by Kayna Kemp Stout
“Women He’s Undressed,” a documentary about Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly, may sound scandalous, but it’s a film that can be enjoyed by diverse audiences. Those who are fans of classic films will take notice of the many clips from among the 285 movies that Australian born Kelly has designed including Casablanca, Some Like It Hot, Auntie Mame, and Oklahoma. He left his small seaside village in the early 1920’s for New York City and landed in Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle of an artist who hand painted ties to make ends meet. He got a toe hold on Broadway, which led to his first costume designing jobs for the lavish musicals popular at the time. He moved to Hollywood to be a part of the burgeoning film industry. He was hired by the Warner Brothers Studio and began living a lavish lifestyle.
For audiences who enjoy costume design, this documentary rewards with many behind the scenes details about costume choices for a litany of stars during the golden age of Hollywood, such as Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Angela Lansbury, Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda. Orry-Kelly possessed a masterful eye for choosing colors, draping fabric, and disguising the figure flaws and assets of the starlets who became his friends. His personal life as an out of the closet gay man had its share of drama during a time when that was expected to be kept hidden. His early co-habitation with Cary Grant was a carefully guarded secret even in his autobiography. Grant played by the Hollywood rules and requested that their liaison not be written about and Kelly obliged. Grant was a pallbearer at Kelly’s funeral in 1954. The years of his life 1897-1954 provide a time capsule that illuminates Hollywood in its hay days. Interviews include Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, Catherine Martin, Leonard Maltin and Ann Roth.