Updated: Aug 1, 2021
Mae West gets the Schiaparelli treatment, Jennifer Jones wears Dior, and a true MGM spectacle required a trio of talented costume designers.
One film among this month's releases showcases a trio of famed costume designers banding together for a genuine MGM spectacle, while two other releases highlight clothes by legendary Parisian designers. Let's dig in:
Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953)
Starring Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Jones's costumes by Christian Dior
The latest DVD of Indiscretion of an American Wife—released as Stazione Termini in Italy—reflects this 1953 film's troubled history: It's the infamous 63-minute version that producer David O. Selznick created out of the original 89-minute cut by director Vittorio De Sica. Director and producer did not get along during filming, clashing over everything from the script—the story of how a Philadelphia wife disengages herself from her lover on the night she departs for home on a Rome-to-Paris train—to the performances (Selznick was married to star Jennifer Jones at the time, hence the reason the famously interfering producer was more attentive than usual). It didn't help that Clift sided with De Sica over Selznick, though the director's lack of English also contributed problems with his actor; De Sica hired an Italian actor to communicated what he wanted from the performance, and Clift didn't care for being told to imitate someone else, even if the intent was rooted in ease of communication.
The De Sica version largely unfolded in real time, and while Selznick has been enthusiastic about delving into the neorealism so key to Italian cinema at the time, he didn't care for De Sica's result, and not only made cuts to speed up the story, he also was the one who conjured up the far more sensationalist American title, to ensure audiences would know exactly the story they were paying to see.
Ultimately there are three reasons to add this version to your library: its budget-friendly price, the chance to view how a good film can go astray in just an hour's time, and of course a moment to view Jones in a splendid Christian Dior suit, which includes the designer's iconic Bar jacket, that she wears throughout the film (Dior would receive an Academy Award nomination for his efforts). If your heart is set on viewing both versions, spend a little more for the Criterion Collection DVD to enjoy back-to-back viewings of the original and recut films, plus an audio commentary by film scholar Leonard Leff.
Ziegfeld Follies (1945)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring William Powell, Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Lucille Bremer and Fanny Brice
Directed by Lemuel Ayers, Vincente Minnelli, George Sidney and others
Costumes by Helen Rose, Tony Duquette and Irene Lentz
Fans of the musical extravaganzas that became a hallmark of MGM in the 1930s and '40s will want to ensure this Blu-ray is part of their collection. This fantastical story of Florenz Ziegfeld, played by William Powell (who also took on the role of the legendary showman in 1936's The Great Ziegfeld), sitting up in heaven and wishing for one more spectacle largely seems like an excuse to string together musical numbers without much of a connecting story, but it's easy to overlook that idea while drinking in both the performances and visuals, from the first and highly rare pairing of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dancing together to a joyful "Here's to the Ladies" number starring Lucille Ball, Judy Garland playing against type in the number "A Great Lady Has an Interview," and a lavish underwater sequence starring Esther Williams—and that's just for starters.
Producer Arthur Freed conceptualized Ziegfeld Follies as a showcase for the best MGM's musical division had to offer, and that extends to the costumes as well, with Helen Rose, Tony Duquette and Irene Lentz (the latter two uncredited) teaming up to produce the glamorous gowns and costumes needed for this monumental effort. MGM famously coined the phrase "More stars than there are in heaven," a slogan that aptly describes this film in multiple ways.
Every Day's a Holiday (1937)
KL Studio Classics
Starring Mae West and Edmund Lowe
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
West's costumes by Elsa Schiaparelli
Any appreciation of Every Day's a Holiday must start with the character name Mae West gave to herself (the star also wrote the screenplay): Peaches O'Day, a New York con artist who reinvents herself as a glamorous Parisian performer, Mademoiselle Fifi, so she may evade the long arm of the law. Several men fall for Fifi, including Lloyd Nolan as a New York City mayoral candidate whose morals closely align with those of Ms. O'Day.
Kino Lorber is releasing nine Mae West films this month on Blu-ray, including better-known titles like I'm No Angel and a new 4K restoration of She Done Him Wrong (both released in 1933), but for fashions of classic film and fashion, there's a key reason to vault Every Day's a Holiday to the top of the list: West enlisted the services of Elsa Schiaparelli to design her gowns, not only because she was a fan, but also because Mademoiselle Fifi of course would wear the best of Parisian haute couture. For Schiaparelli, the admiration was mutual: When she released her first perfume, Shocking, in 1937, the shape of the bottle likely seemed all too familiar to West, as it was inspired by the shape of her torso.