Chicago International Film Festival Review: Women He’s Undressed

Chicago International Film Festival Review: Women He’s Undressed
Orry Kelly played by Darren Gilshenan with cocktail party guests. Photo: Anna Howard

If you’re hoping, because of the title, that this is a review for an X-rated film, you can STOP READING now.

“Women He’s Undressed” is not that.

Instead “Women He’s Undressed” is the extraordinary story of a Hollywood legend from Australia, named Orry-Kelly, that history had forgotten.

Jane Fonda with Director Gillian Armstrong. Photo: Ann Howard

Jane Fonda with Director Gillian Armstrong. Photo: Ann Howard

Sometimes called, the greatest man that nobody knew, acclaimed director Gillian Armstrong’s film brings Kelly back to life both in America and down under. And, yes, before Armstrong decided to make the film, she, too, had never heard of Kelly.

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, costumed by Orry-Kelly in Some Like It Hot, 1959. Photograph: Globe/Rex Features

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, costumed by Orry-Kelly in Some Like It Hot, 1959. Photograph: Globe/Rex Features

Kelly’s work spanned nearly 300 films winning him three Academy Awards for his designs that appeared on Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s including  Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Rosalind Russell and Errol Flynn. It’s been said that Bette Davis would not do a film without him.

His long list of films include: “Some Like It Hot,” “Casablanca,” “Mame” and “An American in Paris.”

His personal story is just as compelling as his professional story. His love affair with a certain British born vaudeville performer called Archie Leach (you may remember him as Cary Grant) was the real deal.

The pair hooked up in their early years, when Kelly was 24 and Archie was 17, while both were poor and struggling to become actors in New York City. They were able to live together, party and enjoy all life had to offer in the gay-friendly subculture of Greenwich Village of the 1920’s.

When they arrived in Hollywood in 1932, it was a different story. Being gay in Hollywood at that time was even worse than being a communist. While many Hollywood celebrities that were gay hid it, Kelly lived his life to the fullest. He was outrageous, witty, outspoken and uncompromising. He wined–sometimes too much– and dined with Hollywood’s A list of glamorous stars at Hearst parties and the more circumspect Sunday gay pool parties with George Cukor and Cole Porter.

On the other hand, Archie (aka Cary Grant) chose a very different path–marrying five times and denying the persistent rumors calling him gay–even going so far as suing a gossip columnist who claimed the rumors were true.

The film covers Kelly’s life from the 1900s in Australia, his New York years in the 1920s and Los Angeles in the 1930s until his death from liver cancer in 1964.

Marilyn Monroe, one of the many women he's undressed

Marilyn Monroe, one of the many women he’s undressed

The story is told through a variety of techniques–with a touch of wit and humor. Kelly, played by Darren Gilshenan, serves as narrator for the film. He reports on his life journey from a row boat on the water. The row boat motif was garnered from a picture of Kelly as a young boy in a sailor suit, photographed by a small wooden boat at a local Kiama photography studio near his birthplace. The rowing motif serves as a symbol of his tenacity, doggedness and endeavor.

Actresses Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury (both of whom worked with Kelly), costume designers Ann Roth and Deborah Nadoolman Landis, and scholars Leonard Maltin and David Chierichetti appear on screen in segments throughout the film to weigh in on Kelly’s influences and style.

Fabulous clips of the women (and men) he dressed and undressed from those movies showcase his amazing designs.

Orry Kelly with Kay Francis. Photo: Scotty Bowers

Orry Kelly with Kay Francis. Photo: Scotty Bowers

The documentary, “Women He’s Undressed” will be shown Wednesday, October 28 at 5 pm. as part of the Chicago International Film Festival at AMC River East 21.

For a review of this year’s audience choice selection, “For Grace” click here.

Subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email

If you would like to keep in touch with what’s happening in Chicago, like us on Facebook or subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email. To subscribe, type your email address in the box below and click the “create subscription” button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment

  • Advertisement:
  • Advertisement:
  • ChicagoNow is full of win

    Welcome to ChicagoNow.

    Meet our bloggers,
    post comments, or
    pitch your blog idea.

  • Meet The Blogger

    Carole Kuhrt Brewer

    Arts, entertainment and dining journalist..

  • Follow me on Twitter.

  • Recent posts

  • Categories

  • Latest on ChicagoNow

  • Advertisement: