Gloves in films

Following on from the first post in a series about accessories in films, I thought I’d focus this time on gloves. Today, they are mainly worn to ward off the cold but on screen, they can add a touch of class, something menacing as worn by the criminal, or even represent something rather fetishistic. I’ve put together a few of my favourites, but please let me know if you have any other suggestions in the comments.

Gilda

Few films feature gloves quite this memorably. This cult scene with Rita Hayworth singing ‘Put the blame on Mame’, dressed in a satin strapless dress designed by Jean-Louis (inspired by Sargent’s scandalous ‘Madame X’) becomes the ultimate seduction when she peels off one of her long satin gloves and eventually throws it to the crowd as a kind of striptease. That and the line, “I’ve never been very good with zippers” were as racy as you could get in the days of the Hays Code.

To Catch A Thief

Whenever I think of Grace Kelly, I always think of her elegant accessories – sunglasses, her famous handbag and those white gloves. She’s the epitome of elegance and Cary Grant simply can’t take his eyes off her in Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief’ as she drives. When designer Edith Head visited Paris with Grace Kelly before shooting started to pick out accessories and jewellery, Hermès was their favourite stop for gloves as Grace believed they sold the best and they fell in love in everything they saw. I’m not especially keen on cars but each time I see this film, I long to own a convertible and get myself the most elegant pair of driving gloves.

The Conformist

In Bertolucci’s masterpiece, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a man seeking to find status and acceptance in society who joins the Italian fascist party and is sent to Paris to assassinate his former anti-fascist professor. Sexually confused and full of ambiguities, he wears his black assassin’s gloves in order to make up for his lack of willpower and commitment. In one of the most disturbing scenes, we see Dominique Sanda’s terrified face and a single black glove pressed against the glass.

Rope

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And who could forget the murderer’s gloves in Hitchcock’s chilling film?

Drive

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The Gaspar Gloves as worn by Ryan Gosling’s nameless driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film caused quite a stir a few years ago, along with the jackets and boots. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “Louboutin stilettos for your hands,”they are androgynous accessories designed for women but worn with great style by one of the coolest actors around.

Carol

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Gloves play an important part in an early scene of Todd Haynes’ gorgeous film when Cate Blanchett’s Carol leaves them on the counter of a department store, giving the young assistant, Therese, an excuse to see her again to return them. One of the most achingly sensual and elegant expressions of desire in film I have ever seen.

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La Belle et la Bête

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And to finish, Jean Cocteau’s magical masterpiece in which Belle is given a magic glove which will take her wherever she wishes. Later on, they are worn in one of the most heartbreaking scenes. His version of Beauty and the Beast is haunting and poetic in a way that no Disney version can even approach.

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The films of my life

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I’m not one of those people who looks back at their school days through rose-tinted glasses. I was always the outsider with pale skin, messy hair and and bad teeth but things improved when I was 16 and stayed on at the sixth form college. The worst kids left, we didn’t have to wear uniforms anymore (although maybe that wasn’t such a good thing when I think back to what we wore in the ’90s) and could go home early. Comfy chairs and sofas were spread out across a couple of large common rooms in which loud music played. Amazingly, I managed to concentrate and switch off enough to sit in a corner and read classic novels which had the added advantage of annoying the other students who not only thought that I was strange but also stuck-up. “Oh God, he’s so depressing,”one teacher exclaimed as she saw me reading Camus’ ‘L’Étranger’. But my favourite teacher was the head of the sixth form. Also a teacher of chemistry, biology and psychology, he had scruffy long hair, tied back, wore violently coloured ties, chain smoked, swore and was a committed Trotskyite.

He took me to the sixth form bookshelf and recommended me works by Lao Tzu and Nietzsche, as well as lending me his personal copy of The Communist Manifesto.

The most important day came though in one of our General Studies classes when we brought in the TV and told us he was going to show us and talk about some of the greatest films ever made. We started off with Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’. In the opening scene where the heavens part and some strange and foreboding voices rang out, he asked whether we expected this to be a happy film, then went through it discussing all the key scenes which had influenced later directors like Scorsese. It was unlike anything I had ever seen but utterly compelling and the remarkable face of the leading actor, Max von Sydow, was forever burned in my memory that day.

But there was more to come – Chaplin, Keaton, Ginger and Fred, Busby Berkeley, Godard’s ‘Week-end’ which I later hated, ‘Blow-up’, ‘La Dolce Vita’,  John Wayne in ‘The Searchers’, Kurosawa’s ‘The Seven Samourai’. I went home that day feeling inspired in a way I had never done before and couldn’t wait to tell my my mum all about it. Of course, a huge cinephile herself, she already knew all of those films so well and on our next shopping trip, we called at the music store to pick up a video of ‘The Seventh Seal’ which was incredibly expensive back then. She ordered more and more titles from classic and world cinema and our little collection grew and grew. I have never stopped watching films and couldn’t imagine life without cinema.

When it came for me to leave for university after finishing my A-levels, I gave the head of the  sixth form a large poster of Visconti’s ‘L’innocente’ which my mum had kept from her days running film clubs and he told me that the director was an aristocratic Marxist. I never saw him again after that but always remembered that film lesson with huge affection and wondered if any of my fellow classmates had been similarly affected. I often considered writing to him to tell him how much that lesson had meant but I never did. Then a few years ago, someone posted on a local site that he had died. I felt as if I had lost a part of myself and deeply regretted not writing. But each time I see a truly great film, I think of him and maybe that’s the best tribute of all.

Hats on screen

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A strange fact about me is that I do not own a single hat but am absolutely obsessed with them, especially on screen. I cannot pretend to present an exhaustive exploration of the most famous ones but have put together a selection of my own personal favourites below.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

The wide-brimmed black hat with the cream bow which Audrey Hepburn wears in this film was the first image that came to mind when I thought about famous hats in film. This has to be one of the most iconic of all time and accentuates her exquisite features. It looks fabulous with the black Givenchy shift dress and low heeled shoes she wears. No wonder George Peppard’s character says he’s amazed.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

“They’re young, they’re in love, and they kill people.” Rejecting Depression chic of the 1930s, Theadora Van Runkle’s  designs remain timelessly cool and fit perfectly with the spirit of Arthur Penn’s film which is essentially about two beautiful people on the run who happen to be killers. I love the caps and fedora hats worn by Warren Beatty and, of course, Faye Dunaway’s iconic berets, especially worn with her perfect bob.

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Ninotchka (1939)

“Garbo laughs” was the slogan of Ernst Lubitsch’s great comedy which stars Greta Garbo as a Communist official sent to Paris to reprimand three of her comrades who have been living the high life at Moscow’s expense. She arrives a dull, humourless Marxist whose only interest is in facts, figures and social progress. Her eye lights on a hat in Paris which represents all that is frivolous about Western society. The best part is that as she sheds her Bolshevik ideals and becomes attracted to Melvyn Douglas’ character, she buys the hat. It should look utterly ridiculous but only makes Greta Garbo look even more beautiful.

The Apartment (1960)

Nobody really talks about hats in this film but they left a strong impression on me the first time I saw Billy Wilder’s wonderful film. Jack Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter is the only one to remove his hat for Shirley MacLaine’s Miss Kubelik as he gets into the lift. I’m always amazed by all those hats left at the cloakroom as the employees at the insurance company arrive for work. And then there’s the night of the office party when Jack Lemmon asks Shirley MacLaine what she thinks of his new bowler hat which he has just bought to celebrate his promotion. It’s a night of home truths when he finds out she’s the one who’s been to his apartment with his boss and she discovers what kind of man Mr. Sheldrake really is. It’s an incredibly poignant scene when he asks whether he should wear it at an angle instead and you feel her pain as she lends him her compact with the cracked mirror because, as she puts it,  that’s the way she sees herself.

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Adam’s Rib (1949)

In George Cukor’s terrific screwball comedy, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play who high flying lawyers on different sides as she defends a woman (Judy Holliday) who tried to kill her unfaithful husband. In one of the early scenes, Spencer Tracy comes home late from work with a present for Katharine Hepburn, a rather twee hat with flowers on top which he immediately declares makes her look like Grandma Moses. His jaw drops though when he sees Judy Holliday wearing it on the opening day of her trial to present the image of a model wife and mother.

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Gone With the Wind (1939)

OK, this is a bonnet and not a hat but it’s still a wonderful moment for headwear when Rhett brings Scarlet something green and fashionable from Paris, only to look in horror as she puts it on the wrong way. In Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Scarlett is always dressed in green gowns as it was the author’s favourite colour. Water Plunkett, the costume designer, sought to vary this a little but still dressed Scarlet in this colour for several important scenes, particularly the one where she makes a dress out of curtains.

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Top Hat (1935)

I would argue that few people could wear a tuxedo like Fred Astaire. He makes this kind of elegance seem absolutely effortless, just like his extraordinary dancing. Of course, the epitome of this came in Mark Sandrich’s film where he performs a routine to ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’, complete with lookalike extras and sings about “stepping out to breathe an atmosphere that simply reeks with class.”

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Morocco (1930)

Someone who could hold her own in the class stakes and wear a tuxedo and top hat just as well as Fred Astaire was Marlene Dietrich. Apparently, director Josef von Sternberg had seen her wearing a man’s suit and top hat in Berlin while she claimed to have been inspired by the drag artists there (see Classic Hollywood Style by Caroline Young for more details). This look became her signature style and prompted critic Kenneth Tynan to write that, “She has sex but no particular gender.”

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Bringing up Baby (1938)

Cary Grant was one of the most elegant men in history who made suits look like a second skin because he wore them so well. I love this scene from Howard Hawks’ classic screwball comedy where after slipping on an olive which Katherine Hepburn’s character unwittingly left on the floor and destroying his top hat, he is forced to cover her embarrassment with it after ripping her dress and revealing her underwear. A pretty racy scene for the 1930s and the Hays’ Code.

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Double Indemnity (1944)

In Billy Wilder’s noir masterpiece, Phyllis Dietrichson played by Barbara Stanwyck, wears a black hat with a veil to play the part of the grieving widow when she’s called in to the insurance company after her husband’s death. Unbeknown to her, Lola, her step daughter had seen her trying it on days before the accident, leading her to suspect Phyllis of murder.

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Jules et Jim (1962)

Another chilling scene involving a similar hat comes in François Truffaut’s film when Catherine, played by Jeanne Moreau, is tired of being excluded from the argument about women and theatre her two male companions are having, stops by the edge of the river, pulls back the veil of her hat and jumps into the Seine. It’s a sign of her capriciousness and impulsiveness.

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The Big Sleep (1946)

As Sam Spade in John Huston’s masterpiece ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and then as Philip Marlowe  in Howard Hawks’ brilliant adaptation of ‘The Big Sleep’, Humphrey Bogart has a uniform of a private investigator, consisting of a trench and a hat. “Tough without a gun” is how Raymond Chandler described Bogie.

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Casablanca

And who could ever forget the classic ending with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman standing at the airport in the fog, their hats tilted slightly towards one another as they say their goodbyes? Perhaps the finest hat moment in cinema.

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Le Doulos/ Le Samouraï/ L’Armée des Ombres

Americanophile Jean-Pierre Melville not only adapted the noir/crime genre for French cinema and made it his own, he also adopted the gangster’s uniform. Hats play a key role.

‘Le Doulos'(1963) in French can either mean an informer or one who wears a hat. Melville plays on the ambiguity of characters and the similar appearance of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani, particularly in the shattering conclusion.

In ‘Le Samouraï’ (1967), Alain Delon’s Jef wears a hat and trenchcoat like the armour of a warrior and lives by a strict code of conduct as a hitman until he makes a fatal mistake.

And in ‘L’Armée des Ombres’ (‘The Army in the Shadows’, 1969), Félix, played by Paul Crauchet, is encouraged to wear his hat in public to make it less likely he will be arrested by the Gestapo. The scene where he wears it in the streets of Old Lyon is haunting.

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Bande à Part (1964)

And to finish, we have Anna Karina joining Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey in the dance scene from Godard’s brilliant and irreverent film. One of the most joyful scenes ever.

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A bookish Resolution

Loretta Young’s private library, 1943:

Loretta Young with her library

So first of all, Happy New Year! I can’t deny I was glad to see the back of 2016, even though I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends which outweighs all the bad stuff for me. There is something a little daunting, as well as exciting, about being at the start of a fresh new year, wondering what it will bring.  Do you ever make New Year’s Resolutions? Mine have been the same for years – to be tidier, to throw things away I don’t use, to keep my papers in good order, to stop biting my nails, to buy fewer red lipsticks, to keep in touch with my friends regularly instead of just thinking about them often and then writing apologetic emails once or twice a year. I fail miserably with most or all of them, so this year have decided to make just one main resolution which is to read more.  I’m a slow reader but intend to take advantage of every opportunity available to open a book which means having one with me at all times whenever I leave the house, reading while the dinner is cooking and most of all, trying to stay awake for more than 10 minutes in bed each night to get through at least 1-2 pages. I don’t have a set list of things I wish to read this year because my book choice depends on my mood but here are some I’m hoping to get around to:

‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley

‘Put out more Flags’ by Evelyn Waugh

‘Hunters in the Dark’ by Lawrence Osborne

‘Stoner’ by John Williams

‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

‘Eugénie Grandet’ and ‘Le Père Goriot’ by Balzac

‘Les Trois Mousquetaires’ by Dumas

‘Buddenbrooks’ by Thomas Mann

‘Ungeduld des Herzens’ by Stefan Zweig

Let me know if there are any books you have your heart set on this year. To finish off this post, I thought I’d include some Old Hollywood stars enjoying some reading for inspiration.

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James Stewart who rightly understood the need of a comfortable place to read.

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Rita Hayworth

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The famous photo of Marilyn Monroe reading ‘Ulysses’ by Eve Arnold, 1955.

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Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the set of ‘North by Northwest.’

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Bette Davis with the morning papers in 1939

Fred Astaire via the tumblr Old Hollywood Stars Reading:

Fred Astaire

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Sophia Loren

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Marlon Brando by Cecil Beaton, 1946

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Clark Gable

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Barbara Stanwyck – I dream that one day someone will bring me breakfast in bed.

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Gene Tierney in ‘Leave Her to Heaven.’

Happy reading!