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Fashions of 1934 is a musical comedy film from, yes, 1934, directed by William Dieterle.

William Powell is Sherwood Nash, a rather shady businessman who, at the very start of the movie, is watching people repossess the furniture in his failed investment firm. (It was 1934.). As he is leaving his shuttered office, he chats up ambitious but frustrated fashion designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis). One look at Lynn's sketchbook and Nash gets an idea. Soon, he is running a scam in which he copies the latest fashions coming over on the boats from Europe, and sells cheap knockoffs in department stores.

Incensed New York fashion store owners threaten Nash with arrest, but he points out that they'd be better off enlisting him to steal for them. So Nash and a reluctant Lynn are off to Paris to rip off the elite designers. They get caught doing that, however, so Nash comes up with still a different scam: Lynn will forge the works of leading fashion designers, coming up with her own drawings but signing the names of better-known people.

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Made toward the end of The Pre-Code Era, the film basically uses its plot as an excuse for sex jokes, fanservice, and a Busby Berkeley Number choreographed by Busby Berkeley himself. The only time William Powell and Bette Davis starred in a film together, mainly because right after making this movie Powell left Warner Bros. for MGM.


Tropes:

  • Alcohol Hic: Joe Ward, the ostrich feather salesman—It Makes Sense in Context, sort of—whom Nash goes into business with. He's an alcoholic who hiccups more than once when he gets drunk.
  • The Alcoholic: Joe Ward, Nash's business partner. He's drunk all the time. In one scene he says that they can talk business, but not until after he's "had a drop of lunch."
  • Bare Your Midriff: Since all the women in the Busby Berkeley Number are wearing nothing but bra and panties, bare midriffs abound. This is notable because within a matter of weeks after production was completed on this movie The Hays Code and its censorship slammed down on Hollywood, and navels—female navels, anyway—wouldn't be seen again for decades.
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  • Bizarre Instrument: The surreal Busby Berkeley Number has gorgeous women playing harps... with the pillars of the harps being made out of other bikini-clad gorgeous women.
  • Blackmail: Nash gets Mabel to back his show by threatening to reveal that she's an impostor. And at the end he manages to escape prison by threatening to reveal that Oscar Baroque married an impostor, which gets Oscar to drop the charges.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: What does Nash do to publicize his new fashion business in Paris? He puts on a show, of course! Since this movie isn't really a musical we see only one number, but they really made it count. The "Spinning Web of Dreams" number is essence of Berkeley, with dozens and dozens of scantily clad dancers moving in sequence. One scene has gorgeous women playing harps, which are made of other gorgeous women. There's a Slave Galley scene in which half-naked women are manning the oars of a slave galley. Another shot has half-naked women looking down at the camera from atop a skylight. Yet another scene has dancers moving feathers back and forth to demonstrate a flower opening and closing. All of it has innumerable chorus girls in intricate geometric patterns in typical Berkeley style, with the dancers being even more scantily clad than usual, wearing nothing but glorified bra and panties for most of the routine. (And as always with Berkeley the number is far too elaborate to be part of an actual stage show even though it's supposed to be In-Universe.)
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe show that Nash, Lynn, and Snap have made it to Paris.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Mabel comes into the office at the exact instant that Nash is telling Lynn that she's the one he loves and Mabel is nothing to him. She stalks out again, and gets her husband to have Nash arrested.
  • Fake Aristocrat: "Grand Duchess Alix", supposedly a White Russian refugee in Paris, and lover of Oscar Baroque the hoity-toity fashion designer. She's really Mabel from Hoboken and an old girlfriend of Nash's. When Nash discovers this he strong-arms Mabel into cooperating with his schemes.
  • Fashion Show: More than one. One fashion show has a series of old paintings that Lynn has used for inspiration. Each painting in turn is lifted up and away, showing the model behind it, who strolls out modeling the dress that was inspired by the painting.
  • Fanservice: Loads and loads and loads. Besides the whole Busby Berkeley Number which is basically a boatload of hot women in their underwear, there are scads of fashion models wearing slinky dresses. There's also a whole scene in which three models are lounging around Nash's office in their underwear, waiting for stolen dresses, so they can model them while Nash's partner snaps photos so they can copy the designs.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Nash brazenly walks into a meeting of the New York department store owners, tells them that he's the one who's been undercutting them, and then offers to go to Paris and steal designs on their behalf. They all indignantly reject him and tell him they'll send him to prison. Then, afterwards, each department store owner secretly calls Nash and engages him to steal designs.
  • Lovable Rogue: Nash. He's a criminal, really, stealing the work of upscale fashion designers and selling knockoff products for cheap. But he's a charming rascal, and the only people he's hurting are snobby fashion designers and obnoxious high-end store owners. (And making expensive products available to the masses on the cheap would have played differently in the depths of the Great Depression, anyway.)
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Nash's comic relief sidekick Snap (Frank McHugh), who is a lustful little horn dog, but is so cheerful and happy about it. He's about to put his hand on Lynn's butt when Nash shows up and Snap jerks his hand away. He almost slaps a lingerie-clad model on her butt, but Nash catches his arm mid-swing with a cane. He giggles like a schoolboy when a Paris street vendor shows him "filthy pictures". Later in the movie he is constantly interrupted in multiple attempts to have sex with a hot chorus girl.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Well, there's Nash and Lynn, who fall for each other. There's Mabel, Nash's old girlfriend, whom he starts to put the moves on because he needs her help to start his fashion business. There's Mabel's fiancé, the designer Oscar Baroque. Then there's Jimmy, the pianist/composer for the musical show, who falls in love with Lynn and tries to get her to go away with him. Roughly, a love pentagon.
  • Match Cut: A cut from the smooth, lovely legs of a chorus girl as she stands on a platform, to the spindly legs of an ostrich. (Nash has turned ostrich feathers into a fashionable accessory for dresses.)
  • Phoney Call: A man comes into the office of Nash's investment firm. As the man sits and waits patiently, Nash clutches two phone receivers, one to each ear, barking orders about selling and buying stocks. After Nash hangs up the phones the man smirks and says he's there to take back the phones, which were disconnected three days ago.
  • Poor Man's Porn: In a scene that would never in a million years have gotten past the censors just a few months later, Snap is approached by a Paris street vendor selling "filthy pictures". Snap giggles like a schoolboy as the vendor shows off his collection of pornographic postcards.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Lynn designs more than one of these, and both Lynn and Nash's other love interest Mabel wear them.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: Nash makes cut-rate copies of fashionable dresses. One snooty society lady pays $375 in 1934 money for a dress and is then appalled to see her secretary wearing the same dress, which she bought for $16.95.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Jimmy the chorus girl tells Lynn to sit on the piano, saying "Do a Helen Morgan and inspire me." Helen Morgan was a Real Life torch singer known for perching on pianos.
  • Slave Galley: One of the trippier moments in the very trippy Busby Berkeley Number comes when a bunch of nearly naked women in platinum blonde wigs are manning the oars of a slave galley on the stage, all smiling blissfully.
  • Spy Cam: Snap has one hidden in a cane which he uses to surreptitiously take pictures of Paris models showing off dresses, with the aim of copying said dresses. Unfortunately for the gang, they are caught and Snap's film is confiscated.
  • Video Credits: All the main players at the start of the film, which was Warner Brothers house style of the era.
  • Zip Me Up: Mabel has to get Nash to help her into a tight dress. It's actually innocent, but he's still on his hands and knees snapping the dress together when Lynn comes in the room and gets the wrong idea.
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