I should really start with a disclaimer – I’m going to focus not just on handbags but also on suitcases, briefcases and boxes but failed to come up with a more appealing title for this post. Just so you know. Anyway, if you are prepared to forgive me, I’d like to focus on these accessories which very often didn’t just look appealing, but also had a key role in character development or plot twists.
Just like with gloves, Grace was the first star that came to mind when I thought of handbags, particularly because Hermès named one of the most gorgeous bags of all time after her. But that doesn’t feature in Rear Window. Instead, her character, Lisa Fremont produces a Mark Cross overnight bag, designed by Gerald Murphy, which is big enough to hold a negligee and a pair of slippers. Alfred Hitchcock based James Stewart’s character on Robert Capa and was inspired by his relationship with Ingrid Bergman which ended because Capa believed she was just too glamourous to accompany him on his photo assignments in far off places. This was fashion’s answer to that and remains my travel bag of dreams.
And while we’re on the subject of Hermès bags, we may as well mention the other iconic one which became my ultimate object of desire after seeing Woody Allen’s masterpiece. Cate Blanchett’s character might reproach others for staring at her Louis Vuitton luggage but for me, the bag steals the scene. Funnily, this gorgeous camel handbag would have been cost more than the rest of the film’s entire costume budget and had to be borrowed from the costume designer’s own personal wardrobe! The cost and decades long waiting list probably mean it will never be mine…
Kiss Me Deadly
Robert Aldrich’s strange, apocalyptic noir masterpiece has as its central focus a latter day Pandora’s box, perhaps containing the ultimate nuclear ‘whatsit’ which everyone in the film seems to want to get their hands on. The expression on Gaby Rodgers’ face as she opens it is one of the defining moments in cinema and undoubtedly influenced the other films in the list below.
See the whole film here on YouTube
And in case you didn’t know, the most notable influence was on Quentin Tarantino and the famous briefcase in Pulp Fiction whose glowing contents we never see but which have been speculated on countless times, with Elvis’ lamé suit as just one possibility. Although personally, I’m always too mesmerised by the soundtrack and Uma Thurman’s Rouge Noir nail polish to give it much thought.
No Country for Old Men
We know that the suitcase at the centre of this film contains a huge amount of money. Setting off a chain of events from which there seems to be no escape, it represents greed and corruption.
From Russia with Love
It’s all about the gadgets with 007’s trick attaché case which contains ammunition, a flat throwing knife, a folding rifle, gold sovereigns and a tear gas cartridge. Somehow, I don’t think that would make it through security these days.
In David’s Lynch’s neo noir masterpiece, the beautiful brunette with amnesia has a black DKNY handbag filled with lots of money and a mysterious blue key. After the heartbreaking and strange rendition of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ at Club Silencio in the middle of the night, a box suddenly appears in Betty’s handbag which can then be opened with the key. What it all means is open to interpretation.
I’m sure there are plenty of other examples I’ve forgotten about or missed! Let me know if you have any other favourites.