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Jan 27, 2010

Let's go to the movies!

This is the first in what will be a regular series here on MPB: Hollywood films prominently featuring the high fashion of yesteryear.

We'll skip the obvious: we've all seen "Funny Face" (Think Pink!) and slept through Miss Ross's "Mahogany" (Do you know here you're going to? -- I don't.)

Today's feature is one of the most poorly-cast, over-produced, disappointing film adaptations of a Broadway musical hit ever.  I speak of none other than the all-but-forgotten Ginger Rogers vehicle, "Lady in the Dark," released in 1944.

Lady in the Dark is not bad enough to be considered a true stinker; it is merely dull and downbeat.  No one loves Ginger Rogers -- humorless right-wing conservative though she was -- more than I.  But Ginger had no place playing the sophisticated, 40-something Liza Elliott, and apparently had absolutely no understanding of psychoanalysis -- the central theme of the film.  (Deep self-reflection was an alien concept to Ms. Rogers, just read her autobiography.)  Apparently Ginger also decided to get married during the troubled production, holding up cast and crew for an entire TWO WEEKS while she went on her honeymoon.  Those were the days.

Perhaps most disgraceful of all: nearly the entire Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin score was trashed or used as background music.  Kurt Weill, for Chrissakes!  You never even get to hear "My Ship" -- the show's biggest hit and one of Kurt Weill's most beloved songs, though it gets hummed a lot.

The one saving grace of Lady in the Dark is the superb costume and set design.  Liza is the editor-in-chief of "Allure" a (then-fictitious) high-fashion magazine, and the dresses and gowns designed by Edith Head and director Mitchell Leisen, and filmed in lush period Technicolor, are simply gorgeous. Physically, the film -- full of dry-ice-fog dream sequences -- is breathtaking.

The famous "Saga of Jenny" number can be watched below.

And here's the whole thing!


  1. I would just like to say, for the record, that I have never seen 'Funny Face'.

  2. There must be some of it on YouTube but you must see it as movies were meant to be seen: on a Macbook. ;) It has some of the most wonderful musical numbers and Givenchy couture worn by Audrey Hepburn. You'll love it!

  3. Ooh- interesting note about the dress Ginger is wearing on that poster for Lady in the Dark (the minx in mink with a yen for men!) I read in the biography of Karinska (the famed costume designer for the New York City Ballet) that Edith head wanted the skirt to be done in mink and lined in fake emeralds and rubies (paste stones.) But once it was made it was too heavy to lift so Ginger couldn't dance in it. Karinska came up with the idea to mimic the look of stones using sequins instead but apparently wasn't given credit for the innovation. Very cool book by Toni Bentley- if you can find a copy it's worth flipping through it.

  4. Believe it or not, I saw the original on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a show Diana Vreeland put together on Hollywood Costumes. I have never forgotten it! I will definitely look for that book.

  5. Dear god, I need a dress like that!

  6. Oh my heart. Must have that dress. How to make...hmmmm.


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