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The fact that Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford would consent to appear
in a movie together is amazing. Shearer in 1939 was the queen of MGM,
being the widow of Irving Thalberg, and had her choice of material and
co-stars. Crawford, although a power in her own right, didn't have
Shearer's pull and complained bitterly about it. Crawford agreed to
take the somewhat supporting, albeit juicy, role because she needed an
A picture after a string of flops. So she had to suck it up to work
The two stars had only one scene alone together, and there were no reported problems, except one. Director George Cukor sent Crawford home early when she caused a distraction by loudly clicking her knitting needles off camera as Shearer tried to do her close-ups.
Crawford was proved right in taking the movie, it's one of her most memorable and, finally for once, villainous roles. As Crystal Allen, the scheming shopgirl out to sleep her way to a Park Avenue penthouse, she was ideally cast. It was her life.
Rosalind Russell, previously not known as a comedienne, surprised everyone with her rapid-fire sarcastic delivery. She would continue to perfect the biting style for 20 years until she reached the pinnacle with Auntie Mame. Roz gives the strongest performance of the film as the viciously catty Sylvia Fowler, and I don't think Shearer or Crawford knew what hit them.
As for the long-suffering, hair-clutching, heavy-sighing Norma Shearer, even she was able to make the difficult role of saintly Mary Haines memorable. One of her best moments is when she raises her nails and growls "I've had two years to grow claws, Mother, and they're Jungle Red!," and then goes to take her man back from Crawford. Unfortunately, Shearer has a few Silent Screen moments that look out of place, such as collapsing and weeping at her mother's knee. But she makes the character warm and likable and we root for her to win.
There are many gems in the supporting cast. Most spectacular is Mary Boland as the heavy-drinking, high-living Countess De Lave. "L'amour L'amour" she wails as she's about to divorce her fourth studly husband -- for trying to kill her.
Paulette Goddard, the most beautiful member of the cast, is the best I've seen her, as the streetwise Miriam Aarons. Like Crawford, she plays a role she understands, the chorus girl who snags a millionaire. But unlike Crystal, Miriam has a heart -- and Goddard is great at doling out straight-shooting advice and rolling out put-downs under her breath.
Marjorie Main gives a preview of the persona she would later use as Ma Kettle. It was the first time she was able to step out and create the character, and she used it the rest of her career. I never tired of her raucous horse laugh.
I hope Hollywood has the good sense not to attempt a remake with an update of this classic. Time would not be kind. It is a priceless diamond in a golden setting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Women having cat fights over men never looked better than they did in
George Cukor's adaptation of Clare Boothe-Luce's hit Broadway play. An
all-star cast of actresses (which included the established, the
Broadway vets, and the rising in one huge ensemble), THE WOMEN never
once seems as if it's aged a bit because its story could very well be
placed in a modern setting.
The only shame I think is that its release coincided with the year 1939. There were too many other movies that were already vying for recognition and because of this massive competition it got lost in the shuffle. Had its release been withheld until the following year, there's no doubt it would have gotten at least an acting nomination, or multiple nominations in different categories including best picture.
The story at the center is any woman's nightmare: that her husband is having an affair and that everyone but her knows about it. Norma Shearer is this woman. She plays Mary Haines, happily married to Stephen Haines and mother of Little Mary. She has no idea that Stephen is having a torrid affair with perfume clerk Crystal Allen, but Sylvia does (as does everyone else) and plans to have Mary find out about it. Sylvia uses the communication skills of a manicurist to have Mary find out about her husband's secret, and things boil up to a crescendo at a fashion show when both Mary and Crystal meet and spar. Mary decides after an argument to leave her husband in a quickie divorce signing at Reno where she meets not only the eccentric Countess deLave but Miriam Aarons, who is the other woman in the Fowler marriage. Sylvia later also arrives in tears and then finds out that Miriam is set to be the next Mrs. Fowler and a fight ensues. At the last moment, Mary gets a call from Stephen: he will marry Crystal Allen after all. Crystal, now the new Mrs. Stephen Haines, takes to his money and her new lifestyle with a vengeance and makes Stephen pretty miserable. On top of that, she is carrying on with a new guy, Buck, who was up to now the Countess deLave's husband. Sylvia of course learns of this, and the news reaches Mary's ears, who tries to win back her husband and re-kindle her marriage using the same viciousness used against her.
At first glance this is a pretty straightforward comedy of manners among the women who inhabit this world -- who are more real than anyone would like to imagine. However, there are a lot of little elements that the script adaptation of Booth-Luce's play tell about women and how they see not only other women in society, rich or poor, but how they see themselves in a world where the next young thing could displace them and their perfect homes. In essence, this is the first movie to tackle the issue of divorce so successfully and movies like THE FIRST WIVES' CLUB and the TV soaps MELROSE PLACE and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES owe a lot to THE WOMEN. The use of the term 'sister' is an interesting one, it being at the heart of the feminist movement -- female bonding is one of the film's strongest points and serves as a counterpart to the viciousness that we see early on. Interesting that Miriam Aarons, herself an "other woman" is the first to come up with the term. She is the exact opposite of Crystal Allen. She also comes from the streets but is a well-meaning woman and Paulette Goddard plays her like she herself has been there.
Cukor definitely knows his actresses and extracts their best performances of their careers. Of the main actresses, the only one to have been past her prime is Norma Shearer but she gives here her last great performance. Restrained, at times even underplayed, vulnerable in a world of female sharks, watch for the scene when she collapses into tears at the news that her husband will marry another woman. This other woman, played by Joan Crawford at a time when she needed the boost in her career (albeit a temporary one), is vicious, made of steel, and Crawford sinks her teeth and claws into Crystal, all growls and purrs, and literally walks off with the movie. Too bad she wasn't considered for a Best Supporting Oscar. This is her best performance on screen, multi-layered, fascinating. An interesting sequence between her and Virginia Weidler (who outdoes her admirably in a sensitive role) playing Mary's daughter is one with future "Mommie Dearest" echoes. And needless to say the rich comedic timing that Rosalind Russell brings to pretty horrific character, Sylvia Fowler. What an actress! She pulls out all the stops in her scenes, going from plain bitchy, to conniving, to furious, to deceived, and all the time in that rapid-fire speech of hers. Marjorie Main, Mary Boland, Lucille Watson, and Joan Fontaine are all great -- well written characters all directed by the equally great George Cukor who has created a timeless classic with this movie.
This, by far, is the greatest classic bitch film of all
It can never be equaled. They tried, but failed, when trying to remake it a
musical with a less than glamorous casting of the roles made famous by the
all-star female cast of the original written by Clare Boothe Luce. George
Cukor, the director, had his hands full with the likes of these dames of
fame. Each, in their own right, could steal a scene if left up to them, and
they tried. But Cukor, held tight to the reins and kept them all in line.
The beginning credits were cleverly done with each star being represented by
an animal. Norma Shearer, the doe; the delicious Joan Crawford, a tiger;
Roz Russell a cat; Paulette Goddard, a fox; Marjorie Main, a
Joan Fontaine, a lamb.
My favorite scenes were the fight scene with Goddard and Russell, bath scene with Crawford, and last scene when all THE WOMEN go at it at the ball. With wonderful, crisp dialogue, beautiful costumes designed by Adrian and a stellar cast, you can see the sparks fly in this all-time classic comedy of 1939.
"The Women" owes its appeal to the great George Cukor. Without him, it would
certainly have been a different movie. Because of his direction this is a
Hollywood classic at its best.
They certainly don't make pictures like this anymore. Imagine what it would have cost to have a first rate cast to fill the shoes of all these women in today's Hollywood? It would probably be so prohibitive that no one in the present climate would touch it with a ten foot pole.
"The Women", as written by Clare Booth Luce for the stage, was a delicious comedy about New York society, as it was in the late 30s. Of course, by today's standards, this is a very chaste take on that subject. Had it been done today, it would have been done entirely different and the excellent text by Ms. Luce would have probably been thrown away to satisfy the taste of contemporary audiences.
Norma Shearer was excellent as Mary Haines, the suffering wife, who has no clue of how her husband has fallen to the charms of Crystal Allen, beautifully played by Joan Crawford. Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and the rest of the cast seem to be having a lot of fun while playing these women.
One thing does come clear, those women had a style and a sophistication well beyond the times they lived. It's very clear that Claire Booth Luce was well ahead of it all, as she had an understanding for what was going on around her. What a thrill it must have been to have been around New York in that glamorous era!
Women: Love them, as we cannot live without them!
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
There were so many excellent films produced in 1939, but this is the
best at showing (what Hollywood wanted to show) the current times. It
showcases so many wonderful actresses all at once. Norma Shearer is
just outstanding; this is my favorite movie of hers.
It also shows the values and thinking about women's roles at that time; but challenges them at the same time. As embodied by Mary's mother-in-law, there's a feeling of "boys will be boys" and the thought that even though her husband is playing around (for no good reason given - they seem to be a happy couple), Mary should let him get his "wild oats" out of his system, and look the other way. On the other hand, it shows a rich and varied view of all types of women, intelligent, catty, gentle, vicious, etc. They are not necessarily defined by the men in their lives - who are not shown. It actually shows the women ultimately deciding how their men will live - and with whom.
Overall, a wonderful, enjoyable movie.
I just saw this film for the first time a few months ago. I laughed harder than I remember laughing at anything made in the last twenty years. The Women is brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and a whole lot of fun! Norma Shearer is such a sympathetic Mrs. Haines, and the "Jungle red" scene had me in laughing fits. I just could not stop the video for anything. Rosalind Russell was so funny! I thought the scene in the exercise room was absolutely hysterical. I've always been a fan of the demeure Joan Fontaine of Rebecca, and I was surprised to see her here, though not surprised that she played the lamb! This film is such a delight. I think anyone of any age would enjoy it.
This movie has one of the best casts ever - Joan Crawford, Norma
Shearer, Paulette Goddard, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Joan
Fontaine, Hedda Hopper and Virginia Weilder just to make a few. These
women carry the movie perfectly and acting is perfection. Some people
disagree and say that Norma Shearer acts in a 'silent screen' type of
way - but I cannot agree with that. I think she did an excellent job
especially when she had the crying scene on the sofa (I don't think I
have ever seen anybody cry that well before).
Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) discovers that her husband is having an affair with money-hungry perfume sales girl Chrystal Allen (Joan Crawford). Aided and abetted by her cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) and her army of girlfriends, Mary sets out to win back her man...and teach Chrystal a lesson or two in the process! The movie runs at a rapid pace, and never leaves you bored. The dialog is incredibly witty, it very much surprised me. There was also physical comedy - the hilariously done (and no stunt doubles too!) cat fight between Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard. I found the fashion show a bit dragging and too long, but it was still fun looking at all the wonderful classy fashions of that era.
This hilarious comedy about women and their men can appeal to people who are not necessarily fans of old movies. 'The Women' is a wonderful catty, witty, hilarious movie that can be enjoyed by many.
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.
This movie is two wonderful hours of gossipy, clever fun. The script is incredibly good and makes you wish every movie in the world could turn out as well as THE WOMEN. The performances all blend together perfectly, which is what you need if you are going to tell a story like this. Joan Crawford is sublime as the husband stealer and Norma Shearer plays the usual virtuous kind of part she always played in her career. However in my opinion, Roz Russell, who played Mrs. Fowler simply is at her best. It is one of the most funny and exquisite performances that i have ever seen given by an actress on film. It is plain to see she only cares about herself and her own superficial motives but you cant help being on her side and enjoying all the trouble she stirs up. And also Paulette Goddard gave a sassy performance as the sarcastic woman who has seen it all and wants no more of it. The best scene of hers is when she and Mrs. Fowler fight at the divorce ranch. I loved this movie!
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