Friday, 16 September 2016

I've Just Seen: Women He's Undressed (2015)

Director: Gillian Armstrong

In the opening titles of my favourite film Some Like It Hot is the credit "Miss Monroe's Gowns ORRY-KELLY." I've been watching this film for years, and have occasionally wondered who Orry-Kelly was. Little did I know that Orry-Kelly, born Orry George Kelly, was Australian and grew up in Kiama, a beautiful town (famous for it blow-hole) two hours down the road from where I live. Kelly moved to the US originally to become an actor, but ended up becoming one of Hollywood's top costume designers, winning three Oscars and dressing some of the world's most famous actors.

Armstrong's film is a reasonably straightforward depiction of Orry-Kelly's life. Along with interviews from other costume designers about his significance in film history, we also hear Kelly's own thoughts, from the letters sent to his mother, and his diaries. The film moves onto look at some of Kelly most famous creations, and particularly focuses on his working relationship with Bette Davis. Throughout the film as well is the elusive figure of Archibald Leach, aka Cary Grant, with whom Kelly shared a flat (and apparently more) in the 1920s in New York.

Armstrong's documentary was largely made with an Australian audience in mind, acting as an introduction to this influential person from our shores. While the dramatisation of Kelly's letters and diaries doesn't completely gel stylistically with the interviews and clips of films shown, the film as a whole is a nice slice of film history, and does make one appreciate the art of costume design. Next time I see "Gowns by Orry-Kelly" in a film's credits, I will appreciate exactly what that means.


  1. I've heard much positive feedback on this and am anxious to see it. Costume design is such an integral part of the filmmaking process and so vital to the look of classic Hollywood. I've read a little about him as well Edith Head, both Irenes (Sharaff & Lentz-who simply went by Irene), Adrian, Walter Plunkett and Theadora Van Runkle but it will be fascinating to learn more about one of its more famous practitioners.

    1. It is definitely worth your time. You are so right about the importance of costumes for this era. I think it different to now in the attention paid to making the actor look good as well as servicing the character. The section about Kelly's work, particular his dressing Davis, was the most interesting part for me.