Chic Balmain costumes, Natalie Wood’s Hollywood cautionary tale, and an early Bette Davis drama rank high in the month’s classic-film favorites.
The Reluctant Debutante (1958)
Starring Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall and Sandra Dee
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Kendall’s costumes by Pierre Balmain; Dee’s costumes by Helen Rose
An American daughter arrives in London to visit her father, and quickly finds that her stepmother has enlisted her for the non-stop debutante season, primarily so she can save face with with a society-focused friend, played by Angela Lansbury. Kay Kendall and Rex Harrison were married at the time The Reluctant Debutante was filmed, though she would pass away just a year later from leukemia at the age of 33. Kendall’s innate style is on fully display in this film, with her costumes (as well as Lansbury’s) crafted in Paris by Pierre Balmain. Dee’s debutante wardrobe, meanwhile, was designed by MGM’s Helen Rose. That juxtaposition of fashion works, with Kendall in the French couture her character surely would have ordered each season, while Dee wears the full-skirted, cinched-waist silhouette so prevalent among teenagers in 1950s America.
The Petrified Forest (1936)
Starring Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis
Directed by Archie Mayo
Costumes by Orry-Kelly
List price: $17.99 on DVD, at WBShop
This is the movie that made Humphrey Bogart a star, so it’s curious that it’s Davis who gets the star treatment on this DVD packaging. Both Bogart and Leslie Howard reprised the roles they played in the stage version of the Robert E. Sherwood play, the story of an impoverished writer who wanders into an Arizona diner and encounters Gabrielle, played by Davis, a waitress whose dreams are encouraged by the writer — before a gangster, Bogart’s Duke Mantee, also arrives in flight from the police, and lives are indeed changed. Orry-Kelly designed the costumes, though The Petrified Forest isn’t a fashion film, but it is an essential film for fans of Bogart, Davis or Howard.
Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
Starring Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Costumes by Bill Thomas and Edith Head
As the titular Daisy, Natalie Wood craves Hollywood stardom and then discovers too quickly that fame comes at a price. Among the fun facts of Inside Daisy Clover: After five years of solid TV roles, this was the first major film role for Robert Redford, who won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer. Christopher Plummer plays the studio head who controls both their lives and demands that they hide elements of their true selves. For Daisy, that means denying her mother’s existence — Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the mother who doesn’t fit into anyone’s plans. Edith Head, who designed Wood’s costumes, and Bill Thomas likewise were nominated for their work, though they lost to Phyllis Dalton, who captured the award that year for Doctor Zhivago.
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Starring Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball
Directed by Dorothy Arzner
Costumes by Edward Stevenson
Today Dorothy Arzner is celebrated as the only female director of the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s and ‘40s, but she didn’t achieve the status she deserved alongside her male counterparts at the time. That idea undoubtedly adds a layer to this story of two women trying to achieve their dreams as dancers in New York. Maureen O’Hara’s Judy longs to be thought of as a classically trained ballet dancer, while Lucille Ball — whose character is named, quite perfectly, Bubbles — is happy to perform burlesque routines, as long as the money is good. With conflicts involving men and careers, their friendship is tested more than once, but each learns to assert herself to her own benefit by the film’s end.
The juxtaposition of the two characters, the naïveté of O’Hara and the brassiness of Ball, is pretty wonderful, especially when viewed through the lens of modern feminism. Arzner’s other films include 1933’s Christopher Strong starring Katharine Hepburn and 1937’s The Bride Wore Red starring Joan Crawford — but other than the aviator Hepburn plays in Christopher Strong, Dance, Girl, Dance may be Arzner’s most pointed look at the melding of women, career and friendship. Special features include a restored 4K digital transfer and a new interview with Francis Ford Coppola.