Women He’s Undressed…a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

July 9, 2015 by Roz Tarszisz
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It has been too long since Director Gillian Armstrong’s name has been on the big screen and in this entertaining documentary she brings a little-known Australian success story to life.

Movie costume designer Orry George Kelly was born in 1897 and raised in the coastal fishing village of Kiama, New South Wales. Artistic and talented, he trained with his father as a tailor’s apprentice and was close to his mother who always believed in him.

He wanted to be an actor at first and made his way to New York where he shared digs with a young British actor, Archie Leach – who later became Cary Grant. After years of struggle, Kelly went to Hollywood where his talent with design got him into producing costumes for films.  Jack Warner, Hollywood studio head, wanted him to take on a French name to look good on the credits but Kelly refused and renamed himself Orry-Kelly.

He never hid that he was gay but learned to live with it at a time it would have been impossible to flaunt it openly.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the glamour days of Hollywood, when leading men were manly and the women dressed like ladies.  It was Orry-K’s job to make them all look good and we learn a few of his secrets for disguising figure flaws, such as Bette Davis’ large breasts (vertical lines or a strategically placed corsage).  No wonder she adored him and wanted him to dress her.

Those memorable dresses which Marilyn Monroe wore – barely – in Some Like It Hot were his creations. Successful for many years he won three Oscars and was nominated for a fourth, but later took to drink and fell into decline.

Two well-known local actors play Orry (Darren Gilshennan) and his mother, Florence, (Deborah Kennedy), who talk direct to camera. He paddles about in a rowboat, a theatrical device which separates the personal anecdotes from the documentary footage and film clips. Katherine Thomson’s screenplay gives a sense of the flamboyant designer with mastery of his trade.

The huge list of 282 films he is credited with included Casablanca, An American in Paris and Auntie Mame.  Historians, modern costume designers and actors, including Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury, are interviewed and sing his praises.

This is one for anyone with an interest in film and cinema history.

4/5 Rated PG 99mins   In cinemas July 16

Directed by Gillian Armstrong

Screenplay by Katherine Thomson



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