Just a little further into the 1940s now with a film that I love to re-watch over and over! It stars two of my all time favourite actresses and they both look just lovely! Joan Crawford and Greer Garson in When Ladies Meet (1941).
There are rumours and legends about the making of this film; about a supposed rivalry between Crawford and Garson and I’m sure that some of it is true (and I stress “some“), at least on Crawford’s part. At the time of the film’s production, Crawford was the reigning “Queen of MGM” and she wasn’t about to let any new up-start steal her crown; or so the rumours go. Crawford had been at MGM for almost twenty years and Garson was a relative newcomer who had just made a big hit with her fourth film Blossoms in the Dust (1941) and garnered a second Oscar nomination. With this in mind, can you really blame Crawford for being nervous?
Whatever the truth may be in the rumours, the film itself is thoroughly enjoyable. With a solid performance from Joan and an absolutely delightful performance from Greer it also exhibits a wonderful range of costumes from casual day-wear (Hollywood style, of course!) to beautiful night-wear, from stylish swim suits to jaw-dropping evening gowns!
Joan Crawford plays Mary Howard, a much admired novelist having an affair with her married publisher Rogers Woodruff, played by Herbert Marshall. Attempting to impress the sophisticated Rogers, she wears glasses that she doesn’t need in order to appear more intelligent. These glasses though, do nothing to hinder the glamorous image created by the gown that she wears to a party in her honour. The white floor length gown is pure Joan Crawford and clearly designed to compliment her movie star status. The added hood reflects the very latest in 1940s glamour and she wears sparkling diamond jewellery to accessorise.
She does look stunning, even if no real author would likely dress as glamorously, and although the hood is very much a product of the 1940s and not to everyone’s taste, I absolutely love it. It creates a complete head-to-toe look and, if in the same colour as the gown, makes the wearer look taller.
Thirty minutes into the film, we finally meet Greer Garson but it was certainly worth the wait! She plays Claire Woodruff, wife of Rogers Woodruff and is given what was known as a “star entrance”. The scene starts without her, as Jimmy Lee (Robert Taylor – also in love with Mary) converses with some friends at an elegant bar. They’re having a party and one guest is conveniently running late. Jimmy brings up the topic of this particular guest, the host’s cousin whom he’s been set up with on a sort of blind date, and begins to guess what she might look like. Assuming she will be a frump, as set-ups never turn out the way one hopes, he turns to see the Greer Garson, entering full frame in the most stunning floor length gown you have EVER seen!
For her first appearance on screen, MGM gave Greer the full star-treatment. Her entrance was made with absolutely no one else in the frame in order give her complete and undivided audience attention and her utterly devastating gown was meticulously designed by Adrian who only designed for the studio’s top stars.
The gown itself is a two piece ensemble of black, bias cut rayon and metal detailing to catch the light, complete with a matching cape. The cape is made of the same black rayon, lined in lamé and is only on screen for about ten seconds before she takes it off. It’s enough to make an impression though and cause a few gasps from the audience!
With that entrance and Greer’s beautiful posture, it’s definitely one of my favourite Classic Hollywood gowns.
After these two beautiful dresses, we have some lovely day-wear, perfectly indicative of the 1940s. There’s a lovely, form-fitting casual suit that Greer changes into after a boating outing with Robert Taylor. The lines of the shirt and jacket strategically channel the nautical theme and it even has a matching coat and purse! And Joan wears a stylish white day dress, a matching coat and a heart brooch; a popular accessory in the 1930s and 40s.
Joan also wears another stylish Adrian designed day dress as she is doing her gardening. It’s rather elaborate and entirely too good a dress to be wearing in the dirty garden but I think audiences are asked to suspend belief on this one and just revel in the loveliness of the dress. Not hard to do as it really is gorgeous! A three piece matching outfit of dress, hat and gloves! I do so love the “matchy, matchy” of the 1940s.
There are so many outfits in this film it’s hard to know which to include and which to not but this photo is just too good to resist. So here is another photo of Joan in a beautiful white day suit and netted hood. She wears this in the final scene of the film and if memory serves, she wears all of her own jewellery as you can see it pop up in many of her other films too.
In the most dramatic scene of the film, the two actresses come head to head when they both find out who the other is. Joan discovers that Greer is the wife of her lover and Greer comes face to face with her husband’s mistress. And if they must do the scene set at night, why not do it in stunning négligées?!
Greer, as Claire, makes fun of her nightgown as her character has borrowed it from the lady of the house but we, as audience members, know better. It’s really a lovely gown and as she is the studio’s new “find”, MGM is not about to dress Greer in anything ugly. Granted there are LOTS of ruffles but Greer carries the garment beautifully and pulls off the look with aplomb.
Joan’s nightgown is a contrasting white to Greer’s black (possibly a deliberate choice to offset the ideas of good and bad?) with a tie to cinch in the waist. The main feature of the gown is the layered sleeves; perfectly draped to compliment the drape of the gown itself. It even has inbuilt shoulder-pads to finish off the all important “Crawford Look” as most of her other outfits do as well.
All of the outfits in When Ladies Meet are designed with the intention to showcase Adrian’s designs and to either compliment or increase the star-image of it’s two leading ladies. They are all wonderfully successful creations at the height of early 1940s fashion and, even though the characters would almost certainly not have been able to afford such stunning gowns in reality, MGM was not known for, nor did it intend to recreate reality. At least not very often.
When Ladies Meet is a delightful little film with an refreshingly comedic performance from Robert Taylor and an earnest performance from Joan Crawford. The stand out for me though, and not because I’m biased (I also adore Crawford) is Greer Garson. She is truly one of the most joyous actresses to ever grace the screen and her laughter is utterly infectious.
With a solid cast, an interesting story and some outfits and gowns to die for, what is not to love?!