Here’s a daring escape in revolutionary France, as seen in the 1990s television version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Can you spot what shouldn’t be there?
The next screenshot is a little harder to interpret on its own. It’s another daring escape, this time across the rooftops of wartime Brussels, from the 1970s series Secret Army, featuring a heroine played by the uncommonly pretty Jan Francis…
though in the particular shot we’re looking at, she’s being doubled by a stuntwoman, as the script calls for her to lose her footing and slide down a pitched roof. The result is that the stunt double’s skirt rides right up and there are revealed…
bright blue panties, 1977 vintage, with (if I’m not mistaken) a floral print.
Of course, most modern women wear panties, and actresses and stuntwomen are no exceptions, even when they are playing characters from another period in which the underwear arrangements were different. In most circumstances, the period costume will be worn on top of contemporary panties, and nobody will be any the wiser; but from time to time, appropriate period undies may need to be provided as part of the costume. An actress playing the silent princess in Honza Malem Kralem, for example, will need a pair of bloomers for the climactic scene when she is spanked.
They may not be available, or she may just choose not to bother with them, in the private context of a rehearsal…
but unless her character is a time-traveler or an actress, either of whom might be expected to have anachronistic underwear, once she goes onstage or before the cameras, she will need to wear full period-appropriate clothing for every layer that will be visible in the course of the show.
But problems may occasionally arise when the action is vigorous, and therefore not controllable with absolute precision, or where a limited budget or limited time and imagination in the wardrobe department means the production isn’t blessed with absolute foresight in every conceivable circumstance. Stunting can be a case in point, and spanking another, as we can see from the Tim Holt Western Thunder Mountain (1947), costarring Martha Hyer as rival rancher Ellen Jorth. Her costume..
is convenient for some of the things a Western heroine is expected to do…
but less convenient for what’s about to happen to her here:
‘I’m going to wallop some of the meanness out of you,’ he tells her after she catches him trespassing and fires a warning shot:
And to add to her woes, she is afflicted with the clearest possible case of visible panty line as she is spanked.
This might not have been a problem, if only the movie weren’t set in 1890. In other words, Ellen Jorth’s 1890 pants are snug enough to reveal the presence of Martha Hyer’s 1947 panties!
So it can pay to think about underwear even when there are no plans for it to appear onscreen. To illustrate that, take a very close look at this magnificent contemporary photograph, set in a 1950s bar:
The girl being spanked, the outstanding Canadian model Eriel Gia, is wearing an elegant period-appropriate polka-dot dress. And since the dress is a little on the thin side, careful scrutiny around the spanked area will reveal that she is also wearing a period-appropriate black garter belt.
This is a one-off picture, not part of a series; there’s no later one with a different skirt disposition that would make her choice of underwear a matter of primary concern. What we see instead is a minute attention to incidental detail that helps make it such a superb piece of work, by model and photographer alike.
And yet, as I have argued elsewhere, there is also a special pleasure to be had in seeing things that you’re really not supposed to see, which might include catching an actress out in an unplanned anachronism next to the skin. There’s a particularly good example in ‘A Study in Petticoats’, the episode of Tales of Wells Fargo in which the fetching young Stephanie Carrie (Diane Jergens) develops a crush on the series’ hero Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson).
She relentlessly tries to force him into a position where he will have to marry her, and her reward is a sound spanking in front of her older brothers. But the scene is not quite what you might expect if you were to judge from the publicity still:
Although those who saw it in 1960 talked it up higher than the actual scene could sustain when it eventually resurfaced in 2017, it still went farther than any other television Western: Stephanie is not just spanked,
but spanked with her skirt raised,
and, most remarkable of all, spanked very definitively on her bloomers.
On television, Western spankings were mainly administered on jeans or long period skirts, and on the few other occasions when the skirts were raised, it really was a study in petticoats, so this scene is indeed something unique and special in the genre. And there’s also a great moment afterwards, superbly played by Diane Jergens, when Stephanie casually sits down and then realizes she can’t.
One reason some found the spanking less than it was cracked up to be was because so much of it happens offscreen while the camera pans around the brothers’ grim faces. This means that the phenomenon to which I’m going to draw attention would hardly have been noticeable in 1960, whereas today’s slo-mo and freeze-frame make things a little easier for those with our kind of tastes and obsessions.
As with the ‘1950s’ bar photograph, look closely at Stephanie’s lower half as she is being spanked. It will be clearest if you look at the second of the two raised-skirt pictures, the one where Hardie’s arm is raised. You can see, below the terminal lace frill of the bloomers, that she is wearing black stockings. Look further up, through the bloomers, and you can see where the stockings end at mid-thigh: there is a clear line where the solid black gives way to a lighter tone that can only be skin, broken by the line of the black garter tab holding up the stockings. So far, so period-appropriate. Now look further up again, to the area of the bloomers that covers her bottom, and the underlying tone is lighter still, again with a clear boundary line separating it from further down. You are looking at Stephanie Carrie’s white bloomers, and you are also looking at Diane Jergens’ white panties underneath!