Friday, January 12, 2018

Five classic film chicks (and one dude) in glasses

I've worn glasses most of my life, going all the way back to grade school, in different shapes and colors. I can't say exactly when I first became conscious of how I looked in them. I had my high school yearbook photo taken without them, so it was probably sometime when I was a teenager. Even today, I prefer being photographed without them, so yeah, I guess that makes me a little vain — not that I look like a movie star or anything without them.

I remember when Jen got contacts because she said her husband preferred her without the specs, but I always thought she looked better with them because her eyes are small and glasses make them look bigger. Most of the time, I tend to not have a real preference when it comes to chicks, unless the glasses themselves look ugly.

Four-eyed movie characters are not uncommon throughout film history, but for a long time they were a sign of nerdiness and/or unattractiveness (even if it was only Hollywood Homely), especially the ladies, and you can be damn sure they were often meant to make the lead actress more glamorous.

No other movie drives this portrayal home more, to me at least, than Vertigo, featuring the patron saint of four-eyed movie chicks, Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge. Every time I see this movie, I think the exact same thing: why, oh why, was Jimmy Stewart so blind to her? She dug him (Zod knows why) but she was in the wrong movie. She should have been in a late 30s romcom with him instead!

The specs were like a bright shining neon sign above poor Midge's head that said "number two," "consolation prize," "bridesmaid," but give her credit for having the audacity to paint her portrait in a fancy 19th-century dress — with her specs! That takes a certain level of self-confidence, folks.

Vertigo is an all-timer, but I wonder how it would look if Kim Novak was the "plain Jane" — as much as it was possible to have made her look ordinary, anyway? Would Jimbo still have pursued her the way he did?

Anyway, I wanna show some love to a few more bespectacled beauties from the good old days of film — plus one token guy:

- Ruby Keeler in Footlight Parade. One half of the beta couple in this movie, along with Dick Powell, this is an early film example of a storytelling trope so old it's got hair on it: Powell barely has time for Keeler until the moment she takes her glasses off, and all of a sudden, it's helloooooo nurse! Suddenly she's appearing in movie theater prologues, hoofing it with Jimmy Cagney (and made up in yellowface, but let's not talk about that). Actually, I can kinda see why Powell wouldn't bother with her at first; the specs Keeler wears are unflattering, and like Wonder Woman when she's Diana Prince, she slicks her hair back in a bun too. Still, she can't hide the fact that she's Ruby Keeler. If I were Powell, I would prefer her without the frames too.

- Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep. Long before she achieved Oscar glory in Written on the Wind, one of Dorothy Malone's first credited roles was in this noir classic. Bogey meets her at the bookstore in which she works, grilling her for information, but unlike Keeler, her frames don't keep her from being seductive almost from the get-go. Granted, she's in a crime movie, not a musical, but her character didn't have to be important. She made it important: the way she walks, the way she looks at Bogey, and flirts with him, it's no wonder he's smitten by her; she may work in a bookstore, but she's no schoolmarm. Her frames are much more stylish and elegant; Bogey does ask her to take them off, but it's almost as an afterthought. She had hooked him even with the frames!

- Patricia Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train. This was the film that inspired this post; both she and Laura Elliott wear them but not, sadly, Ruth Roman (a Hollywood movie with three chicks in glasses might be asking too much). Elliott dies early on and her character wasn't very nice, anyway, so I'd rather talk about Hitchcock, and not just because she was the director's daughter. Dad gave her a good role: she's Roman's little sister, and she's a pip; knowing all the details of a murder investigation (which is no comfort to Farley Granger), crushing on a detective, helping Granger elude the cops so he can settle up with Robert Walker. She's not a wallflower like Keeler or a siren like Malone; she's a little tomboyish, but mostly she's the girl who'll be a woman soon, to quote Neil Diamond, spunky and exuberant and unafraid of life. Her specs suit her, I think. The fact she does wear them plays a small factor plot-wise, but overall, she's not treated differently because of it, not by those closest to her.

- Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. Norma Jean could have made a garbage bag look sexy, but in this scene from one of her first big hits, I think it's clear the whole idea of putting her in specs was meant to be a gag:

- Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. And finally we get to a more modern looking woman, one for whom donning specs doesn't automatically equal square or sexless. Diane Keaton has been four-eyed in a number of films throughout her long career and it's never diminished her great beauty; while she doesn't wear them from start to finish here, compared with the Woodmeister, her frames are almost invisible. Vija, who has worn glasses for as long as I've known her, recently posted a picture on Facebook of her in her youth (late teens? Early 20s? I forget) and she looked just like Annie Hall.

And the one dude is NOT Harold Lloyd, as you would expect, though he certainly made the movies safe for all four-eyed actors. No, I'm going with Michael Caine in The Ipcress File, a movie I haven't seen, but the simple fact that a career badass like him wears glasses in this film, fairly thick ones, too, has got to count for something. Sure, he wears glasses in movies now — but that's just because he's old. Still a badass, though.


  1. I thought for sure it was going to be Harold Lloyd. Although I have been thinking lately that I should check out those Harry Palmer movies. I might be missing something.

    Ingrid Bergman was interesting in spectacles as a shrink in Spellbound.

    Loved your description of Midge! That should be a t-shirt.

  2. I almost went with Ingrid but I had never written about Malone before, so...

    If I were a big shot filmmaker, I'd make a VERTIGO movie from Midge's perspective, which probably wouldn't resemble VERTIGO very much, but that's okay.

    I may watch IPCRESS sometime soon. Maybe.


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