The facts alone are impressive: costumes designed for 282 Hollywood movies, Oscars won for “An American In Paris,” “Les Girls” and “Some Like It Hot,” the eternal gratitude of Bette Davis, who said his departure from Warner Bros. was “like losing my right arm.”
But, as revealed in the fascinating documentary “Women He’s Undressed,” the clothes that Orry-Kelly designed are more dazzling than any statistics. As costume historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis says, he was simply “a master of silhouette and nuance.”
Appropriately playing at the Arena Cinema in the heart of Hollywood, “Undressed” is directed by Gillian Armstrong, best known for dramatic features like “My Brilliant Career” and “Little Woman.” Armstrong took this on because she wanted to change the fact that her fellow Australian, born Orry George Kelly in Kiama in New South Wales, was too little known by today’s audiences.
Armstrong and screenwriter Katherine Thomson do make one noticeable miscalculation, using actor Darren Gilshenan to play the designer in a series of stylized re-enactments of his story that are tedious and misguided.
Fortunately, Armstrong has also utilized a great group of interviewees, including designers Ann Roth, Colleen Atwood and Catherine Murray and film historians Leonard Maltin and David Chierichetti.
And the clips Armstrong and her team have rounded up make us appreciate how, in a whole range of situations, costumes express character. “He was a great talent,” says Jane Fonda, one of the actresses he dressed, “who built clothes specifically for this character. For you.”
- Kenneth Turan
‘Women He’s Undressed’
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
Playing: Arena Theater, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood.