TBT: Regency x 1930s + Technicolor = Becky Sharp (1935)

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Becky Sharp is an adaptation of a play, which is an adaptation of the Thackeray novel Vanity Fair, and most notable for being the first feature film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. This means it’s the earliest full-length film to accurately capture the spectrum of color. As a movie, it’s basically the CliffsNotes version of Vanity Fair, with very 1930s-ized costumes, but it’s a fun, not-too-long watch, and it’s really interesting to see full color in such an early film.

The lead is played by Miriam Hopkins, a prominent actress best known for starring in Trouble in Paradise (1932). Her Becky is pretty close to the one written in the book — mostly looking out for herself because she has to, but with occasional flashes of emotional depth.

Becky Sharp (1935)

Miriam Hopkins as Becky Sharp.

Becky Sharp (1935)

Hopkins was best in the comic scenes, but she brought the pathos when it was needed.

I’d say my main problem was with the casting of Rawdon Crawley, Becky’s main love interest. Actor Alan Mowbray was doughy and just didn’t do it for me — he was definitely no James Purefoy.

Becky Sharp (1935)

He looks hotter here than he does in the movie. Trust me. He was kind of an Ashley Wilkes type.

The rest of the cast was fine:

Becky Sharp (1935)

Frances Dee as Amelia Sedley – boring as always.

Becky Sharp (1935)

Nigel Bruce as Joseph Sedley (right) provided great comic relief.

Becky Sharp (1935)

The Prince of Wales was fabulously foppy.

As you’ve already guessed, the costumes are SUPER 1930s-ized:

Becky Sharp (1935)

Becky’s hair was in perfect 1930s pincurls.

Becky Sharp (1935)

More hot pincurl action.

Becky Sharp (1935)

This “bonnet” was basically a cloche with some added ribbons.

Becky Sharp (1935)

The women’s dresses were extra fitted, basically making them 1930s evening gowns with a seam under the bust.

Becky Sharp (1935)

Gold lame was present.

Becky Sharp (1935)

I thought Becky was going to do some kind of Carmen Miranda dance when this yellow polka-dotted number came out.

Becky Sharp (1935)

This yellow dress was sort of Carmen Miranda goes to finishing school.

Becky Sharp (1935)

I’m unclear what’s going on with this bonnet on Amelia.

Becky Sharp (1935)

The ladies were all in full, modern makeup.

Becky Sharp (1935)

Miss Pinkerton got a smashing black and white diamond cut-out dress.

Becky Sharp (1935)

And a fab turban to go with it!

It was great to get to see all these costumes in color — if you’re interested in more about the technical process, the American Widescreen Museum has some great information about it.

So if you’re in the mood for a quick movie with some very of-its-time visuals, give Becky Sharp a spin!

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Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

5 Responses

  1. MoHub

    Best part is that they made Becky blonde, as she was in the novel, since Thackeray was tuning the “good girls blonde; bad girls brunette” cliché on its head. The later succession of redheaded Beckys totally undermines Thackeray, since redheads were supposed to be seductive, evil, and manipulative, which would make Becky fit rather than overturn the stereotype..

    Reply
  2. mmcquown

    Nigel Bruce is best know for his rather awful portrayal of Dr Watson as a jovial dodderer, but his war record was far more in accord with Doyle’s version of the good doctor. Bruce played essentially the same character in a number of films.

    Reply
  3. ladylavinia1932

    Not a favorite of mine. Not by a long shot. Not even Miriam Hopkins, whom I found rather hammy, could save this film. The best thing about this production is that it is probably the first Technicolor movie that was released. I think.

    Reply
  4. Susan Pola

    Why do I want a ham sandwich after seeing this film?
    Atrocious 1930s costumes, bad hair and actors chewing the scenery. Also, it seems that the Great Bobby Pin Shortage was not in appearance. Notice the million pin curls.
    perhaps with the bad acting ham, I wanted a good ham?

    Reply

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