Who could forget the battle cry of Mary Haines (as played by Norma Shearer)? Or this pivotal plot point?
I’d first heard of the film, The Women (1939), in relation to Gone with the Wind. The Women was a sort of consolation prize to those actress who did not win the coveted role of Scarlet O’Hara. In fact, the only top tier MGM stars not in the film were Greta Garbo and Myrna Loy.
The first time I saw The Women was when it was performed as a live radio drama at Syracuse Stage with Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Remington Steele”), starring in the role of Sylvia Fowler alongside prominent women (and one man) in the Syracuse community. I so enjoyed this benefit performance that I was determined to watch the original movie.
Based on a stage play by Clare Booth Luce, the story is a study of women and their relationships. Mary Haines is unaware that her husband is having an affair. Sylvia Fowler, a friend and rival of Mary’s, learns of the affair–to a lowly sales clerk no less–from a talkative salon manicurist, and of course, Sylvia simply cannot resist gossiping about this bit of news. She even arranges to have Mary learn the truth by sending her to the manicurist! Mary travels to Reno to get a divorce, meets the Countess De Lave, and the stage is set for a little comeuppance for Sylvia and Crystal Allen, the woman who stole Mary’s husband away.
Besides Shearer, the film starred such illustrious actresses as Rosalind Russell (Sylvia), Joan Crawford (Crystal), Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Mary Boland, Ruth Hussey, and Hedda Hopper. Every role is female. Not a man in the cast. Even the animals featured were female! Director George Cukor certainly had his hands full with this cast, many of whom did not necessarily get along. The behind-the-scenes interplay of these women could very well be as intriguing a story as what’s seen on film!
The Women has been remade twice. Once in 1957 under the title, The Opposite Sex, starring June Allyson, Joan Collins, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Agnes Moorehead, Leslie Nielsen, and Jeff Richards as narrator, Buck. And again, more recently in 2008, with Meg Ryan, Debra Messing, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman and more. Sadly, with the law of diminishing returns, you can imagine which version is best.
The Women is classic old style Hollywood and most certainly worth watching. I’ve revisited this film here on The Poisoned Martini as my previous post refers to the Jungle Red Writers blog, which is surely inspired–in name–by the (in)famously called nail polish, Jungle Red.
P.S. Though filmed in black and white, The Women features a lavish and rather extended fashion show sequence in full Technicolor.