Fashions of 1934 (1934)

 Run Time: 78 min. | b/w
Director: William Dieterle
Stars: w. William Powell, Bette Davis, Frank McHugh, Verree Teasdale
 Genres: Comedy | Drama | Musical
Sometimes, Warner Bros. threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Here, we even have a Busby Berkeley production number as Powell and loyal sidekick Davis elbow their way into Paris haute couture.


  1. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 9:06 am

    FASHIONS OF 1934 (Warner Brothers, 1934), directed by William Dieterle, is a light comedy that pairs debonair William Powell for the one and only time opposite the very young but unrecognizable Bette Davis. Although an unlikely pair, there isn't much chemistry between them. It is also surprising for a first time viewer to find Bette in platinum blonde shoulder length hair supported with heavy eye lashes and lipstick. One can only imagine Davis detesting such an assignment having her look more like a department store mannequin than herself, but it was one of many such "nothing" film roles before the studio would know what to do with her. In spite of it being labeled a musical, Davis does not sing a note nor dance, but the movie itself does consist of one lavish production number, choreographed by Busby Berkeley, which needs to be seen to be believed, but otherwise, worth the price of admission. On and all, FASHIONS OF 1934 (TV and video title: FASHIONS), solely relies on comedy and its presentation of the latest fashions, which were probably never seen again after this movie finished its theatrical run.

    The story opens with Sherwood Nash (Powell), a smooth operator who can talk his way in and out of anything, being evicted from his Golden Harvest Investment Corporation for back payment of rent. While his furniture is being moved out, Nash encounters Lynn Mason (Bette Davis), a fashion designer seeking employment. Looking over her drawn sketches, Nash, finding Lynn to be very talented, decides to pursue another kind of racket, that as a fashion swindler. He uses theatrical methods to steal dress designs from famous designers and presenting them to potential buyers at cut-rate prices. After getting caught, Lynn, Nash and Snap (Frank McHugh), Nash's girl-chasing partner, shipboard their way to Paris to get the latest designs. Trying to come up with new and original ideas, Nash meets and befriends Joe Ward (Hugh Herbert), a California feather merchant hoping to interest designers into using more ostrich feathers on their creations. With the help of his former girlfriend, Mabel Maguire (Verree Teasdale), posing as the Grand Duchess Alix, a Russian noblewoman, presently engaged to designer Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen), Nash arranges to get revue and fashion show together featuring the Grand Duchess Alix. Nash meets further complications when there is a possibility that Lynn might walk out on him, and of he being exposed by Baroque, who wants to ruin him.

    FASHIONS OF 1934 very much belongs to Powell, quite amusing and self-confident man. His performance itself never disappoints. The fashion show is preceded by a Busby Berkeley number, "Spin a Little Web of Dreams" (music and lyrics by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain), as sung by Verree Teasdale. It highlights several chorus girls as human harps and others in pre-production code bikinis, exposing more skin of the female body than any other Berkeley number has up to that time. However, the heavy blonde wigs the semi-nude girls wear make them appear older than their actual youthful ages. And of course, in true Berkeley tradition, the girls in ostrich feather gowns form themselves into one large blooming rose.

    In the supporting cast are Philip Reed as Jimmy Blake, a struggling songwriter in love with Lynn; Gordon Westcott and Dorothy Burgess as a couple of swindlers working for Nash in the early portion of the story; Henry O'Neill, Etienne Girardot and George Humbert as famous fashion designers who have their designs stolen by Nash; Hobart Cavanaugh as a man with a box of dancing worms; and Jane Darwell in a small role as a patron during the fashion show sequence. And then there is that Frank McHugh laugh, especially while either looking at some "naughty girlie photographs" or encountering them in the flesh.

    FASHIONS OF 1934 is enjoyable fluff from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and would be recommended to those who enjoy watching pre-code production movies. Formerly presented on commercial television's WPHL, Channel 17, in Philadelphia prior to 1974, and available on video cassette in the mid 1980s from Matinée Classics, it can be seen occasionally on late night Turner Classic Movies.(***)

  2. tfsadmin

    August 1, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Despite its garish title, "Fashions of 1934" is actually a pretty decent movie, certainly better than the bad reputation it’s stuck with. Armed with a snappy script and fast paced direction, the actors in "Fashions" shine, showing off their abilities, whether they be comedic, dramatic or both. William Powell makes a good old rascal, the decent "un decent" man that was a virtual staple at Warner Bros. (the studio who produced this film) at the time. Bette Davis, all glammed up in red lipstick and classy dresses, shows off a rare ability for humor, fitting right in to the film’s light hearted tone. As Powell’s sidekick, Frank McHugh almost steals the show, mastering and even rising above the script’s punchlines by exaggerated facial expressions and crude but effective slapstick. "Fashions of 1934" isn’t a comedy classic nor does it aim to be one. It simply wants to entertain the audience with good humor, effective acting and direction that moves things along at a quick pace. By all accounts, it has succeeded.

  3. tfsadmin

    August 1, 2017 at 9:06 am

    A previous reviewer called this film "dated". I'm always rather amused by such a comment. Of course it's dated–the film was made in 1933! That's precisely what makes it so charming. It's a slice of Americana, circa 1933, that you are unlikely to find in any other way. The music, the fashions, the decor, even Busby Berkely's over-the-top, wonderful production number all add up to a fantastic glimpse of our past. The art deco sets alone are worth the price of admission (which on TCM is free!). Throw in some marvelously talented actors who may not have been doing their best work–but they were entertaining just the same–and you have a simply marvelous little piece of cinematic magic. And that tune–"Spin a Little Web of Dreams"–I can't get it out of my head!

  4. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 9:06 am

    A genial racketeer and his assorted companions hope to become very rich by stealing the FASHIONS OF 1934.

    Here is another example of the Pre-Code comedy crime caper film which Warner Bros. seemed to produce so effortlessly in the early 1930’s. Featuring good production values, witty dialogue, slick acting & utterly inconsequential in actual value, these movies were sure to be crowd pleasers and theater fillers.

    Affably sophisticated, William Powell is a fine crook, a rogue the movie audience can feel comfortable rooting for. He makes his life of larceny seem almost casual. Playing his artistic associate, Bette Davis not only scores in the acting department (admittedly not very demanding), but she also looks fabulous, an instant refutation to anyone who ever thought she never looked glamorous on the screen. Through all the fluff & feathers she drops a few hints to the talent she would eventually unleash.

    The supporting cast is very commendable. Whimsical Hugh Herbert, as the California Ostrich King, gets to showcase his quirky humor. Frank McHugh scores as Powell’s haplessly lecherous gofer. Lovely Verree Teasdale stirs up the plot as a Russian noblewoman who is not all she seems. Blustery Reginald Owen is a French couturier who runs afoul of Powell; Henry O’Neill and chittering little Etienne Girardot are New York fashion designers who also are confronted by the gang’s duplicitous dealings. Handsome Philip Reed is the talented musician who is Powell’s romantic rival for Bette’s affections.

    Movie mavens will spot Arthur Treacher as Miss Teasdale’s butler, Jane Darwell as an enthusiastic Parisian customer & Hobart Cavanaugh, hilarious in the film’s final moments as a desperate worm breeder; all appear uncredited.

    One of the film’s greatest assets is a musical production number created by the legendary Busby Berkeley. Meant to showcase ostrich feathers, ‘Spin A Little Web Of Dreams’ is a dazzler with Busby’s trademark identical blonde showgirls whirling through complicated circular movements & patterns. It is one of his most charming successes.

    Mention should be made of Orry-Kelly’s fashions, which really are quite special.

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