Fashions of 1934
William Powell plays a conman who recruits an artist played by Betty Davis into a fashion piracy scheme that takes them from New York to Paris.
Powell’s loveable rogue feels like an amalgam of his characters in One Way Passage and High Pressure. The script affords him some witty quips. To the compliment, “You serve the most delicious caviar,” he replies, “It comes from the most contented sturgeons.”
The pre-code production proffers half-dressed models and Busby Berkeley musical numbers featuring showgirls in ostrich feather lingerie. Ostrich feathers prove a big plot point, providing Powell with a scam-within-a-scam. When a woman asks if harvesting the feathers hurts the ostriches, Powell replies: “Our patented plucking process is practically painless.”
Frank McHugh once again plays Powell’s sidekick. He handles the overt comedy, including a running gag where he and a showgirl can’t get any privacy for a discreet tryst. Powell gets the subtler humor, such as this bit of innuendo, when a woman asks if he supervises all the details of his show’s production, even to the page girl costumes, he replies, “I take care of everything from the bottom up.”
The film even features a cheeky cut from a showgirl’s bare legs to an ostrich’s legs.
But said cut and the aforementioned lines all occur within minutes of each other. That leaves a lot of dead air. The script flails around trying to fill it, cramming in fashion shows, the Berkeley musical numbers, and a moribund romance between Powell and Bette Davis.
And Davis is miscast. She’s a character actor, not a glamour girl. Though she’s charming as ever, she lacks chemistry with Powell. I can’t remember a film where both leads exuded so much charisma yet lacked any spark between them. Their romance feels forced, Davis feels wasted, and the film feels disappointing.