65 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Top 10 Shitty 1980s TV Historical Costume Movies

    1. Polyester-and-Popcorn-Hair Era. I’m still astonished any of us crawled out alive.

  1. You got North and South–that’s all I needed
    My sister had a thing for Patrick Swayze in that film. I couldn’t get it myself (the books are much more convoluted and weird).

      1. I just recently discovered this blog, and I love, love, LOVE what you’re doing!

        One correction, though:

        The photo at the top of the article isn’t from “East of Eden”. It’s a photo from the January 1987 issue of PLAYBOY, part of a non-nude spread titled “Jane Seymour: Enchantress” shot by the late Richard Fegley, in which Jane sprawls and lolls around an English Country House in all sorts of Victorian-esque deshabille.

        (I’m not sure, but I think it was her own house at the time and her own wardrobe.)

        If you Google Image search “Jane Seymour East of Eden” the PLAYBOY shots pop up in there as well, so it’s a common mistake.

        The photo linked in the reply with Jane in the corset and chemise is from “East Of Eden,” but I’ve heard it was a publicity shot, rather than a scene from the film. I haven’t seen the TV version since it aired, so I can’t be sure.

  2. Yes! You hit all my quality favorites of the 80s…a few of those shots in North & South look like photo layouts for an early Victoria’s Secret catalog (not that it’s necessarily a bad thing… ;-) ). The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch is my all-time five-beer favorite. Keep it up!

  3. I have a confession to make…
    Looking back at “North and South” I can see where I found my love of big, poofy dress, with inappropriate fabrics. Thus my choice of a polybeast confection for my own bridal gown. I’ll have to share with Trystan so you can see where the trend had gone in the 90’s.
    I have learned better, and when hubby and I renew our vows in 2018, I can promise you, it will not be quite as devastatingly polyfantastic.

  4. I think the only ones of these I *didn’t* see in the ’80s were Sleepy Hollow & Hunchback. And now you know why I’m the originator of the phrase, “I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, I just want my tits out!”

  5. That version of Sleepy Hollow was one of my faves as a kid LOL! Can’t say it was one of the films that launched my love of historical costume, but maybe my love of ghost stories. :) And Jeff Goldblum.

  6. Ivanhoe was the worst film shoot I have ever been on bar none. They invited medieval reenactors as extras, and then the clueless wardrobe woman made everyone change into polyester (my friend wore esther rantzens old dressing gown). she also forced several women to strip to their underwear in the back of an open lorry with leering crew outside (she treid it on me, I flat refused)
    the extras were then expected to stand in full sun all day, on one of the hottest days of the year, with no water provided. There was water on site but they refused to give any to the extras until several people passed out, then I think It was pretty much taken under threat of decapiting the director.
    I should add there were young children amongst the extras at the request of the director. my friend swears Ronald pickup saved his daughters life. She was four and visibly getting very red and upset from heat+no water, dad was arguing with a crew member that the child should at least be allowed into the shade before she died. Ronald pickup happened to be passing and saw the state of the child, he clicked his finger and had crew fawning over her like a princess – water, fans, the lot – then he had words with the arsehole of a director.
    lovely man, Ronald pickup

  7. Nooooooooo…not North and South!!!!! :-)

    Seriously though, inaccurate costumes aside, it’s that show that had a big influence in getting me me interested in historical costuming.

  8. I don’t know whether I spent more time laughing reading this post or yelling “Noooo… oh nooo…” It’s a tossup.

    Though I had a moment of, “Is that Anthony Perkins??” in N&J. IT IS.

  9. This post could have been divided up and made up all of Snark Week, there is SO MUCH HERE.
    This made me so happy.
    Also: why does fontage sound so dirty?

  10. That was amazing!! After reading the comments I am relieved that I am not the only one to have loved North & South. My nine year old self thought everyone looked so glamorous!

  11. If anyone wonders about the literary peculiarities of the North & South books, John Jakes started out as a fantasy writer of such epics as the Brak the Barbarian series.

  12. OMG. When I was 12, I saw “Napoleon and Josephine” and I thought it was the bestest, most romantic thing ever. I think it started my love the French Revolution/First Empire period. But when I tried to watch it 20 years later… it was SO BAD! The dress made out of a 1960s shower curtain has me laughing hysterically.

      1. He played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears in the 60s….a mean, powerful, nasty fellow. So weird to see him in a period drama!

  13. So in Chastity Gulch, Maggie and the Union soldier are competing for the Confederate doctor’s affections? I would totally watch that in a 1980s tv movie…

  14. All I want to know is when are we going to have a bad movie night and watch The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch? I need an evening of pants-wetting hilarity.

  15. So I *did* do a quick search here, so don’t yell at me- but have you reviewed ‘Centennial’ or ‘Roots’? Especially Centennial. Some very interesting stuff there…

  16. We appreciate you trying! Nope, we haven’t talked about either — I haven’t seen either, although Roots is definitely on my list. Did you see they’re making a new version, coming out later this year?

  17. Awesome post. “The Blue and the Grey” was filmed in and around the town I grew up in (Fayetteville, AR). My boyfriend (we’re talking 4th grade, so we weren’t super serious) was an extra and got to meet Gregory Peck, who played Abraham Lincoln. And a girl a couple years ahead of us had, gasp, a SPEAKING ROLE. Good times.

  18. Hey “Kirstie”. Madonna called… she want’s her black (bad polyester) finger-less lace gloves back. And cleavage in 1860 America was NOT a duplication of a “modest” (by their definitions) 1780s curved bustline Cirocco.

      1. Sometime you ought to do a post about the way that women’s Victorian-era gloves are (in)accurately represented in film. “The King and I” (Yul Brynner/Deborah Kerr version) is the worst offender in that regard, IMO. Kerr wears white kid opera gloves in one scene, whereas there was literally no such thing in women’s fashion as gloves longer than wrist level from 1840-1870 or so. I love opera gloves (so much so that I used to have a website devoted to them), but that particular instance is just wrong on so many levels.

  19. If I may, I’d like to defend the Green frock Kirstie Alley is wearing. It’s supposed to be ill-fitting, she stole it from her sister-in-law, Constance!! That bitch!

  20. I have a few comments regarding “NORTH AND SOUTH”.

    One, I didn’t have a problem with Kirstie Alley’s performance in “NORTH AND SOUTH”. She was one of the best things about that production. However, I didn’t care for the gown she wore at the Mont Royal ball sequence or her hairstyle. She looked like a cast member from “DYNASTY”. Two, the badly fitted gown she wore in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” did not fit well for a reason – the gown originally belonged to the Constance Hazard character portrayed by Wendy Kilbourne. And Alley was portraying an upper-class Northern woman who lacked the means or the skill to readjust the gown.

    Also, Liz Taylor had a good reason to show a good deal of cleavage in her “North and South” costume. It was fashionable to show décolletage for evening wear in the 19th century. And she was portraying a whorehouse madam.

  21. In 1194, even the horses wear half-assed glue on felt and bits that don’t fit! (No joke, that’s 1. a modern stainless-steel eggbutt snaffle that every hunter child of the Eighties still has about 50 of and 2. about 1/2″ too big for that poor horse.) I liked playing “spot the stainless-steel tack and stirrups” in the Tudors, too, though given JRM kept sawing on that poor sandy bay horse’s mouth they probably figured give him something with no leverage. They used period-appropriate tack included long-shank leverage bits in “Gettysburg” to go with the period-appropriate hair and costumes and at one point Stephen Lang almost flips his horse (a leverage bit is designed for little/no direct rein, slamming a horse in the mouth when they’re wearing one could hurt. He and the horse both seem genuinely startled when an explosion goes off, he pops the horse, and it nearly goes over backwards.)

    Speaking of Civil War costuming, I will give Donny Osmond minor, minor props for having something young attractive male characters in 1980s Civil War dramas never have–facial hair. It’s not accurate, but at least he doesn’t have baby face in that shot.

  22. Just found this terrific site – I do have one note about the 1987 “Casanova”, which is one of my favorite Silly Costume Period Pieces. (It’s a felony that this movie has never been released on DVD, even through any of the studios’ “archive” series, and can only be found online in its entirety through considerably more, ahem, dubious sources.)

    Anyway, in the group picture of Richard Chamberlain with a bevy of beauties, #8, the brunette in peach to the far left, is actually Marina Baker, the Playboy centerfold for March 1987. She appeared topless in the European version of the movie, which is about 30 minutes longer than the U.S. broadcast version (and even that is longer than the butchered version that was released on VHS in the early 1990’s), along with most of the other actresses in that picture.

    She’s best known otherwise these days for having been romantically involved with Daniel Craig at that time, and for more recently being a politician (at one time the mayor of a suburban community on the English coast) and environmentalist activist.

  23. Bad is bad, no matter what part of the production it comes from. And what, pray tell, was the point of hiring reenactors, if not for their (theoretically) more authentic costumes? Sometimes, a thing can be too good. My second wife made a costume for her brother for a production at his little theatre group that was so much better than what the costume shop had come up with that they ended up having to re-do all the others. It was worth the effort: the show looked so much better.

    1. Irritatingly enough, I’ve hear of production companies who make a big deal of consulting reenactors (even local SCA costumers) and talk about how they want to make their thing soooo authentic, and how they soooo love our stuff… and then totally disregard everything we say, totally wasting our time. Aggravates the hell out of me.

  24. 1. Reread the intro to the post! “Also, I haven’t seen ANY of these! So they could very well be god’s gift to acting/storytelling/whatever.”

    2. This site focuses on costumes in historically-set movies & TV shows/series, so that’s our angle. Of course, there are other angles (see #1 again).

  25. I’m sorry, but I don’t regard the “North and South” miniseries or “The Blue and the Gray” or even “George Washington” as shitty movies or miniseries. The costumes may not have been perfect, but I was more than impressed by the writing and acting found in them.

  26. If you just ignore the costumes, Anthony Hopkins “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was really good. It had a terrific cast that included John Gielgud and Derek Jacobi as Claude Frollo. Pity about the costumes though.

  27. The writer of the North and South novels was John Jakes, whose previous literary efforts were the Brak the Barbarian novels. Apparently, he had input on the screenplay. It’s appalling that with all the sources for American and English Civil War, Napoleonic, and Rev War sources that these things can be done so badly. On the other hand, is there a list of the 10 best costume flicks?

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