Monday, July 07, 2008

Clothes on Film: Roberta

Lucille Ball before she became a professional housewife.

The 1935 movie Roberta is about an American football player who inerits a Parisian fashion house and falls in love with the designer, who just happens to be a Russian princess in exile. There's a lot of "just happens" in Roberta.

The football player (henceforth FBP)/Russian princess (henceforth RP) story is a snore. Concurring in that opinion an online reviewer wrote "[t]he plot's fashion angle is also boring -- far too muchtime is devoted to models displaying the latest dresses of the day, although if your curious about 1930's fashion you might enjoy gaping (or laughing) at the outlandish fashion." To which criticism I can only reply, no, no, NO!!! The fashion, and, oh yeah, a subplot involving a romance between two entertainers played by some kids you may have heard of, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, are what make the film worth watching at all.

Can you believe these two got second billing?

I usually do my laundry when Roberta is broadcast; I've seen it often enough so that I can load the washer and drier during the FBP/RP scenes and be back in front of the TV in time to catch a fashion show or a musical number. However, there is one bit of the main storyline I like: FBP's snooty ex-girlfriend "just happens" to show up in Paris and she's determined to win FBP back. She goes to Roberta's to pick out a gown for her reunion date with FBP, RP arranges a fashion show (hooray!), girlfriend rather insultingly rejects all the outfits chosen for her by RP (ex-girlfriend has somehow divined that FBP is attracted to RP). Fred Astaire, FBP's best friend who just happens to be at Roberta's while ex-girlfriend is shopping, uses reverse psychology to get ex-girlfriend to purchase a revealing dress FBP had previously ordered out of the collection. Ex-girlfriend appears at the date wearing the vulgar dress, FBP gets angry, ex-girlfriend, who really likes the dress, leaves, and presto! no obstacles to the union between FBP and RP remain. Well, none but FBP's bad taste -- the dress he disliked was really very hot.

Roberta's costumes and fashion were designed by Bernard Newman. Newman had been the house designer for Bergdorf Goodman, the New York department store. He only spent a few years in Hollywood before he returned to Bergdorf's, but not before he designed a dress that has become part of Hollywood lore: the blue feathered dress Ginger Rodgers wore while dancing "Cheek to Cheek" with Fred Astaire in Top Hat.

Roberta was remade in 1952 as Lovely to Look At, a movie so turgid that not even multiple fashion shows of extravagant New Look clothing designed by the fabulous Adrian could save it. Here's a hint of how bad it is: the Astaire/Rodger's roles were played by Red Skelton and Ann Miller. Sacrilege!

Anyhoo, the makers of the Robert a got a clue by the end of the movie and left the audience with a performance by Fred and Ginger. Here it is. Enjoy!


miss vintage love said...

I LOVE Ginger!! As u can prob tell from my profile pic. I also love Lucys earlier stuff. I've gotta see this film!

Gidget Bananas said...

FYI, spotting Lucy in Roberta is a challenge because she only appears as a model in the final fashion show. But the fashion show is worth watching more than once, so, enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Good to see the ancient fashion clothes. These clothes are very stylish and i also would like New Look Coupon Codes for buying online new fashion designing clothes which is also should be unique.

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