Forgive my untimely absence – I was busy with a First Aid course… certainly useful, as I make it my business to know as much about life and death as I can. Another bit of housekeeping – now on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hardboiled_girl. Let’s be twitter-friends, have a few laughs.
Now back to the matter at hand, the incomparable Ann Savage as Vera in Detour. Ann Savage, born Bernice Lyon, screen-tested at Columbia, took a few minor roles, and ended up being paired with Detour co-star Tom Neal in 1943 for what appears to be the largely forgettable Klondike Kate – an early entry in the career of Mr. Gimmick himself, William Castle. (Who would, of course, go on to bring the world many great 50s-60s drive in horror classics and that Joan Crawford axe murder movie. Party on, William Castle.)
By the way, I feel it pertinent to mention, when Ann Savage wasn’t destroying the screen as Vera, she looked like this.
Savage and Neal would go on to share the screen several times, though never again matching the raw power of their anti-chemistry in Detour. Ann Savage would go on to dismiss many of her other roles as “mindless”, noting that actresses were often scenery in stories devoted to male characters. As Vera? She’s something else. When she shows up the in middle of the film, it’s pretty clear that if they lock horns, she’ll devour him.
In between spitting out some of the film’s best one-liners, getting piss-drunk and sexually agressive, chain-smoking and uttering clench-jawed threats, Vera’s femme fatale fashion is as sparse and as gritty as the story itself. So what does your typical hard boiled girl, after falling off the crummiest freight train in the world, wear for a day of hitchhiking? Black pencil skirt, nubby knit white sweater, collared blouse, envelope purse. Add your own gormless, ineffectual sap, and keep in mind that hitching rides won’t exactly help you keep your schoolgirl complexion.
Later in the film, Vera slaps on some warpaint and gets dolled up in this black evening dress. She asks Al if she rates a whistle. She sure does. The popularity of shoulder-pads in the 1940s was to be expected – as women entered the workforce and took on stronger roles in a male-dominated society, the soft bias-cut styles of the 30s gave way to the power silhouettes of the 40s – strong shoulders, nipped waists. The 40s look has always served the femme fatale well – and in Vera’s case, we’ve got the 40’s fatale trifecta – sharp shoulder pads, bat-wing sleeves, and a gigantic broach at the bust. It’s an awesomely intimidating look, so dress with care.
Personally, I favor the flouncy nightgown and peignoir sets of the 50s, but for an all-night, shacked-up-in-an apartment bender, you can’t beat a simple terrycloth robe and a hair scarf. Lubricate liberally with alcohol and innuendo.
‘Til next time, keep it cordless.