06 October 2007

Dirty Thirties

Last night I attended a Wisconsin Book Festival event at the UWM Union Theatre. Larry Widen and David Luhrssen discussed Milwaukee's film past and present. Kicking off A Weekend of Silver Screens at 9PM, there was a screening of Libeled Lady, starring Milwaukee's own Spencer Tracy. (Clara Bow classic It, from which we derive the now-overworked term "It Girl," screens this afternoon at 5PM.)

This was my first official screwball comedy. I remember a photo of Jean Harlow, with her pencil-thin brows, in a book about classic Hollywood movies I check out obsessively in grade school. In early adolescence, I became fixated on It Happened One Night--though, I haven't seen it yet. Though Libeled Lady wasn't a substantive film, I became invested, hoping Harlow would end up with the Gable-ish William Powell. There was enough plot twist to keep it from becoming facile. Evidently, someone liked it, though; this 1936 gem was nominated for an Oscar.

One of the reasons I opted to stick around so long past my bedtime was the anticipated feast of 1930s fashions. Though not as mind-boggling as Vera West's work in Three Smart Girls Grow Up, Harlow was a knockout in a bias-cut satin wedding dress and in classic 1930s dresses in later scenes. She wears jacket and trousers in one scene, too, delighting my "Garbo pants"-seeking self. Also, there are great opportunities to look at well-groomed, well-shod men.

I just have a place in my heart for the 1930s! The clothes have an unbelievably elegant, but tough and cool-headed quality--typified by the bare backs of blouses and evening dresses.

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