June 26, 2015

Garbo's Last Silents-1929

The following is my contribution to the CLASSIC MOVIE HISTORY PROJECT BLOGATHON, June 26-28, 2015, hosted by Movies, Silently and sponsored by Flicker Alley.

As the 1920s drew to an end, Greta Garbo had not yet agreed to do any talking pictures.  She had, however, graduated from playing exotic temptresses who drew men into a web of despair and ruin--often destroying herself in the process.
In her three Silents of 1929, Garbo was upgraded to a sophisticated, liberated woman. Temptation may have been everywhere, but there was always the option of marrying (or returning to) a stable, loving  and wealthy spouse.

Perhaps to compensate for the lack of talk--MGM spared no expense for these films. The musical scores are lilting, the gowns by Adrian are gorgeous, and the Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons is the stuff of Art Deco legend.

Wild Orchids: Lillie Sterling

"You are like the orchids of your country--you have the same cold enchantment.  In Java the orchids grow wild--and their perfume fills the air."

Lovely Lillie Sterling (Greta Garbo) and her husband, John (Lewis Stone) set sail from San Francisco, bound for Java--in their most up to the minute travel costumes.

Lillie dresses for dinner the first evening, in a stunning backless white satin dress, with a huge corsage of (what else?) orchids.

On deck, they meet the Javanese Prince de Gace (Nils Asther): charming, handsome and smitten with Mrs. Sterling.

De Gace makes no secret of his desire to compensate for John Sterling's neglect of his beautiful bride.

The Prince entertains the couple lavishly at his Javanese estate. Lillie decides, after watching exotic and erotic dancers, to pique her husband's interest, by dressing in one of their costumes. 

Sterling isn't overly impressed by the ostentatious display, but Prince de Gace? Oh my, yes!

Poor Lillie even gets stranded in a jungle cabin with the ever-amorous Prince. So far she has kept her virtue and fidelity to John intact. Will she succumb to de Gace's advances?

On a tiger hunt, Lillie must fend off de Gace yet again.  Only when he is hurt, does the poor girl catch a break.

Unfortunately, husband John has seen the two in a shadowy but seemingly compromising position and assumes that he has lost Lillie.  With which of these men will Lillie decide to spend the rest of her life? What do YOU think?

The Single Standard: Arden Stuart

"I roamed through China looking for art--and found only the memory of you."

San Francisco socialite, Arden Stuart (Greta Garbo) believes that women should be as free to love as the men she sees in her social circle.

Tom Hewlett (John Mack Brown) adores Arden and wishes to marry her, but she is carrying on an affair with the chauffeur.

When the indiscretion is discovered and the chauffeur is fired, disaster ensues and Arden takes to her bedroom in extremely stylish mourning.

Below, the much photographed striped Adrian pajamas and robe to fit the Art Deco mansion Arden inhabits.

One night, Arden decides to take a cleansing walk in the rain to shake off her guilt and depression.  She discovers a gallery of Modern Art and--a handsome ex-prizefighting artist named Packy Cannon (Nils Asther). Things are definitely looking up!

Packy invites her to breakfast aboard his boat the "All Alone" before he sets sail for the South Seas the next morning. As they fall madly in love, Arden impetuously accepts his invitation to join him for a romantic shipboard tryst of indefinite length.

Having no clothes of her own on the idyllic seafaring voyage, Arden wears those of her lover, creating a chic menswear vogue, more than half a century before the "boyfriend" look.

After months of passion, sun and surf, Packy informs Arden his Art is suffering and that their 'perfect love' should remain so, in memory.  He reverses the course of the ship to return to San Francisco.

Shunned and mocked by most of her former social set, Arden finds that Tommy Hewlett still loves and wants to marry her.

Arden reluctantly marries Tom, but the arrival of a son delights them both. Into this picture of domestic bliss enters the long-lost Packy Cannon.

Arden and Packy have never stopped loving one another. He once again pleads that she join him at sea, unaware of the power of the mother-son bond.

Tommy Hewlett prepares to lose Arden Stuart, for the second time in his life.

Arden delivers her final decision to Packy on board ship. The most important man in her life is neither himself nor Tom--but her son, whom she will never abandon--not even for true love.

Tom has decided to take drastic action to avoid scandal and a lifetime of misery. Arden foils his plan as they watch the "All Alone" set sail out of San Francisco harbor.

The Kiss: Irene Guarry

"Half us women would shoot our husbands--if only we had the nerve."

Irene (Greta Garbo) is unhappily married to Charles Guarry (Anders Randolf), but in love with lawyer Andre Dubail (Conrad Nagel). As the film opens, they are having a clandestine meeting to discuss their future.

Above, Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel in the Art Museum: one of the timeless Art Deco set designs by Cedric Gibbons.

Andre tells Irene that because she cannot divorce Guarry without a scandal, he is permanently departing for Paris.

A weary, despondent Irene returns to a home and husband she is unable to leave--ever.

Guarry has hired a detective to follow Irene.  The private gumshoe recounts in flashback details of her meetings with a handsome young man, Pierre LaSalle (Lew Ayres), below.

Irene prepares to attend a formal banquet with her husband at the LaSalle home.

Below, Director Jacques Feyder discusses this famous 'mirror scene' with Greta Garbo.

Demurely, Irene sits with some of the other female guests during the dance portion of the evening.

Irene and Andre, who has arrived unexpectedly, meet in the garden prior to his departure for Paris.

Pierre spurns the attentions of his young female friend to impress and spend more time with Irene, at a tennis match in the LaSalle private courts.

Irene and Guarry have dinner before his appointment with M. LaSalle Sr. on a business matter.

Above and below: award winning set designs and art direction by the MGM master, Cedric Gibbons--who did some of his finest work for this film. Greta Garbo's dress is a feather in Adrian's cap, reflecting the trend toward asymmetrical, longer hemlines.

Unbeknown to Guarry, Irene has permitted  young Pierre to drop by for a photograph of her to take back to College.

...and another parting wish:  a good-bye kiss.

..which gets out of control by Pierre's overly amorous advances.

Feeling ill, Guarry returns home just in time to witness what he believes to be an example of Irene's infidelity. He begins to violently beat Pierre. Frantic at the outcome, Irene picks up the telephone.

The police arrive to find Guarry dead on the study floor,  while Irene retires to her bedroom in a state of edgy apprehension.

When Irene is arrested for the shooting death of her husband, Andre returns from Paris to defend her--in a trial that is sure to have all of Paris buzzing.

The 'black widow' professes her innocence before a highly skeptical courtroom.

Director Jacques Feyder and cinematographer William Daniels and his crew, line up the courtroom shots of Greta Garbo.  Conrad Nagel is at lower right. This famous still is immortalized on this Kevin Brownlow "The Parade's Gone By..." cover.

Thanks to Andre Dubail, Irene is cleared of all charges and Guarry's death ruled a suicide.  But--is that what really happened?

Sadly, Irene has a confession for Andre, which she professes will kill his love for her--forever.

Andre forgives Irene, with a recovered but still arrogant and delusional Pierre looking on enviously.

With this slick, stylish melodrama the Silent films of both Greta Garbo and MGM studios ended. Urban legend has it that there was panic about the star's voice.  Not true.  Greta Garbo had a deep, throaty, and still slightly accented voice--but it's timbre was pleasant. Her days of playing Arden Stuarts and Lillie Sterlings were definitely done, but greater things lay ahead.
Greta was set to take on her first talkie:  the lead role in Eugene O'Neill's hit play "Anna Christie" which had been both a Broadway smash hit and a silent film starring Blanche Sweet in 1923. Savvy businesswoman that Garbo was, she'd had it written into her contract before making "The Kiss".

June 18, 2015

Age of Adaline's Clock-Stopping Style


In The Age of Adaline, Oscar winning Costume designer, Angus Strathie, used both vintage and haute couture  fashion to dress Blake Lively for  her incredible journey through the Twentieth Century--and beyond.

 Poster showing Adaline through the decades.

The movie begins in 1972. A library archivist is assigned a box of film reels depicting the history of the San Francisco Bay area. One of these tells the story of Adaline Bowman, born in 1908.

Ombre striped turtleneck by Gucci


In 1925, while walking with her mother, Adaline meets a young engineer who gallantly retrieves her hat, blown away by San Francisco Bay breezes.

Late 1920s chic worn by Adaline and her mother

Adaline and the  dashing engineer are married in 1931 with all the  elegance of a traditional ceremony.

Beautiful bridal wear circa 1931

And, soon after, have a bouncing baby daughter.

Early 1930s fashions and headgear


One night, in the late 1930s, while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, Adaline's car plummets into the ocean during a freak snowstorm. Although she survives, the accident has bizarre consequences. Adaline stops aging and will remain 29 years old--seemingly forever.

Blake Lively on the set, wearing a Vintage sweater and skirt

Widowed,  and with a young daughter, Adaline's life continues fairly normally through the World War II years.

Post-war celebrations--and first glimpse of a burgundy velvet gown...

Fortunately, shrewd investments in a fledgling company named Xerox  will secure Adaline's financial future.

Blake Lively as Adaline investing at the Bank c. 1940s

By the early 1950s, Adaline's never-aging face and body begin to draw attention from old friends.

Adaline and her daughter, looking like sisters:  1950s

When a routine traffic check by the police draws attention to the fact that she is forty-nine years old, Adaline begins to panic.

Adaline in 1950s hair and makeup.

A year of personal research at a medical college library garners no explanation of--or solutions to--Adaline's condition.

Geometric gray and white sweater with slim black pants

After being detained by FBI Agents and escaping from their custody, Adaline realizes she will be forced to run and change her identity regularly.

Stylish in her rain gear--Adaline has a close call with the Feds in the mid-1950s


In 1963, Adaline meets a young medical student in Europe.  They fall in love but she can neither commit to him nor explain the reason why.

Pre 'mad mod' 1960s casual wear on both Adaline and William (Anthony Ingruber)

You guessed it!  The library archivist is Adaline herself. What better job and place of employment in which to maintain a low profile?

Pretty ombre striped turtleneck by Gucci

Living in Chinatown has its perks:  anonymity; crowds in which to lose oneself and skilled forgers to whip up those ever-changing Identity cards.

Topped with the de rigeur 1970s Earth-toned coat and accessories

Adaline is still close to her daughter (Ellen Burstyn), and tries to talk her out of moving into an Assisted Living facility.

Ellen Burstyn and Blake Lively in Gucci

This way, they can continue to spend more time together. (Please to ignore the cell phone--it's only the 1980s).

Adaline in olive, charcoal and black Gucci ensemble

The 1990s pass quietly:  studying Braille on the Library steps...

Kate Spade cardigan and Gucci printed dress

lunching with her daughter...

Gucci tweed suit accessorized with ear bobs and pretty flower brooch

...and spending quality time with her pooch.


Flash forward to the present. It's New Years Eve and yet another birthday looms for Adaline.

For the evening's festivities she chooses a backless burgundy velvet gown with black sequined waistline detail. 

Adaline arrives in a burgundy evening gown

Hmmm.  Methinks we've seen this dress before. Back in the 1940s when the war ended.  How it lasted so many decades is puzzling.  Great looking gown, though.

Closer view of the NYE dress

Adaline sees a historic photo of herself and a couple of soldier boys, on the wall of the hotel--wearing the selfsame burgundy velvet number. Time to go home.

A truly great dress looks as good leaving as it does entering

As Adaline steps into the elevator to leave, a handsome young man joins her, just for the ride down.

Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) chats up our girl in the Art Deco elevator

This great looking guy just won't take "No" for an answer. Why is life so difficult?

Waiting for a taxi in a fabulously flared Gucci coat

Pure style--his and hers: exquisitely tailored greatcoat from Gucci offset by navy three-piece suit

Ah c'mon Adaline!  This one has it all. Grab another Gucci out of that enormous closet and give him a chance.

Blake Lively in a gorgeous border print coat

Ellis Jones even tells really bad jokes.  On the condition that if you laugh, you're promising to see him again.

What will become of our star-crossed lovers?  Ellis will take Adaline to meet his parents.  She will discover that a long lost astronomer named a Comet after her.  How do you follow an act like that?  Hang in there, Ellis! It will be dicey, but you may stand a chance yet...

Blake Lively in pure gold from Gucci

Ah Adaline.  We've come so far together, and, you look marvelous for 107!
Since film, fashion & frivolity reveals no endings--see the movie.  It's definitely worth a look.  The makeup and hairdos for each decade are both accurate and spectacular; the Gucci gear elegant; and...there's a generation defying love story to top it all off.