Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Ten MGM Musicals

1. An American in Paris (1951)

How could this film be anything less than number one, With music by Gershwin, choreography by Gene Kelly, direction by Vincente Minnelli, produced by Arthur Freed and Roger Edens, and the film debut of Leslie Caron? This musical has a simple but poignant, an elegant and lovely set (with scenes from famous French paintings), and lighthearted in its approach to entertainment. As Kelly sings in “I Got Rhythm,” “Who could ask for anything more?”

2. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Judy Garland at her most fabulous. Youthful but mature, she carries the film with her grace and energy, and Minnelli’s direction makes the film lovely to look at over and over again. The supporting cast is a fantastic ensemble, with young Margaret O’Brien as a both funny and heartbreaking standout. The film also debuted a number of classic songs, including “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

3. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Gene Kelly’s career triumph, he directed and choreographed the film as well as starred in the singing/dancing/acting lead. Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor are unforgettable and Jean Hagen is stellar as the not-so-well spoken Lina Lamont. Cyd Charisse also smolders her way into the finale ballet. The songs (written in the 1920s by Freed and Brown) and storyline make this film not only a piece of movie history but a self conscious record of it, chronicling the shift from silent film pantomime to the modern sound movie.

4. Gigi (1958)

Another gorgeous Minnelli musical, with a standout Lerner and Loewe score, this film was the last gasp of the Golden Age of the MGM musical, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1958. Leslie Caron is completely absorbed in the character of the young Gigi and the audience is barely disappointed by the lack of dancing in the film. Colette’s story is the perfect fodder for movie musicals and Caron, along with Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Ginghold, and Louis Jordan sell it all the way.

5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The oldest of the films on the list, and one of the earliest in Technicolor, this film boast perhaps the most talented ensemble cast in the history of the musical. Even though the film was made more than sixty years ago, the costumes, songs, sets, and even effects have stood the test of time. Timeless and classic, it is one of the greatest films of all time, not to mention musicals.

6. The Band Wagon (1953)

A story of an aging Hollywood hoofer and an uptight ballerina coming to terms with each other and of course falling in love, The Band Wagon is just plain fun. Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire seem just made to dance together and again Minnelli ensures that the eye candy for the audience. Michael Kidd makes a notable scene appearance and the song, “That’s Entertainment!” makes its onscreen debut.

7. Easter Parade (1948)

A perfect integration of song and dance in a musical, Easter Parade takes you back to the days of vaudeville. Judy Garland is possibly at her most hilarious in this film. Astaire shines in his trick photography, “Stepping out with My Baby,” and Ann Miller wows in “Shakin' the Blues Away.” A perfect showcase for the classic upbeat tunes of Irving Berlin.

8. On the Town (1949)

The first musical to be shot on location, On the Town was Gene Kelly’s attempt to push the boundaries of the film musical. Many scenes were shot in New York City adding an authenticity to the story. Another film in the popular Kelly/Sinatra series, the supporting cast is also standout, including Vera Ellen and Ann Miller.

9. High Society (1956)

A crooner’s musical, we see a rare teaming of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in this adaptation of The Philadelphia Story. Grace Kelly, though she doesn’t sing or dance, adds star power to the film, while the guest appearances by Louis Armstrong are an entertaining treat.

10. Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)

Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire star in this classic, “hoofer” musical. Resplendent in black and white the Cole Porter songs are highlighted by the number “Begin the Beguine,” which is a tap dance lover’s dream.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ann Miller in Easter Parade (1948)

Ann Miller was the dynamo of the MGM musical. She had spunk! A tap dancer by training, she also was an appealing all-around entertainer. It was rumored that she had a long-standing affair with Louis B Mayer, the head of the studio, but clearly that connection never got her anything except supporting roles. Despite that, her solos are some of the most memorable numbers in the history of the Hollywood musical.

One of her best, Shakin’ the Best Away, appears in Easter Parade from 1948. This film is really not about Easter at all and is a love quadrangle between three vaudeville review performers and their lawyer friend. The story takes place in the 1920s and features most of Irving Berlin’s best songs. It stars Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, but the male lead was supposed to be Gene Kelly before he broke his ankle playing sports. This number that Ann performs is a fantastic example of American tap dance at its best.

Of course, her costume, taken literally, is not wearable today. But I think there are elements that we can utilize to create an Ann Miller-inspired outfit that works for a variety of occasions. Here is what I was looking for going in to designing this look: yellow skirt, shiny black sleeveless halter top, strappy retro black shoes and tights with embellishments.

Here is my interpretation:

Shirt: Ann Taylor, Halter Top with Rosette Trim, on sale for $49.99
Skirt: Anthropologie, Painted Morning Skirt, $88
Tights: Hue, Ornamental Tights in Black, $20
Shoes: Ann Taylor, Megan T-Strap Peeptoe Pump, on sale for $47.99
Total: $205.98

I love the skirts from Anthropologie and this one reminds me of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings as well as Ann’s routine and the movement of her dancing. Once I found this lovely piece, the rest really fell into place. This halter top from Ann Taylor has some floral elements and shine, which really dress up this otherwise daytime skirt, but it is modest for a halter top and not too vampy.

Of course, tights with embroidery so far up on the thigh would be nearly impossible to find and not practical anyway, but these tights with the embellishments on the ankle/calf area are super-cute and continue making this outfit more dressy. The T-Straps here are really lovely and give a 1948-feel to the whole outfit.

I would wear this to a dinner function, reception or other evening event. The whole ensemble strikes the right balance between sexy and professional, daytime and nighttime, comfortable but elegant. I enjoyed this outfit because if I had started with a yellow skirt like this without a vision in mind, I would have styled this skirt for daytime office wear. But, following Anne’s model, I was able to put this skirt into a new context and create and interesting evening look.

Are there daytime items in your closet that you could put together with some shiny, embellished pieces to dress them up for nighttime?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Leslie Caron in Daddy Long Legs (1955)

I recently took a trip to New Orleans and was cruising the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and I found tons of old movies on VHS for $1 each, many of which I had never seen before. (For those of you not familiar with the Re-Store, Habitat for Humanity runs these architectural salvage stores in various locations all over the country. I love to support them because I always find great deals on cool fixer-upper house items, I get to help a great non-profit organization, and this keeps the salvaged materials out of landfills and gives them new life.)

Anyway, one of the tapes I got for $1 was Daddy Long Legs with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. (My very first post on Hollywood Fashion Vault was Leslie Caron from An American in Paris.) The movie itself is a bit under-whelming but the fashion is amazing! I read online that Leslie Caron chose to put together all of her outfits herself for this movie. What a combination of mid-1950s fashion and her French gamine sensibility. There are many great outfits from this movie and I will probably do more of them, but one of the most wearable looks is from a dream dance sequence with Fred Astaire.

Leslie wears a black and white striped shirt with black pants and bien sur – toe shoes. She also wears a blue scarf around her waist.

Here is my interpretation:

Shirt: The Limited, Lace with Stripe Tee, $39.90
Belt: The Limited, Obi Belt in Red, $34.90
Pants:, DKNYC Skinny Pants in Black $89
Shoes:, Vestry Leg Tie Ballet Flat in Pink, $36
Total: $187.97

For my version, I selected a pair of comfortable looking skinny pants. I “spent” a bit more of my virtual budget on those because I feel like you would need to pay more to make sure you are getting a quality cut and flattering fit.

Then I found this cute top from The Limited, which mimics Leslie’s top because the stripes don’t start until below the shoulder. I like that this top adds even more femininity with the lace overlay and the short puffy sleeves. Also from The Limited I selected this red obi belt instead of a blue scarf. In fact, in the movie posters, they colored Leslie’s scarf red instead of blue, so I am picking up on that. The wide obi belt will help manage the transition from tucked-in shirt to skinny pants and accentuate the waistline. Both of these items are on sale at The Limited.

Lastly, I wanted to have pretty literal interpretation of the ballet flat. These from are perfect with a pink satin sheen and lovely ankle ties and the price was great. I love the idea of subtly combining red and pink in an outfit.

While I think this outfit would be incredibly cute on someone who has a ballet dancers build, I am not sure it would work for me. I would totally wear the shirt and belt with a pair of black trousers or a black skirt, but I would honestly never wear those skinny pants. As someone who is 5 foot flat and is struggling to lose baby weight, they just aren’t for me. So, to that end, I took the elements of this outfit and turned it into a more wearable look for those of us without a Leslie Caron body.

Here goes:

Shirt: The Limited, Lace with Stripe Tee, $39.90
Belt: The Limited, Obi Belt in Red, $34.90
Pants: J. Jill, Stretch Linen Wide Leg Pants, $71.20 with online 20% off entire purchase deal
Shoes: Lori’s Shoes, Rocket Dog Madellats in Pink, on sale for $24.90
Total: $170.90

To modify this look to be flattering for more than a minority of readers, I switch out the skinny pants for a black linen trouser. This gives a more forgiving line but retains that freedom of movement, so you feel like you could dance in them. This switch made the gorgeous ankle strap ballet flats a moot point because you wouldn’t be able to appreciate that detail. So, I also switch out for a simpler pink flat that still has a bit of a satin textured feel.

You would still tuck the shirt in and use the belt to meld the two together. The best part is that this outfit still has all of the whimsical French appeal but it is even cheaper than my original styling – over $17 cheaper. To me this version of the outfit is more applicable to a variety of situations. For instance, I would wear the second outfit to work but never the first one, even if it looked good on my frame.

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)

My husband is a huge fan of film noir. I am lukewarm about the genre. But Double Indemnity is film noir at its best. Real suspense, gorgeous lightning and photography and of course a true femme fatale – played by Barbara Stanwyck.

Before I talk more about Barbara, I wanted to mention that this very serious film is directed by Billy Wilder, who is best known as a prolific screenwriter for such goofball comedies as Some Like It Hot and the Apartment. (He also wrote Ball of Fire which also starred Barbara Stanwyck.) The leading man is Fred MacMurray who, for my generation, is best known for Disney classics like The Shaggy Dog and Flubber. Maybe this is why this film sticks out to me as more entertaining than most film noir, because the cast had more diverse experience beyond just noir film. Perhaps they also, all coming from the world of comedy, had a sense of humor about this serious form of filmmaking.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, who the audience can tell is bad news from the start. MacMurray’s character is completely blind to this fact, of course, which is how he gets duped by her. Phyllis Dietrichson is a real sociopath, manipulating multiple situations without a mind to the consequences for others. What is really interesting to me is why we find this behavior fascinating rather than repulsive. Perhaps we all secretly wish to act this way and these films give us an outlet for secret selfish drives.

Of course, Barbara is dressed wonderfully as Phyllis. What I love about Barbara Stanwyck is the simplicity with which she dresses. Usually she works with easy separates that are possible for us to put together today. Despite her fresh, modern sensibility in her style, Barbara’s style still retains a retro-1940s feel.

This outfit that Barbara wears during a pivotal scheming scene in the film embodies this signature simplicity. In the film itself, it is very dark but I believe she is wearing wide-leg pants. The same outfit is referenced on many of the promotional materials for the movie but she is wearing an a-line skirt. I liked the skirt for this blog post, but you could easily substitute in some wide-leg trousers.

Here is my interpretation:

Sweater: Guess via YOOX, Pink Sweater, $85
Belt: Cole Haan, Village Soft Skinney Rectangle Belt, $38
Skirt: Macy’s Studio M, Ponte Flounce Pencil Skirt in Black, on sale for $19.99
Shoes: Aldo, Deperro Pump in Black, on clearance for $44.98
Total: $187.97

The film is black and white, but I took my cue from the movie poster and chose pink for the boatneck sweater. For me it was important that it was very simple with no ribbing or cable knit. The boatneck was crucial too to make this look work.

The three other pieces are simple, classic and black, which make them all good wardrobe staples. This ponte skirt is a great price and also looks like you could move in the way that Barbara does on the movie poster. The belt is very high quality (Cole Haan) and classy for a great price. And the shoes are just amazing. A flat black penny loafer pump with a 4 inch heel for only $44.98! All three of these supporting pieces would be great investments and could be remixed endlessly for work outfits.

The key to styling this outfit would be to tuck in the sweater (something almost no one does nowadays) and then belt the skirt slightly lower than the top of the skirt. If you wanted to, you could up the retro feel of this by wearing seamed stockings. Alternatively, you could tone down the retro by wearing black pantyhose and throwing on a black jacket.

I love that there is not much jewelry or frills in this look but it still has a lot of personality and style. If you wore this outfit to the office, would anyone suspect that you are modeling your look on a sociopath femme fatale?


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