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Women He's Undressed - Film Review

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by Jenny Esots (subscribe)
A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published August 1st 2015
Relive the Golden Age of Hollywood
Women He's Undressed is documentary about the life of the Australian costume designer and three time Oscar winner Orry-Kelly. It also serves as a potted history of Hollywood in the golden era of the 30's and 40's and into the 50's.

Women He's Undressed
Women He's Undressed

Orry-Kelly' story is told via direct to camera segments by actors playing Orry and his beloved mother. Gillian Armstrong constructs his life and inspirations mainly chronologically. We hear of his first trip to see a pantomime when he is seven and from then on he is hooked on the stage and screen.

Directed by Gillian Armstrong
Directed by Gillian Armstrong

We travel with Orry as he takes on New York, Hollywood, the army and his time in rehab. Although it was not called rehab in those days, but a trip to the sanatorium. There are glorious images of his film costumes. The gowns for his leading ladies Bette Davis, Kay Francis, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Dolores del Río, Ava Gardner, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman and Merle Oberon.

Pictured: Shirley MacLaine in IRMA LA DOUCE (1963) - Costumes by Orry-Kelly.
Pictured: Shirley MacLaine in IRMA LA DOUCE (1963) - Costumes by Orry-Kelly.

His costume credits are like a who's who of Hollywood in films such as 42nd Street, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Arsenic and Old Lace, Harvey, Oklahoma!, Auntie Mame, and Some Like It Hot. His work showcased the mood of the film, the style of the actor and showed a unique flair for the use of colour.

Gillian Armstrong with Leonard Maltin. 'Women He's Undressed'
Gillian Armstrong with Leonard Maltin. 'Women He's Undressed'

The expose of life in Hollywood is also told via film historians and acquaintances of Orry. Angela Lansbury and Jane Fonda do a particularly good job of their recollections.

Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly in Gillian Armstrong's 'Women He's Undressed'
Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly in Gillian Armstrong's 'Women He's Undressed'

Uncovering the life of Orry involved a lot of research as Gillian Armstrong relates "The more we researched, the more things came out about Orry's life, and about living in that whole Golden Age of Hollywood. He was the head of costume design at Warners through that absolute Golden Age of cinema from 1932 [to] 1945. Many people consider that was a period where some of the most amazing films were made."

Women He's Undressed
Women He's Undressed

The main sub plot revolves around Orry as always being upfront about his homosexuality, when everyone in Hollywood was not. The documentary is able to show the immense restrictions placed on all involved to deny any mention of their homosexuality. One could argue not much has changed.

Orry was a boy from Kiama in New South Wales. The narrative of the documentary shows the actor Darren Gilshenan as Orry-Kelly in a little red boat. In different scenes he is seen rowing to different destinations, with different set ups. This seems a bit too contrived and did not gel with the historical side of things. The bookend scene of a funeral book however is a masterstroke.

Relive the Golden Age of Hollywood. When film studios were Gods and films were cherished. Actors were worshipped and revered despite peoples own realities being quite different things throughout the depression and world war two. This documentary brings to light a forgotten Australian who until recently held the title for the most Oscars by an Australian.

'Women I've Undressed: A Memoir' by Orry-Kelly out now through Random House Books Australia
'Women I've Undressed: A Memoir' by Orry-Kelly out now through Random House Books Australia

For the record he received his Oscars in costume design for the films An American in Paris, Les Girls and Some Like it Hot and he was nominated for a fourth for Gypsy. He has costume credits for over 300 films, such was the movie-making machine of the studios in the 30's and 40's.

He died alone and struggled with alcoholism for a lot of his career. This is less acknowledged in the film. A memoir that is alluded to in the documentary has just been released and published by Random House Australia.
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Why? Classic Hollywood revealed
When: Showing now
Where: In all good cinemas
Your Comment
ORRY-KELLY: DRESSING HOLLYWOOD exhibition opens at ACMI this week! Featuring original costumes, Oscar statues, sketches and more, this exhibition, the first ever to celebrate Orry-Kelly's life and career, pays tribute to the legendary Hollywood costume designer and genuine Aussie larkin.
A MUST SEE and it's FREE!
VISIT:…/cu…/orry-kelly-dressing-hollywood/ for more information..This is a Melbourne venue.
by Jenny Esots (score: 3|1251) 1554 days ago
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