MOSS ROSE ( 1947 )
The history of fashion can be dated as far back that one will never know. Back in the real early days about three thousand years ago, the first ever corset was recorded, and for many years after that the corset remained a primary need of support for women. During the years the corset has undergone many changes. In the sixteenth century it was referred to as a piece of bodies, for the reason that it was a simple bodice stiffened with boning of weed and whalebone. As the centuries moved on, the corsets altered in appearance. With the dramatic change in fashion in the 1820’s, corsets changed entirely to a different style altogether that some women began to make their own. However, they were the first mass-produced garments for females. By the time the 1920’s approached, the corsets fell out of fashion, and were mainly seen as an article of costume.
One of my main interests in the annals of fashion, is the Victorian Era. I understand that it’s not the right basis for this months theme, as it’s considered more costume design, but to be honest it’s still fashion, and the films that are set back in those days really give good insight on what clothes people wore back then. One movie that is spot on in depicting the cultism is “Moss Rose”, an enthralling obscure ‘Film Noir’ that stars the indelible Ethel Barrymore alongside Peggy Cummins, Victor Mature and Vincent Price.
When it was announced that Joseph Shearing’s novel was to be turned into a movie, Ethel Barrymore was now financially established in Los Angeles. She was living with her oldest son Sammy in Palos Verdes, and had just completed work on her third film since her transition to the screen, “The Farmer’s Daughter”, a delightful production that garnered Ethel critical acclaim. With “Moss Rose”, she was given the chance to showcase her inimitable talents by portraying an entirely different character than what she was use to playing in the past, and the result was effective.
Based on Joseph Shearing’s novel, “The Crime Of Laura Saurelle”, and with outstanding direction by Gregory Ratoff, the film was estimated to open to positive reception, as Joseph Shearing’s period mystery novels were masterfully creative with a touch of flavor, having a distinction of their own, but sadly on it’s initial release, the film was mostly panned, earning the title of a notorious flop. That being said, it did receive a few accolades for it’s neatly plotted story, and with the help of the solid cast, make the picture what it is today.
It’s the turn of the century in the later Victorian days of London and Belle Adair ( Peggy Cummins ) a chorus girl, who is looked down on and judged for her indignant nature, dreams about becoming a proper woman of society. When her best friend and fellow roommate, Daisy Arrow is horrifically drugged and smothered to death in their flat, Belle, after seeing the wealthy aristocrat, Michael Drego ( Victor Mature ) leaving Daisy’s room, has feelings that his the murderer and sets about blackmailing him into inviting her to stay at the grandiose ancestral home, Charnleigh Manor, so she can have the opportunity of experiencing the life of an opulent Victorian lady, and so she goes by her formal name, Rose Lynton.
The large capacious manor is now owned by Michael’s mother, Lady Margaret ( Ethel Barrymore ) who instantly bonds a strong affinity towards Rose, and admires her honesty and amicable aura. Also occupying the mansion is Michael’s fiancé, Audrey Ashton, who feels that Rose is intruding in on her relationship with Michael.
A few weeks later, Scotland yard arrives at the manor to elicit more truths about Daisy’s murder, but when a repeat of Daisy’s death occurs in the mansion a few nights after, Rose fears that she’s the next victim.
Besides from the actual movie, one of the things I find appealing about “Moss Rose” are the period style costumes, and their refined way of dressing at Charnleigh Manor compared to the uncultured intimate wear that Rose knew of back in London. When Rose was transformed into a polished young Victorian girl, she bore exquisite dresses that were very courtly and sophisticated, along with Lady Margaret, who always dressed formal and very elegantly no matter what time of the day it was.
When Ethel Barrymore first enters the picture in the restaurant scene in London, she is seen wearing a beautiful long white lacy gown with a matching large hat adorned with fancy flowers, and accompanied with excessive jewellery. Back in those days, big fancy hats decked with flowers on the top were an essential wardrobe necessity. Everyone wore them, and if you were seen without it you would be considered naked.
Rene Hubert, who excelled at period fashion designed the costumes for “Moss Rose”. During his lifetime he attained two Academy Award nominations for his artistic flair of creating gowns from the turn of the century. Growing up he had worked for notable fashion designer, Jean Patou, doing the wardrobe for theatrical revues in Berlin and France, where he attracted the attention of Gloria Swanson, who hired him as her personal designer for her entire wardrobe.
With his knowledge of the era, Hubert was able to bring the Victorian years back to life by designing impressive and imaginative gowns. I feel that his work in “Moss Rose” was one of his most commendable efforts. Here he really spotlighted the latest trend of the day, not only in formal daytime wear, but in night clothes as well, so audiences get a glimpse of the frilly pyjamas they wore.
The Victorian era is one of the most fascinating periods for fashion. During that time fashion had undergone a lot of changes. It was during this time in the mid century that the sewing machine was first invented, and with this latest craze for dressmaking it enabled a fashion for lavish application of trim that would have been prohibitively time-consuming if done by hand. Lace machinery made lace at a fraction of the cost of the old. New cheap, bright dyes were developed that displaced the old animal or vegetable dyes.
During the 1840’s and 1850’s women wore simple and pale gowns with high puffed sleeves and flower trimmings. For under gowns the Petticoats, corsets, and chemises were worn, and these were also a necessity, but by the time the 1850’s approached the petticoats were reduced to be superseded by the crinoline. The skirt sizes also expanded and day dresses had a solid bodice while evening gowns had a very low neckline and were worn off the shoulder with shawls.
The 1870’s saw the introduction of the un-corseted tea gowns that would later grow to popularity. The bustles replaced the crinoline and women were going for a much slimmer look. In the 1880’s, the wardrobe changed entirely, and matching jacket and skirts came in, which is commonly exhibited in the movie. At the end of the decade, the time that the film is set back in, women’s fashions were largely characterized by high collars, that were held in place by collar stays, and stiff steel boning in long line bodices. By this time, there were neither crinolines nor bustles. Women opted for the tiny wasp waist instead.
It’s also interesting to note that Ethel Barrymore was born in 1879, and during 1884 to 1886, the family moved to London, so even though Ethel was still only a child at the time, she had the opportunity to observe the clothes that her elders wore while experiencing life in Victorian London.
Ethel Barrymore: Born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15th, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: June 18th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.
Peggy Cummins: Born Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller on December 18th, 1925 in Prestatyn, Wales.
Victor Mature: Born Victor John Mature on January 29th, 1913 in Louisville, Kentucky. Died: August 4th, 1999 in Rancho, Santa Fe, California. Aged 86.