Wealthy Mary Haines is unaware her husband is having an affair with shopgirl Crystal Allen. Sylvia Fowler and Edith Potter discover this from a manicurist and arrange for Mary to hear the gossip. On the train taking her to a Reno divorce Mary meets the Countess and Miriam (in an affair with Fowler's husband). While they are at Lucy's dude ranch, Fowler arrives for her own divorce and the Countess meets fifth husband-to-be Buck. Back in New York, Mary's ex is now unhappily married to Crystal who is already in an affair with Buck. When Sylvia lets this story slip at an exclusive nightclub, Crystal brags of her plans for a still wealthier marriage, only to find the Countess is the source of all Buck's money. Crystal must return to the perfume counter and Mary runs back to her husband. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The female of the species goes jungle red in tooth and claw in this brilliant screen adaptation of Claire Boothe Luce's famous Broadway play--a wickedly funny portrait of 1930s society women whose lives revolve around beauty treatments, luncheons, fashion shows, and each other's men. Socialite Mary Haines is the envy of her set: rich, beautiful, and happily married... but when her husband steps out on her with a gold-digging perfume counter sales clerk, Mary's so-called friends dish enough dirt to make divorce inevitable whether Mary wants it or not.
The script is wickedly, mercilessly funny, fast paced, razor sharp and filled with such memorable invective that you'll be quoting it for weeks and months afterward: "He says he'd like to do Sylvia's nails right down to the wrist with a buzz-saw;" "Why that old gasoline truck, she's sixty if she's a minute;" "Gimme a bromide--and put some gin in it!" And the all-female cast, which includes every one from Cora Witherspoon to Butterfly McQueen to Hedda Hopper, plays it with tremendous spark.
This was the last significant starring role for Norma Shearer, one of MGM's greatest stars of the 1930s, and she acquits herself very well as the much-wronged Mary Haines. But the real winners are the members of the supporting cast. Joan Crawford is truly astonishing as Crystal Allen, the shop girl who leads Mary's husband astray, and Rosalind Russell gives an outrageously funny performance as the back-biting gossip whose nasty comments precipitate Mary's divorce. Indeed, it is hard to do anything except rave about the entire the cast, which includes such diverse performers as Marjorie Main, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, and Lucille Watson. Even the smallest bit parts score with one-liners that have the impact of a slap in the face, and director George Cukor does an incredible job of keeping everything and every one in sharp focus.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about THE WOMEN is the way in which director Cukor ties the behavior of its characters to their social status. Possessed of absolute leisure and considerable wealth, their energies are inevitably directed into competition for the ultimate status symbol: a successful man. Cukor allows us to sympathize with Mary (Shearer) and laugh at Sylvia (Russell), but he also requires us to pity them--and indirectly encourages grudging admiration for the devious Crystal (Crawford) and the savvy Miriam (Goddard), characters who are considerably more self-reliant. Consequently, not only does THE WOMEN paint a poisonously funny portrait of women as a sex, it takes a hatchet to the society that has shaped their characters as well.
Unfortunately, this landmark comedy has not received the full benefit of what DVD offers. Although the print is crisp, the film has not been restored, and the extras are spurious and hardly do the film justice; while I would recommend the DVD simply because you're likely to wear out a VHS, the DVD has no great advantage over the VHS release. But whether you have it on VHS or DVD, this is one title that you must have in your collection: you'll watch it again and again. A must-have! Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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