Sunday, September 25, 2011

Interiors on Film - The Women

L to R : Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford,
Rosalind Russell.

The Women has got to be one of my favorite films; I can watch it over and over and be entertained as if it were the first time and not the tenth.  I'm speaking of the 1939 original with an all star, all female, cast headed by Rosalind Russell, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford, not the rehash with Meg Ryan and Annette Benning.  I refuse to see the updated version because I feel it would anger and upset me since the George Cukor directed original was perfection. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the story is a simple one of adultery and situational comedy; a New York wife and mother discovers through Beauty Salon gossip that her husband has been stepping out with a department store perfume girl.  Humiliated and depressed, she flees to Nevada to get a divorce.  While there, she is introduced to a variety of colorful women, all with man trouble of their own, who will inspire her to fight tooth and nail to get her husband back, if that is what she really wants.  Of course the story ends well with the happy reunion of the estranged couple and the ousting to the trollop. 

What makes this film stand out, besides the acting, writing and beautiful Adrian costumes, are the beautiful 'contemporary' sets designed by MGM's Cedric Gibbons; and for a design junkie like myself, wonderful interiors can make up for a multitude of sins, not that The Women has any.  Gibbons transports us from chic salons and glossy city apartments to Colonial country homes and nouveau riche man-traps without leaving the comforts of a sound stage in Culver City, Ca.  While I adore beautiful locations, there's still magic in conjuring an exotic land or beautiful boudoir in an airplane hangar or a studio back lot.  Gibbons most definitely has that movie magic we all love to crave, and the few images I could dig up from this iconic film illustrate that talent beautifully.

- Ian

Sydney's Salon, where our story opens.  The film had wonderful nods to surrealism
in it's costumes and sets, as seen here with the trompe l'oeil landscape walls
and the hand holding the crystal ball.  I also love the sweeping staircase, for
purely selfish and decadent reasons.
One of Adrian's many costumes with Surrealist influences (if you need a hint, it's the three
disembodied, stylized eyes).  Designers like Elsa Schiaparelli were finding
inspiration in artists like Salvador Dali at the time.

Mary Haines' (Shearer) City Apartment.  Two things infatuate me with this interior.
One -  That Blackamoore Cachepot.  In the film, it's seen overflowing with flowers.
I wonder what happened to it?  Because I really, really, want it.

Two - The liberal use of quilting.  Not only is the furniture done in
quilted fabric, but look at the drapes!  Floor to ceiling box quilting.
It's genius.  Total genius.  I want to replicate it for a project.
The Haines Country House.  I know it's a set.  I know it's synthesized reality.
But I really want to have a Colonial home with a powder room large enough to
have a Sheraton desk, a Ladder back chair and a floor to ceiling built in
corner cabinet to display my collection of cut crystal decanters (which I am also,
currently, without).  And dig that wallpaper!  It's fab!

Apparently, this look became known as 'Hollywood Colonial'.  Think Mr. Blandings, or
even the season where Lucy moved to Connecticut.  Beautiful early American and Georgian
architecture mixes with 20th century furnishings to create the look. 

The Kitchen in the Country House.  Utterly charming with its painted brick and
frilled curtains.

You know a Set Designer was responsible for this work.  A lovely
painted stair, dark wood floors, pictorial wallpaper (loving that) and a
striking bay window configuration at the foot of the landing.

Crystal's (Crawford) man-trap of a bathroom.  Imagine what the rest of the home
looks like!  As garish as it is, I am fascinated by that glass bathtub with it's
wave base.  And check out that lyre shaped towel holder!

A view through Crystals bath and into her Boudoir.  Look at the sliver of bed!
The serpentine bed spread trimmed with tassels is really rather nice.  I love the telephone
stretched to Crystal's bath tray.  You can tell she'll be marinating for a few hours. 
And that silk head rest is killing me!

The Ladies Lounge, home to the films final showdown between Crystal and Mary.
Deeply tufted furnishings, fringes, mirrored tables and a city view create the mood
of late Deco opulence and feminine beauty.  I also love that Gibbons has created
opportunitues for grand entries in all of his sets with architectural elements emphasize
the theatrical qualities of his interiors.

Details of the Lounge are incredible.  The doors are silver leaf!  With crystal knobs!
The vanities are Chinoiserie in inspiration, but the legs are Lucite and the tops mirrored!
The wall mirrors are topped with a Pagoda crown!  How utterly decadent.

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