20 Aug 2015

Women He's Undressed - film review

From At The Movies, 7:50 pm on 20 August 2015

Women He's Undressed - directed by Gillian Armstrong.

Simon Morris reviews the documentary Women He's Undressed, about the hugely successful Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly.

If you’re a fan of Hollywood in the glamorous Thirties, Forties and Fifties, you’ll probably be firmly in the middle of the target audience for Women He's Undressed. It’s a documentary about the man who dressed most of the top stars of the period, one Orry-Kelly.

Unfortunately, the director of Women He's Undressed, Australian Gillian Armstrong, may not have been the best person for the job. She admits that she knew very little about the former Australian, and berated her countrymen and women for being equally ignorant.  

 Orry-Kelly’s Hollywood colleagues were frankly bemused. While costume designers are absolutely essential to the look of a great movie star, they’re seldom known outside the industry.

Orry’s work-rate was astonishing – over 280 films, and often films that required dozens of outfits. However it was the movies themselves that marked him out. Orry made his name in the big, black-and-white musicals of Warner Brothers – the likes of 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 – that were most famous for the kaleidoscopic dance numbers of Busby Berkeley. The range of Orry’s work was phenomenal – pirate movies, dramas, technicolour musicals, and later his masterpiece - Some Like It Hot.

The stories behind the frocks are fascinating: how Orry-Kelly negotiated the prickly egos - and the physical imperfections - of the likes of Bette Davis, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe. 

Unfortunately Orry-Kelly’s taste was limited to his marvellous costumes, it seems. Like many of his Hollywood colleagues, his own life was a bit of a trainwreck. So I’m not sure if I’m complimenting the movie when I suggest that he would probably have loved it.