Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bette Davis Month Bonus: 'Fashions of 1934' (1934)

Bette Davis is in bland glamour-girl mode in the amusing trifle Fashions of 1934, and while she rightly complained about being miscast and wasted in an insubstantial role, the movie itself has a certain charm. William Powell stars as Sherwood Nash, a dashing con artist who sets his sights on the fashion world after his latest investment scheme falls through. To that end he enlists Davis' Lynn Mason, an aspiring fashion designer with a knack for copying the latest couture designs from Paris. Nash starts out by selling knock-off designs to discount stores, and then incurs the wrath of high-end fashion retailers. So he gets them to hire him to spy on Paris couture, and the movie heads to Europe. But Nash's spying business quickly shifts into a scheme to put on a musical revue, which then shifts again to Nash opening up his own fashion house.

At one point Lynn complains that she wishes Nash would just stick to one scheme, and that's the movie's problem as well, constantly shifting focus so that it crams in several movies' worth of plot in its 78-minute running time. When Nash mounts his musical revue, the movie stops dead for several minutes to stage a lovely Busby Berkeley musical number that looks gorgeous but has essentially nothing to do with the rest of the film. Despite the choppy pacing, the movie is still fun to watch, thanks mostly to Powell's entertaining performance as the smooth-talking Nash, who charms his friends and enemies equally, and manages to balance several women while constantly stringing Lynn along.

Playing the ever-faithful girlfriend is not exactly Davis' strong suit, and she does solid but unremarkable work here. Verree Teasdale gets the juicier female part as a fellow con artist who's posing as a European aristocrat and has a very flirtatious relationship with Nash. Davis could have nailed that role (although Teasdale does fine), but instead she just bats her eyelashes and pouts. It's a throwaway part in a throwaway movie, but both the performance and the film are entertaining enough while they last.

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