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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fashions and Fraud in '34


Fashions Of 1934 Is a New Twist On Old Cons


Bill Powell has a new racket. He’ll steal dress designs and get knock-offs on the street before legit importers can do the same. Evidently there was a rush to get ahead of rivals at intro of French fashion to US buyers, an exotic concept as how many moviegoers in 1934 could afford simplest gingham, let alone Paris creations? For Powell to bamboozle this crowd was nobody’s idea of crime. They deserved victim status just for indulging such fool luxury. Warner con men were careful to prey upon those who had too much to start with, and underserving of half that. It was a matter of small crooks doing in worse crooks. Audiences enjoyed Powell, Cagney, Lee Tracy, as ambassadors for have-nots, seizing a high life from the idle rich. An awoke Code dropped curtains on that, but hard-won cynicism gave up less easy. Go-getting, as in climb past the other guy by whatever means, was too ingrained for movies to drop. A Too Hot To Handle in 1938 kept precode philosophy in play, the me-first principle still an easiest for viewers to connect with.






What Women of Means Might Wear, or Aspire To Wear, in 1934.
Powell’s idea is sound enough to make me wonder if it might actually have worked in 1934. Here was eternal hope that Depression films dangled before their public. However broke you were, it would take but a single sock idea to turn tides. We all have in us the resource to get rich, or so the movies promised. Powell in Fashions Of 1934 is never without a scheme to get back in chips. Imagine how reassuring such a character was when folks had barely enough to sustain. There was never a giving in to waves by precode swimmers. Even carted to jail, they’d not get there for knowing a trick or two to get loose, and yield a check for thousands in the bargain. 78 minutes in any case was too brief to indulge self-pity. Would a William Powell work as therapy for those who’d otherwise throw in towels? He surely puts a spring in my step. All obstacles seem lowered in the face of Bill’s example. Are there films today so cheerful as Fashions Of 1934 and kin?






Everything it seems, was a “racket,” a word we scarcely hear now. Has everyone realized that honesty is a best policy? I think not. Is mine a cynicism bred by precode watching? Powell pulls his flim-flam topper by selling a boatload of diseased ostrich feathers. What sort of weed were writers smoking to come up with that? Still, there is plausibility to Powell ploys. He and designing partner Bette Davis buy an old book from a Parisian street vendor that shows attire as worn through history. She then updates and adapts fashion from past eras to current styles, which struck me as an inspired notion, for 1934 or now. Maybe I picked a wrong profession, because this one looks plenty creative and rewarding. Fashions Of 1934 would double nicely with Cover Girl or Funny Face. Note ad at left where the theatre exhibited styles on stage with the movie. Amusing wind-up to Fashions Of 1934: Powell and Davis finally marry, them approached on shipboard by an inventor with another million-dollar idea, which Bette makes Bill turn down, that is, quit chasing money, in 1934. Now there’s prosperity having turned a corner and back again. Would that those watching at the time have had life the same. Fashions Of 1934 is available on DVD from Warner Archive, and TCM played it recent in HD.

5 Comments:

Blogger Beowulf said...

Powell and Douglas: two old-time greats who DIDN'T allow themselves to go to hell like John Barrymore and others did.

The Robot.

12:46 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A few other Big Score movies. Note that scamming the public -- or at least fooling them -- looms large in many:
-- "Nothing Sacred", of course. Dying Carole Lombard becomes a media darling, then finds out she's not dying.
-- "Page Miss Glory", in which a couple of promoters create an imaginary celebrity with a composite photo of several stars -- and then luck into a chambermaid (Marion Davies) who looks like their "Miss Glory". The movie is a disappointment, coming across as a weak stage play, but the song spawned a uniquely odd Warner cartoon. In England a Jessie Matthews musical took a similar idea, with a struggling performer usurping the identity of a wild socialite created by a gossip columnist. In fact, there are multiple films where a down-on-her-luck heroine attains wealth, fame, and/or romance via a masquerade.
-- "Christmas in July", where the false rumor a guy won a slogan contest changes everything. The rumor was started by the guy's buddies as a joke, but still. Preston Sturges in 1940, and may be taken as mocking the idea of the Big Score.
-- "True Confession": Lombard confesses to a murder she didn't commit so her too-honest lawyer husband, Fred MacMurray, can serve up a career-making self-defense plea. A mildly amusing film that ends just as the plot takes a brilliant twist.
-- "Hail the Conquering Hero" is a sort of Big Score fantasy. A band of genuine soldiers take sad 4F Eddie Bracken to his hometown and present him as a combat hero; at fadeout the deception collapses but not the success.

Big Scores remained a staple of comedy long after, although they were either kept honest (the loopy inventor, or the go-getter whose determination is rewarded by a lucky break) or carefully framed as Just (outswindling a swindler, stealing back stolen goods, etc.).

1:15 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

I'm sorry I missed the Fashions of 1934 screenings on TCM, as I've wanted to see this ever since reading The Films of Bette Davis as a kid in the 1970s. Always loved Powell, a sadly neglected figure these days, and one of the brightest spots of the 1930s.

Are the art deco sets in this as spectacular as they look?

3:15 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Does the film include a two-color segment? https://ok.ru/video/324742744739

6:01 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Not that I'm aware of.

10:55 AM  

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