THE WOMEN (1939) B/W & C 133m dir: George Cukor
w/Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Lucile Watson, Phyllis Povah, Florence Nash, Virginia Weidler, Hedda Hopper
From The Movie Guide: "Every feminist's nightmare? In some ways, yes; in others no. Adapted [by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin] from the hit Broadway play by Clare Boothe (who was later Mrs. Luce, by dint of marriage to the founder of Time magazine) THE WOMEN does portray its subjects as inordinately fond of catty gossip, but also has some interesting points to make about female bonding and societal pressures.
"Norma Shearer plays Mary Haines, a wealthy and loving woman married to an adoring husband and the mother of sweet Little Mary (Weidler, admirably pulling off a difficult part). Contented Mary, though, has no idea that her mate is having an affair with predatory perfume seller Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). Mary's girlfriends know, and the bitchiest of the lot, Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), arranges for Mary to get the news herself from the gossipy manicurist (Dennie Moore) who first started circulating the story. ...
"Filled with witty repartee and vicious gossip, THE WOMEN portrays a world where women seem to do nothing but obsess over men. Playwright Clare Booth always defended her work, claiming that only empty-headed, spoilt rich women were being satirized here. Close examination of the film script, though, reveals considerable insight into female bonding. The several mother-daughter relationships are interestingly portrayed, and even the fights over men, as dramatized in this vast improvement on Boothe's original, are not without their lessons about the roles imposed on women by society.
"All the performances are joys. Shearer has never been more restrained, and but for two moments (dropping to her knees to cry at her mother's feet, and the final reconciliation), her performance never falters. Her crying jag in Reno is one of the most convincing of its kind; even technically better actresses like Davis and Hepburn couldn't always pull tears off this well. Another great moment to look for is the way Shearer hits the flowers her errant husband sends her. Crawford, meanwhile, brilliantly revitalized her career with one of her finest acting achievements, a funny, spot-on portrait of the scheming, sexy Crystal. Hard as nails throughout, she uses her velvet voice to great effect, and her parting salvo at the end is a killer ('There's a word for you ladies, but it's seldom used in high society, outside of kennels.'). Russell (in a showcase part that made her a top star) and Goddard (rarely better) are equally good, though perhaps the funniest performance is contributed by the marvelous Boland [as the Countess DeLave]. Cukor's direction is rich and confident, and the whole production fairly shimmers."
From Variety 's contemporary review of the film: "As in the play, no man appears --- it's a field day for the gals to romp intimately in panties, scanties and gorgeous gowns. Most of the members of the cast (studio claims 135 speaking parts) deport themselves in a manner best described by Joan Crawford at the end. 'There's a name for you ladies, but it's not used in high society outside of kennels.'
"Story is essentially light-weight and trivial, and covers a wide range of fem conversations --- barbed shafts at friends, whisperings of husbands' indiscretions, maligning gossip and catty asides. Script basically maintains structure of the play but directs more sympathetic appeal to the marital problem of Norma Shearer."
THE WOMEN includes a sequence in color, a fashion show which the women attend.