Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past


All About Busby: 'Fashions of 1934'

Bookmark and Share
Friday, Nov 18, 2011
Not a Musical...and Not What You Think
cover art

Fashions of 1934

Director: William Dieterle
Cast: William Powell, Bette Davis

(USDVD release date: 11 Oct 2011)

Fashions of 1934 is not a musical. Mind you, that doesn’t stop it from pulling off a spectacularly feathery, leggy number from Busby Berkley’s high period, complete with overhead geometries and women dressed up as harps. Without being as long and elaborate as his work in 42nd Street or the Gold Digger series or the great Footlight Parade, it’s still one of his signature offspring of the soundstage, the editing room and the fever dream that pretends to be somehow performed live in a theatre. There it is, bursting from the movie and Berkley’s camera like several dozen Dianas from the head of Jupiter while the viewer stares. Berkley also seems to have staged the climactic fashion show, which looks as if it’s about to burst into song any minute. Despite all this, the movie’s not a musical; it’s one of Warner Brothers’ snappy, fast-talking pre-Code comedies.

The plot is tailor-made for William Powell as a charming, conniving near-grifter who exploits the fashion industry by landing a gig in Paris to steal the latest designs for New York companies. For what perfunctory romance is required, blonde Bette Davis stands around simmering in the kind of role that drove her crazy for wasting her time when she wanted to star in meaty parts. She has nothing to do, but at least she’s as sharp and modern and brainy as Powell, and they’re surrounded by stalwart character comics like Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh. But it’s that Berkley bauble, dropped into the middle of this bubble bath like Cleopatra’s sinuously overfurnished yacht, that’s all anyone is likely to remember.

The onscreen title is Fashions, from when the print was later retitled to avoid being out-of-date. This is the kind of minor title you’d ordinarily have to wait to see when it’s aired on Turner Classic Movies, yet now it’s a recent release in Warner Archives’ made-on-demand series of DVD-R’s.


Related Articles
22 Mar 2015
Rope of Sand, Dark City, and Union Station each extend the shadowy reach of film noir.
7 Aug 2014
Warner Archive has offered up a version of the 1955 version of "Kismet", which contrasts nicely with its 1944 counterpart.
By PopMatters Staff
21 Jun 2012
PopMatters follows up our hugely popular 100 Essential Female and Male Performances feature and 2010 update with 50 additions to the essentials list. Part five features Charles Laughton, Madeline Kahn and more...
By PopMatters Staff
17 Jun 2012
PopMatters follows up our hugely popular Essential Female and Male Performances feature with 50 additions to the essentials list. Watch this space for the next two weeks as we bring to your screen more iconic film performances. Today's highlights include Lucille Ball and John Barrymore.
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2015 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.