Over the years, I had seen bits and pieces of the 1935 movie Roberta, but I decided to give the movie my full attention after my friend Ron van Empel encouraged me to do so. Ron, a very talented Dutch lighting designer, loves old movies as much as I do. In fact, unbeknownst to the other, we watched Lost Horizon around the same time and both of us were inspired by the movie's upholstered doors. (I was simply inspired; Ron actually acted upon the inspiration and designed Lost Horizon doors in his own home!)
Roberta's plot revolves around a hayseed American (Randolph Scott) who travels to Paris with his best friend (Fred Astaire) and their band. Scott visits his famous fashion designer aunt, Madame Roberta, who employs a Russian princess played by Irene Dunne. Romance and music and dance numbers ensue. But this post is all about the sets. Ron told me that I would get a kick out of the exuberant sets, and he was right. The art directors of the film were Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark. In typical 1930s fashion, the sets were very white. What struck me the most were the number of murals and painted designs on the set backdrops. While painting decorative motifs and murals was certainly cost effective, it would be safe to say that these sets were painted to within an inch of their lives. Most of the film takes place at Madame Roberta's Paris couture house, and the motifs and murals there are a curious mix of Roman, Greek, and pastoral scenes. Madame Roberta's was a far cry from the salons of Mademoiselle Chanel and Madame Lanvin!
To read my post on Lost Horizon, click here. To see Ron's Lost Horizon doors, click here.
The lobby of Madame Roberta was typical for the era. Glamorous zebra print chairs, a banister that is pure pastiche, and an elaborate door surround.
Madame Roberta's living area was probably the most elegant. Columns abound with two holding crystal lamps and one supporting a Deco looking sculpture.
But, the set designer couldn't resist adding something painted. This time, it's a Roman gladiator.
The Salon at Madame Roberta was most interesting. Inexplicably, there was a deer in the snowy woods mural as well as a door painted with a carriage and wagon wheel. I'm not sure what the thought process was behind this. After all, this was a Paris couture house.
One of the atelier's offices with some kind of mural in the background.
Ginger Rogers practicing her nightclub act at Cafe Russe. Russian motifs were (what else?) painted on the backdrop.
I actually like the faux ornamental tree. What kind of fruit is that supposed to be?
The finale was a musical fashion show of Madame Roberta's latest creations. Quite a production. And who would have thought that Madame Roberta's atelier on Avenue Montaigne was so large? I do want to point out the diamond patterned door and Greek key surround in the photo of the model in the lame dress.