Thursday, December 15, 2016

GlamAmor-ous Holidays--Irene Suits Christmas Style in 1947's LADY IN THE LAKE

Every year at this time I enjoy looking at style in movies that celebrate the holidays. In the past, this has included The Thin Man (1934), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), and White Christmas (1954). These are always accompanied by a Classic Holidays playlist I share on GlamAmor's YouTube channel that is filled with films, clips, and even radio programs from earlier eras. This Christmas I have chosen to cover a holiday film that's a bit more unconventional. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love film noir, so I couldn't resist looking at 1947's Lady in the Lake.

Though it may not sound like a holiday picture, you'll find there are several ways in which it is. First, it takes place around Christmas and has it as a backdrop to the story. Lady in the Lake even starts with titles that look like holiday cards with a medley of carols behind them. A choir sings "Jingle Bells," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "The First Noel," "Deck the Halls," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" all through the opening credits. The noir touch is seen when the last title card is taken away. A gun is revealed beneath them all, a weapon that is central to the story and may be responsible for a murder. Or two. Or three.

Some people do find fault with Lady in the Lake, but there are several reasons to appreciate it. One of the biggest is that it is based on the 1943 novel by Raymond Chandler. Of course Chandler is well known in the world of noir - his work is the basis for multiple films, including The Big Sleep and Murder, My Sweet (based on his novel Farewell, My Lovely) in addition to Lady in the Lake (based on his novel The Lady in the Lake). The private detective Phillip Marlowe is the protagonist in each of these and played by Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Robert Montgomery, respectively, in the movie adaptations.

Montgomery is another reason to watch Lady in the Lake. The role is a bit against type considering all the sophisticated comedies he was known for at MGM. He signed a contract with the studio in 1929 and was soon paired with MGM's biggest stars. In 1930 alone, he appeared opposite Greta Garbo in Inspiration, Norma Shearer in The Divorcee (chosen by her), and Joan Crawford in Our Blushing Brides. Though Clark Gable is a more well known name today, Montgomery was also extremely popular with audiences and even co-starred in four films with Gable. Montgomery was one of the studio's great leading men during Hollywood's Golden Age.

In 1945, he appeared in John Ford's 1945 film They Were Expendable. It would become a turning point in Montgomery's career because he got the opportunity to direct some scenes when Ford fell ill. Only a year or so later, he would be at the helm of Lady in the Lake and it would be his last film for MGM. As a director, he made an ambitious choice - he shot the movie with a first person point-of-view. In other words, it's as if the audience becomes Phillip Marlowe and sees everything as he would. Chandler's novels with Marlowe are written in the first person and the thought was to tell the cinematic story the same way. Many know this perspective from another film noir Dark Passage, but that actually came out nine months after Lady in the Lake. Even so, Lady in the Lake goes further and uses the technique almost through the entire picture.

Yet another reason to appreciate this movie is for the style of its costume designer - Irene Lentz Gibbons. Known to the world simply as Irene, she was a great designing talent. Though born in Montana, she spent most of her life in Los Angeles. She attended the Wolfe School of Design and then created a line of clothing for her own boutique near USC in 1926. She was so good that Hollywood stars like Dolores Del Rio, Carole Lombard, and Irene Dunne started sneaking from the studios to visit her salon. That first store was so successful that she moved to a better location on Highland Avenue in 1928, and then to an even better one on Sunset Boulevard in 1929.

At this point, Irene had really made a name for herself in town and the mighty Bullocks-Wilshire department store came calling. They hired her as their Head Designer and even more stars like Marlene Dietrich, Paulette Goddard, and Loretta Young sought her out for their off-screen wardrobes. It was Del Rio who first asked Irene to design for her on-screen wardrobes as well, starting with 1933's Flying Down to Rio. This began the practice of all of the movie studios treating Irene and Bullocks-Wilshire as something of a supplemental costume design department. 1937's Shall We Dance and Topper are just two films from this time that feature Irene's design.

In 1942, Adrian left MGM as their head of costume design and Louis B. Mayer turned to Irene to take over the department. It was actually a difficult decision for her to make considering the autonomy she had come to enjoy with her own business and even at Bullocks-Wilshire, something that would not continue if she joined MGM. That said, it was an opportunity she simply couldn't refuse. Carole Lombard in To Be Or Not To Be (1942), Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Esther Williams in Neptune's Daughter (1949) are all examples of her work while at MGM. Toward the end of her tenure at the studio, she even arranged to be able to work on her own line of clothes Irene, Inc. once again.

Irene was well known for her impeccable tailoring, especially in the skirt suits that were popular during the fabric-rationed World War II era. You will see several of these on Lady in the Lake star Audrey Totter. Totter really carries the movie as Adrienne Fromsett (especially since you so rarely see Montgomery/Marlowe) and does so in sharply tailored jackets with strong shoulders and no superfluous details. Her robes and dresses also have the understated elegance and perfect fit that were consistently part of Irene's designs. Due to the film's first person point-of-view and the fact that Totter faces the camera so frequently, her costumes are on perfect display.

Lady in the Lake may not be well known to most people, nor is it normally considered a holiday picture, but it because of this that I share it with you now. With Raymond Chandler as the story's source, Robert Montgomery as both actor and director, and elegant costumes by Irene for Audrey Totter, there's a lot to enjoy. It may even get you in the spirit of the season. Happy holidays to all!

After the holiday cards title sequence
the last card is taken away to reveal a gun

Phillip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) tells some of the story from behind his office desk -
there are nods to Raymond Chandler's own background in pulp fiction 

The sexy secretary (Lila Leeds) who greets Marlowe at Kingsby Publications

We meet editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter)
who wants Marlowe to find the missing wife of her boss Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames)

Since the film is shot with a first person perspective
we only really see Marlowe in mirror reflections

After a confrontational visit to the suspect Chris Lavery's house,
Marlowe winds up in jail and embrangled with the Bay City police
including Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan, left)

This is a quintessential Irene suit - 
note the detail on the neckline that makes it more visually interesting

Marlowe pays a very late night visit to Adrienne
after doing some investigating at the lake

Though this is meant to be a robe, 
it's more like one of Irene's gowns

Lavery's landlady (Jayne Meadows) surprises Marlowe 
with a gun she said she found on the stairs

Marlowe crashes the Kingsby office Christmas party 
with news of his latest visit to Lavery's house

Marlowe's Christmas gift to Adrienne?
 Surprising her with the murder weapon from Lavery's house

Adrienne visits Marlowe in a very 1940s fur coat -
note the broad shoulders that were a trademark of the era -
with the hope he will continue working on her case

While investigating yet another suspicious death,
Marlowe starts to be trailed by a mysterious car

Turns out he's being trailed by a police car
and it's Lt. DeGarmot

Marlowe calls Adrienne for help after the car accident

Adrienne definitely seems like she's softening and falling for Marlowe
(and vice versa)

Christmas morning finds Adrienne feeling domestic
and cooking breakfast for Marlowe

Kingsby interrupts their Christmas evening together with a telegram from his wife Crystal -
this robe is so beautiful it's more like a gown

Marlowe meets up with a mysterious woman who claims to be Crystal Kingsby

Marlowe starts figuring out the true identity of the woman (Meadows again)
and confirming all he suspects about DeGarmot

Test audiences wanted to see Marlowe and Adrienne get together,
so Montgomery and Totter came back to film this kiss for the end

Happy holidays!


Billeci, Frank and Lauranne B. Fisher. Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2013.

Jorgensen, Jay and Donald L. Scoggins. Creating the Illusion. Running Press, 2015.

Leese, Elizabeth. Costume Design in the Movies. Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

Muller, Eddie. Email. 10 December 2016.

"Robert Montgomery." IMDb, 8 December 2016,


Caftan Woman said...

Positively grand and most informative article.

The more sentimental or humourous Christmas classics are on my December list, but for me the season starts when watching Lady in the Lake.

Christian Esquevin said...

Great post Kimberly. Irene (along with Adrian) designed the best women's suits that have ever been made. There has never been their equal since. She continued designing suits under her own label from 1948 until she died in 1962. What is also amazing is the variety of the suits - each collection had several (and again, same with Adrian) and each one was unique and totally stylish. Thanks for choosing Irene and this movie for a Holiday post.

Sophia said...

What a lovely and informative blog!



Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Caftan Woman! I LOVE hearing that you actually start your holiday season with LADY IN THE LAKE. You're a woman after my own heart!

Happy holidays!


Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Christian! And thanks for your added knowledge of Irene's fascinating (though tragic) story. She's just a remarkable designer. Anyone who owns her clothes or costumes today is very lucky.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Take care,


Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Sophia! I hope you continue to enjoy the site. :)

Take care,


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