August 5, 2012

Sunday Matinée: The Women (1939)

The Women

(1939 version)
Amazon | IMDb

Director: George Cukor

Writer: Clare Boothe Luce (play) & Anita Loos (screenplay)

Stars: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell


Favorite Quote: “There is a name for you, ladies, but it isn't used in high society... outside of a kennel.”


Within New York City's Park Avenue society matrons, the current gossip, fueled primarily by catty Sylvia Fowler and Edith Potter, is that Stephen Haines is cheating on his faithful and loving wife, Mary Haines, with a perfume counter shop girl. The gossip is indeed true, the shop girl being the young and gold-digging Crystal Allen, and the gossip and its contents which Mary is initially unaware. But Sylvia does whatever she can to spread the gossip, especially having it get back indirectly to Mary. As Mary's mother and Mary's friends give her advice on what to do, as Mary meets Crystal herself, and as the gossip hits more public conduits, Mary has to decide what to do, which takes into account the fact that she and Stephen have an adolescent daughter also named Mary. Mary's perspective on her life changes after she meets a group of women in a similar situation as her. That perspective includes how to deal with her so-called friends and how she really feels about being married to Stephen. But she finally makes her decision when she comes across what she believes to be the truth.

Since I was a little girl, I have watched classic movies. But it wasn’t until high school that I really took the time to learn more about the time period, the actors and the studios. On its own, The Women is an amazing movie (one of those old-fashioned, catty yet witty films about how a manicure, perfume and a “trip to Reno” can turn a woman’s life upside down), but knowing a little bit of what went on behind the scenes makes this film much more entertaining. Most people know that Joan Crawford stepped on quite a few toes as an actress, one of the first being Norma Shearer’s, MGM’s “First Lady” if you will, leading to a well acknowledged feud between the two. They did not like to cross paths, and George Cukor had a heck of a time getting the two women to do their scenes together. And neither woman, wanted to share billing with Rosalind Russell, but eventually agreed as long as her name appeared smaller than theirs. But that’s enough about the history, (because I could probably spend all day talking about it) and on to the actual film.


If you couldn’t tell, I absolutely love this movie. Not only do the women look gorgeous, but it gives you “claws mother, Jungle Red.” The setting of this movie is in the dog eat dog world of high society women and their gossiping mills. Not something I would want to live in, but it’s highly entertaining to watch. Plus, it lets you tap into that side we all try to keep hidden, but every now and then she wants to come out and play (the evil twin, so to speak).


And the characters, oh the characters! You have Mary Haines the content, devout wife, Crystal Allen the perfume counter, hussy who has sunken her teeth into Stephen Haines, Sylvia Fowler the instigator of it all, who is also Mary’s cousin, Peggy Day the innocent, newlywed whose husband has money issues causing marital issues, The Countess De Lave, amour has given her a lot of trouble and seems to make numerous trips to Reno, and Miriam Aarons, a new divorcee that finds new love. I mean how can it not be hilarious when all these women cross paths? My personal favorite character is Lucy, a woman who opens up her ranch in Reno to women waiting on divorce finalizations. She takes no guff from anyone, and says whatever is on her mind. Plus she is played by Marjorie Main, who brings a little bit of Ma Kettle to all the characters I’ve seen her play.


The other thing that I enjoyed/found interesting about this movie was the fact that all the characters were women (unless you would count Stephen Haines as one, but he isn’t played by an actor). Also, there is a fashion show in the middle of the movie that shows off such exquisite dresses, aw. And it is said that F. Scott Fitzgerald help write the screenplay but was never given any credit.


My Rating: 5 out of 5 checkers: