and Preston Sturges’s son, Tom, and a 2001 audio commentary with film professor Marian Keane. If The Lady Eve isn’t already in your collection, this is the edition you don’t want to miss.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Costumes by Adrian
Many versions of Jane Austen’s best-known novel have found their way to film and television over the years, but none offers the glamour factor that comes courtesy of costumes by Adrian. Luxe, frothy and whimsical at once, the gowns he creates for Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters — including Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane Bennet — evoke Regency-era romance while also providing the camera-friendly allure required for an MGM prestige picture. Garson Lizzie and Laurence Olivier’s Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, make their disdain-turned-love for each other only charming, while the excellent supporting players — especially Mary Boland as Mrs. Bennet and Edna May Oliver as the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh — round out this utterly perfect film, which Bosley Crowther, the longtime New York Times film critic, called “the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen.”
This edition features a new 4K restoration of the film from the best surviving elements, with extras that include the original theatrical trailer.
My Favorite Wife (1940)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne
Directed by Garson Kanin
Costumes by Howard Greer
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne made three films together, starting with 1937’s The Awful Truth and wrapping up with the 1941 tearjerker Penny Serenade, but their 1940 effort, My Favorite Wife, may be the best of the trio. This Garson Kanin-directed comedy about a wife who returns after years being shipwrecked on a desert island — on the very same day her husband marries his second wife, played by Gail Patrick — relies largely on Grant’s terrific ability to play a leading man who’s both romantic and more than a bit bumbling, as he goes to extreme efforts to keep both women from becoming utterly exasperated with him (with Patrick’s character, he fails spectacularly).
The costumes by Howard Greer are also pretty terrific, from the makeover that Dunne’s Ellen must undergo as her leftover pre-shipwreck wardrobe requires a quick update, as well as a graphic-print dress that’s got a bit of Schiparelli flair about it. Elements of the costumes for Patrick’s Bianca, meanwhile, amusingly convey a trophy-wife vibe (the matching leopard-print silk robes she buys for her and her new husband are everything you need to know). Among the best of the era’s screwball comedies.
Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring Esther Williams, Victor Mature and Walter Pidgeon
Directed by Melvyn LeRoy
Costumes by Walter Plunkett and Helen Rose
This fictionalized musical biopic of the life of Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman was tailor-made for Esther Williams from start to finish, though Kellerman reportedly didn’t care for some of the glamorized elements, including the casting of Victor Mature as her husband (she preferred the far less rugged Glenn Ford). She’d already been through the experience when Williams did a 1949 remake of Neptune’s Daughter, which Kellerman herself had starred in, a fantasy-laden silent in 1914. But she was won over by Williams, who ensured that the key elements of Kellerman’s story would be told, from her childhood bout with polio (she swam to build up her leg muscles) to the scandal she created in 1907 by wearing a one-piece bathing suit in public, vs. the less-revealing bathing “costume” of the early years of the 20th century.
Walter Plunkett and Helen Rose split the costume-design duties, though for perhaps the film’s best-known scene — an elaborate swimming number conceptualized by Busby Berkeley — the gold sequined bodysuit and aluminum crown created for Williams caused what could have been a career-ending injury: Williams notes in her autobiography that when she performed her high dive from six stories up, she realized before she hit the water that the crown probably wasn’t a good idea. The impact in the water caused three broken vertebrae in her neck. (Admit it, you really want to watch that scene right now.)
This new 4K restoration of the film includes the original theatrical trailer and a radio recording of a show featuring Williams and co-star Walter Pidgeon, but ultimately this Technicolor film became the aquatic star’s signature in more ways than one: “Million Dollar Mermaid” became her nickname around the MGM lot, while she also employed it as the title of that 1999 autobiography.