Fashions of 1934 (1934): Dieterle’s Musical, Starring Bette Davis and William Powell

William Dieterle directed Fashions of 1934, a pre-Code musical, starring Bette Davis and William Powel, with some lavish production numbers by Busby Berkeley.

Grade: B

The screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert and Carl Erickson was based on the story The Fashion Plate by Harry Collins and Warren Duff.

The film stars William Powell, Bette Davis, Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh, and has songs by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics).

After the initial release, the title Fashions of 1934 was changed to Fashions, replacing the original title with an insert card stating “William Powell in ‘Fashions'”.

Fashions of 1934

theatrical poster


Sherwood realizes Baroque’s companion, the alleged Grand Duchess Alix (Verree Teasdale), is really Mabel McGuire, his old friend from Hoboken, New Jersey, and threatens to reveal her identity unless she convinces Baroque to design the costumes of a musical revue in which she will star.

Baroque buys a supply of ostrich feathers from Sherwood’s crony Joe Ward (Hugh Herbert) and starts a fashion rage.

Sherwood then opens Maison Elegance, a new Paris fashion house that’s a great success until Baroque discovers Lynn is forging his sketches. He has him arrested, but Sherwood convinces the police to give him time to straighten out the situation.

Crashings Baroque and Alix’s wedding, he vows to humiliate the designer by publicly revealing who his bride really is unless Baroque withdraws the charges.

In the end, the designer agrees and purchases Maison Elegance from Sherwood, who assures Lynn he’ll never get involved in another illegal activity if she returns to America with him.

Bette Davis Glamorous?

Warner chief Jack L. Warner tried to change Bette Davis’ screen persona by imposing on her platinum blonde wig, false eyelashes, and dashing costumes. The actress, appalled by the transformation, had been trying to convince the studio to loan her out to RKO to play the slatternly waitress Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage. Eventually she would play that role most successfully, and it would change the course of her career.

In a Photoplay interview, Davis complained, “I can’t get out of these awful ruts. They just won’t take me seriously. Look at me in this picture all done up like a third-rate imitation of the MGM glamour queens. That isn’t me. I’ll never be a clothes horse or romantic symbol.” And she lamented in a Time article, “I looked like somebody dressed up in mother’s clothes. But it was a great break because I learned from the experience. I never let them do that to me again. Ever!”

The movie’s musical numbers included “Spin a Little Web of Dreams” and “Broken Melody” by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal and “Mon Homme (My Man)” by Maurice Yvain, Albert Willemetz, and Jacques Charles.

Harry Warren wrote the theme song that accompanies the fashion show.

Compared to other Warner musicals of that era, Fashions of 1934 was a box-office disappointment, earning $570,000 domestically and $395,000 in foreign markets.


William Powell as Sherwood Nash
Bette Davis as Lynn Mason
Frank McHugh as Snap
Reginald Owen as Oscar Baroque
Verree Teasdale as Grand Duchess Alix
Hugh Herbert as Joe Ward
Henry O’Neill as Duryea
Phillip Reed as Jimmy Blake
Gordon Westcott as Harry Brent
Dorothy Burgess as Glenda
Etienne Girardot as Glass
William Burress as Feldman
Nella Walker as Mrs. Van Tyle


Directed by William Dieterle
Produced by Henry Blanke
Written by Harry Collins, Warren Duff
Screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert, Carl Erickson
Music by Sammy Fain (music)
Irving Kahal (lyrics)
Cinematography William Rees
Edited by Jack Killifer
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: February 14, 1934

Running time: 78 minutes


TCM showed the movie on October 5, 2020