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, Virginia Weidler, Marjorie Main, Virginia Grey, Ruth Hussey, Muriel Hutchison, Hedda Hopper, Florence Nash, Cora Witherspoon, Ann Morriss, Dennie Moore, Mary Cecil, Mary Beth Hughes, Margaret Dumont

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."

From the website, this review of the film by Josh Bell:

"Both horribly sexist and a landmark of cinematic feminism, George Cukor's The Women is as deeply troubling as it is phenomenally entertaining. Based on the play by Clare Booth Luce, and with a screenplay by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, The Women celebrates sisterhood and female solidarity, while wallowing in cattiness and competition for male attention. Cukor’s cast features no male actors, and yet the unseen male characters often motivate the action far more than the women onscreen. The uniformly strong performances ease some of the discomfort, since stars like Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford bring such verve to their characters that it’s easy to imagine their subjugating themselves to men as a strange sort of empowerment rather than the oppression it really is.

"And even along the way to her eventual disingenuous reconciliation with her philandering husband, Mary Haines has a lot of empowering moments, starting with the way she deflects the gossipy tendencies of her circle of friends, led by the delightfully nosy Sylvia Fowler. Ever the busybody, Sylvia delights in spreading the story of Mary’s husband Stephen’s infidelity with shopgirl Crystal Allen, but she’s also a fierce defender of her friends’ honor when the need arises. Mary’s narrative arc reinforces traditional domesticity, as she has to learn to forgive her husband and understand that tolerating affairs is a wifely duty, but Sylvia gets to be more nontraditional, boldly moving on from her husband and ruthlessly rooting out any supposed friend who doesn’t contribute to her happiness.

"Shearer’s warm, nurturing performance as Mary contrasts with Russell’s brash portrayal of Sylvia, but both of them are meek lambs compared to Crawford as Crystal Allen, a devious schemer who also learns that a woman’s place is supporting her husband. Unlike Mary, though, Crystal doesn’t take those lessons to heart, and while the movie condemns her dishonest, adulterous ways, she’s also one of the few characters who’s allowed to live on her own terms without having to conform to the moral standards of the time. Crystal may be the movie’s villain, and a total bitch, but her bitchiness frees her from the prescribed roles that everyone else has to play.

"All of these complex power dynamics are wrapped up in a movie that is just an absolute joy to watch, thanks to the sparkling screenplay, charismatic performances and assured direction. Cukor juggles his massive cast of women masterfully, giving minor characters moments to shine and darting the camera here and there among squabbling rivals. The opening tour through a ridiculously lavish Manhattan salon is nothing short of extraordinary, with bits and pieces of information filtering through overlapping dialogue as characters gab while getting their hair done, having a manicure or engaging in absurd exercise routines.

"The most impressive scene in the entire movie doesn’t even feature any of the main characters, as two members of Mary’s household staff re-create the climactic fight that breaks up Mary’s marriage to Stephen. Mary’s maid and cook manage to convey all of the emotion and drama of the fight while recounting it secondhand, offering insights into their own characters along the way. Although Mary and Stephen are destined to get back together and sweep their problems under the rug, Cukor manages in one scene to show how their marital discord represents potential empowerment and inspiration for other women. That applies to the movie as a whole, which may send the message that a woman belongs by her husband’s side, but also shows that the only way for that to work is if she actively chooses to be there."

THE WOMEN includes a sequence in color, a fashion show which the women attend.

THE WOMEN was remade twice: first in 1956 bearing the title THE OPPOSITE SEX, with a cast including male actors; the second remake was made in 2008 and titled THE WOMEN, with a cast of only female actors. Neither version can hold a candle to the original.