Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Women (1939)


Here's a film that could make an interesting double feature with Mean Girls.

The Women (Keepcase) and Mean Girls both offer a glimpse of how women treat each other. It's not pretty.

Give The Women the advantage for star power, laughs to Mean Girls.

Lindsay Lohan and Tina Fey are great, but this drama from George Cukor boasts Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine. That's a pretty impressive lineup of major talent circa the Second World War.

Based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce, The Women centers on Mary Haines (Shearer). Turns out what appears to be her ideal marriage is not so great, with hubby Stephen fooling around with store clerk Crystal Allen (Crawford). "We've been so happy together, really happy," she says of her relationship. Friends Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) and Edith (Phyllis Povah) make certain Mary hears the news of her unfaithful husband from a manicurist. How's that for the sting of gossip? The damage loose lips cause keeps coming up through the film.

Mary's mom is pretty smart about the way women work. Mrs. Morehead (Lucille Watson) urges Mary to not confide in her plans to split up with Stephen because they'll be sure to blab the news to others. "I'm an old woman," she advises. "I know my sex."

Mary's mother encourages her to keep the marriage together for the sake of her granddaughter, Mary (Virginia Weidler). But that appeal falls on deaf ears. Mary exchanges words with Crystal in a change room at a swanky department store, but doesn't go for the throat (so to speak). Crystal refuses to end the affair. "I'm taking my marching orders from Stephen. He seems to be satisfied with this arrangement," she tells Mary.

Mary heads to Reno where she meets several other women who are also waiting for divorces. They bunk at the home of Lucy (Marjorie Main), who offers some welcome comic relief in a two-hour plus film with lots and lots of talking. Peggy isn't so sure she wants to cut ties with her hubby. Countess De Lave (Mary Boland) is ready to split from her fourth husband. Her particular knot keeps falling apart, but she's still game to walk down the aisle with another man. She hails Reno as the "American cradle of liberty." Mary's resolve to go her own way weakens, but Crystal still has a strong pull on her ex. She sees Stephen as her meal ticket, while fooling around with another guy on the side.

It's interesting, and at times depressing, to see the challenges women face in 1939 re: their hubbies. A fashion show - in colour - celebrates "the female form divine." There's workouts to keep looking sharp too. Even such efforts to look good don't mean husbands won't stray.

Crawford is deliciously bad as Crystal. Boland is a hoot as the older woman who keeps getting married, despite the relationships failing. Morehead offers wise counsel as Mary's mother. Hmmm, so many of the secondary characters stand out more than poor Shearer. Her character doesn't really come to life until the film's last 15 minutes.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: What a year 1939 was for George Cukor. He also worked on Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Marjorie Main may look familiar because she appeared as Ma Kettle in a number of films. She was also in Heaven Can Wait.

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