Urban Cinefile
"David Puttnam asked me to write this and gave me $5000 to do so, and I was frightened by it. I delayed and delayed for about a year, and Puttnam got pissed off and went away, and then I wrote it"  -Bob Ellis, on the birth of his script, The Nostradamus Kid
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



SYNOPSIS: Orry-Kelly was a Hollywood legend, his costume designs adored by cinema's greatest leading ladies - but in his home country of Australia his achievements remained unknown. Featuring interviews with fashion icons Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, June Dally-Watkins , costume designers Catherine Martin, Ann Roth, Kym Barrett, Michael Wilkinson, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Hollywood identities and historians including director/producer Eric Sherman, Hollywood fixer Scotty Bowers, Leonard Maltin, David Chierichetti, Marc Eliot, William J Mann, Jean Mathison, Larry McQueen and Barbara Warner Howard (daughter of Ann & Jack Warner).

Review by Louise Keller:
With sheer artistry, Gillian Armstrong helms this rich, vibrant and fascinating film, about Orry-Kelly, a uniquely talented artist with many facets, steering us through the calm, turbulent and glistening waters of his life and times. There is much that is extraordinary about Orry-Kelly's life and talents; the self-named 'hem stitcher' going from Kiama to Hollywood, where he claims three Oscars for his talents dressing the world's most glamorous movie stars. But there is more. Much more. For a gay man in the 20th century, there are big decisions to be made, involving whether or not to tell the truth about his private life - especially when it involves his relationship with one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

Like any beautiful gown, Armstrong's film is a creation of its elements, beginning with Katherine Thomson's dynamic screenplay, whose structure gathers together heightened re-enactments, letters to his mother, interview snippets with actors, costume designers and Hollywood historians. All these elements are contextualised and couched within the stylized symbolic imagery of a red painted dinghy named Kiama, from which our journey is made, inspired by a visual motif of the sailor-suit wearing young boy George Orry Kelly as photographed in a small wooden boat. Armstrong's vision being representative of his tenacity, doggedness and endeavor.

Known as a 'master of silhouette and nuance, the creator of 'well-bred clothes with a huge range to include dazzling excess (as in 42nd Street) or subtle elegance as epitomized in Casablanca, considered by many to be 'the perfect movie. Orry-Kelly worked on a staggering 282 films, including Baby Face, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Maltese Falcon, Now Voyager, Arsenic and Old Lace, Oklahoma, The Corn is Green, Lady Killer and Aunty Mame, winning an Oscar for each of An American in Paris (1951), Les Girls (1957) and Some Like It Hot (1959), as well as an Oscar nomination for Gypsy (1962). He was head of Warner Bros' costume department between 1932 and 1944.

It was in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) that Orrie-Kelly worked together for the first time (in film) with Cary Grant, with whom he had an intimate relationship some years earlier lasting 9 years, when the latter was called Archie Leach. Theirs was a love affair that blossomed before Grant achieved stardom, with Grant's philosophy being 'If you look the part, you can be whomever you want'. Orrie-Kelly's philosophy focused on 'the truth' and 'only be ashamed of being ashamed. The details of this relationship forms a large part of the narrative. Orrie-Kelly's 12 year relationship with actor Randolph Scott also forms a part, with mention to a later relationship with Robert Roberts.

As we follow Orrie-Kelly through the theatrical community in Greenwich Village in the 20s, through the Crash to Hollywood and a mansion, we get a keen sense of the history of the times and the Studio's objectives to create the beautiful American Dream. The Dream clearly did not include homosexuality. I was especially interested in the many film clips and hearing about the challenges and difficulties in dressing the likes of the tiny, well endowed Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyn and Natalie Wood as a stripper in Gypsy.

Armstrong does not gloss over the turbulent times, when alcohol submerges Orrie-Kelly while many insights and comments are riveting, like those of Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin, movie icon Angela Lansbury and dual Oscar-winner Jane Fonda. We glimpse his relationships with Jack and Ann Warner, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and hear from a huge range of talents including June Dally-Watkins, Ann Roth, director Eric Sherman and others.

Everything works - from Darren Gilshenan's re-enactment of the man himself, Deborah Kennedy as his mother, to Nicholas Beauman's superb editing and composer Cezary Skubiszewski's lively score. Armstrong has created a ripper of a film, filled with energy, passion and a keen sense of this non-conformist rebel and artist, who lived his life in glorious colour, according to his own code of integrity.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(Aus, 2015)

CAST: Darren Gilshenan, Deborah Kennedy, Louis Alexander, Nathaniel Middleton, Lara Cox

PRODUCER: Damien Parer, Gillian Armstrong

DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong

SCRIPT: Katherine Thompson


EDITOR: Nicholas Beauman

MUSIC: Cezary Skubiszewski


RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2021