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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 <email@example.com>
It was fitting that MGM was the studio that brought The Women to the screen. Claire Boothe Luce's play which ran on Broadway for 657 performances, was her view of the Republican ladies of Park Avenue, in whose society she fit in so well.
None of those studio bosses were exactly flaming liberals, but probably the most political of all was Louis B. Mayer who served on the California Republican State Committee and had his stable of stars ready to do or die for the GOP whether they wanted to or not. Mayer was very active in the campaign to defeat Upton Sinclair for Governor of California in 1934 and put all of MGM's propaganda resources to defeat the radical Mr. Sinclair.
Claire Boothe Luce knew this world well and certainly had the satirical skills to define it. But make no mistake about it, the real villain here is Joan Crawford, shop girl, working class, and I've got no doubt is a Democrat.
Norma Shearer is her opposite, tasteful, refined, and unfortunately getting a little stale with age. Why would her husband now be eying Crawford at the perfume counter if not so.
Due to a lot of interference by not so well meaning friends like Rosalind Russell, who does nothing but gossip about others, Shearer's marriage does break up and her husband goes off with Crawford. Norma's down, but not out.
The Women has aged very well as entertainment. It's as fresh as it was when first presented on Broadway in 1936. There's always the complaint about no good parts for women being written for the female sex. Definitely not as good as the characters that Clare Boothe Luce created in this play.
My favorite in the cast is Rosalind Russell. Usually cast as second leads and colorless heroines, she fought hard for the part she got her as the heroine's best friend and worst nightmare. She also fought hard to share above the title billing with Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford who had lots more seniority at MGM than Russell. In her memoirs Russell gives total credit to George Cukor for bringing out comedic talents that no one really thought she possessed. Russell had done comedy before, but had not been as well received as she was in The Women.
George Cukor always had that reputation as a women's director and I think this film with the obvious title probably is what gave him that reputation. The Women takes a lot of its edge also from the real life situation at MGM. Norma Shearer, being the widow of Irving Thalberg, was the dowager queen of the lot and she still got the first pick of dramatic parts. Only Greta Garbo at MGM who was in a different plane of existence practically topped her. The rest got Shearer's leavings, especially Joan Crawford. That led to a lot of resentment around MGM.
Among the supporting cast look for good performances from Joan Fontaine as the young and shy divorcée, Mary Boland as the scatterbrained Zsa Zsa Gabor of the day, Paulette Goddard who gets Russell's goat, her man, and the best of her in a chick fight and Marjorie Main as the wisecracking owner of a Reno dude ranch where the women stay when they're shedding their mates.
Within two years Norma Shearer would retire from the screen and Joan Crawford in four years would leave MGM. This was the last really good film either of them did at Leo the Lion's den and it's fabulous.
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