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 aquits 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 gruding 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 poisoniously funny portait 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.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
This is a film that has withstood the test of time. It is every bit as entertaining, as when it was first first released back in 1939. The film is an outstanding example of pre-World War II opulence and elegance with its gorgeous art deco sets. Based upon a play by Claire Booth Luce, it boast a snappy and witty screenplay by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin. In the hands of legendary director, George Cukor, this film is sharp, funny, and memorable with stellar performances given by the entire cast. Boasting an all female ensemble, with nary a male in sight, the film revolves around men. How to get 'em. How to keep 'em. How to lose 'em. How to get 'em back.
The film details the marital travails of Mary Haines, played by screen great, Norma Shearer. Mary has a coterie of bitchy, gossipy, back biting friends, and included in that group is her cousin Sylvia, played with madcap zaniness by Rosalind Russell. Mary is happily married to wealthy Stephen Haines, or so she thinks. Apparently, her perfect husband is stepping out on her with perfume salesgirl, Crystal Allen, played with bad girl abandon by Joan Crawford, and it seems that all New York knows it.
Mary's so called friends ensure that Mary finds herself in a position to discover her husband's betrayal. Mary's mother, Mrs. Moorehead, played with characteristic stateliness and grace by Lucille Watson, counsels her daughter to handle the matter the old fashioned way, promising that the affair will soon burn itself out. She advises her daughter not to betray her feelings about the affair, not to mention it to her husband, not to discuss it among her friends, and to turn a blind eye to the whole matter.
Mary reluctanly tries to adhere to her mother's counsel, until a chance encounter with the now full of herself Crystal Allen causes Mary to lose control, and the fur begins to fly. Mary, now taking a more contemporary approach, totally disregards her mother's advice and refuses to overlook the affair or forgive her husband for the pain and humiliation he has caused her. Leaving him, the inevitable happens, but all's well that ends well. The performances by this all star cast are to be lauded, as each and every one of those cast in this film contribute to making it a truly great film.
Norma Shearer is perfectly cast as the somewhat prim and proper Mary Haines. She plays her role with studied restraint, until the final shot in the film, when she crosses the line. While the fact that she was the widow of Irving Thalberg, a well respected studio head who had died about two years prior to the filming of this movie, may have contributed to her getting the lead, she certainly deserved it in her own right, as she had been a leading lady for many years (Romeo and Juliet, Marie Antoinette, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Private Lives, etc.) and a big star. Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford were actually real life rivals and had never much liked each other, so I am sure that playing rivals in this film was not a stretch. Joan Crawford is wonderful as the "man trap" who steals Mary's husband. She plays the role of Crystal as a hard edged girl from the wrong side of the tracks who grabs for the brass ring. Though she does not have all that many scenes in the film, her presence is such that the viewer does not immediately realize it.
Rosalind Russell, in her first comedic role is terrific. She had previously done only dramatic roles and actually auditioned for the role of Sylvia, playing it three different ways. She played it straight. She played it with a light comedic touch. She played it with total, over the top, comedic abandon. When George Cukor selected her for the role, he told her that the third way was the way he wanted her to play it. At first, Ms. Russell balked, thinking that such comedic excess would be the end of her career. He convinced her that madcap zaniness was the way to go, and she complied, giving an over the top, zany performance that was an instant hit. This film kicked off her start as a comedic actress.
Kudos also go to Mary Boland, as Flora, the Countess DeLave ("l'amour, l'amour"), as well as to Paulette Goddard, as Miriam Aarons, the divorcee who steals Sylvia's husband, and to Joan Fontaine, as the sweetly naive Peggy. Ms. Fontaine looks remarkably like her estranged sister, Olivia DeHaviland, in this film. Marjorie Main plays the role of Lucy, the crude, rough, no nonsence country woman. It is a role reminiscent of a young Ma Kettle, a role she would play in the 1947 film, "The Egg and I." It would be a role that she would take to the bank, as it would spin off into a wildly popular series of "Ma and Pa Kettle" films for Universal Pictures.
Virginia Weidler is affecting as little Mary, the Haines' young daughter. Butterfly McQueen, of "Gone With The Wind" fame, has the small part of Lulu, the cosmetics counter maid. Keep your eye open for Hedda Hopper, the real life gossip columnist. Staying true to form, she plays the role of Dolly Dupuyster, a gossip columnist, who appears towards the very end of the film. Don't blink, or you'll miss her. The film is shot in black and white, though it has a fashion show segment that is shot entirely in color. The elegant and chic wardrobe for the cast is provided by the noted designer, Adrian.
This is a film that will be enjoyed by viewers who enjoy vintage films, as well as by those who simply love a great movie. Bravo!
on August 18, 2002
I am writing this review after recently watching a revival of the play on PBS. Not having seen the movie in many years, I ordered it on DVD afterward. First, the DVD transfer is flawless. This film is mostly in black-and-white, save an insert in Technicolor for a fashion show. The range of gray tones in these old movies can be a revelation to those who have only seen recent B/W films. The masters of the studios in lighting these movies are long since gone, and apparently their craft went with them. The DVD has not only the delightful movie trailer that went with "Women", but also the trailer for the musical remake in 1956, "The Opposite Sex". I never liked the musical, but others might.
The amazing thing about "The Women" is that, if one doesn't pay attention to the trailer, it's possible to watch it and never realize that there are no men at all in the picture! As the trailer says, 135 women and no men. But of course it's all about men!
This is the basic story of Mary, played by Norma Shearer, who discovers her husband is seeing another women. It follows her through her divorce and reunion with her husband. Naturally it's not that cut-and-dried. Her bitchy, back-biting friends go through many of the same travails on a cross-country route to a happy ending. Sounds boring written here, but the movie definitely isn't. Every time Ms. Shearer threatens to get too sugary, a few choice cracks by one of the other characters brings things back into line.
I really can't remember another movie I've seen with Norma Shearer, so this movie defines her work for me. She is a very unusual-looking woman, hard to define as pretty, yet definitely with screen presence. Of course, being Mrs. Thalberg didn't hurt her ability to get this part, and she plays it beautifully. All of the others who support her are equally appropriate, particularly Joan Crawford as the 'other woman'. This movie was made in one of the low periods in her career, and once again placed her as an A-level actress. Mary Boland also stands out as the Countess and later Mrs. Buck Winston. In the recent PBS production on television, Rue McClanahan played this part and the resemblance to Boland was uncanny!
Wardrobe for the movie was provided by Adrian at his best. Standouts for me are the gowns worn by Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer in the final scene of the movie, at the nightclub. Ms. Shearer's looks almost like something from a sci-fi film!
There is no escaping that this movie, and play from which it was derived, were made pre-WW-II. The extravagance shown in this film was never revived after the War, so this gives an insight into the lives of the wealthy. In particular, homes post-War were never staffed with the number of servants shown here.
Art Deco never looked better in movies than it does in this one. The beauty salon at the beginning of the movie, and the night club at the end, are creamy and curvaceous like never before, or since.
A final note on casting: Marjorie Main leaps from the screen with her screeching voice and uncouth manners. Strangely, she was younger than many of the others in the movie, but as usual she was made to appear frumpy and worn-out. In some ways this appears to be a rehearsal for her part as Ma Kettle in "The Egg and I". Look closely, though, and you'll see her youth, here.
This is a fairly long movie, well over two hours, but it is so enjoyable that the time isn't noticed. There truly isn't a 'slow' part to the movie, something or someone is always on the go.
Nineteen thirty-nine was an amazing year for movies, seemingly one last pre-War gasp at screen opulence. "The Women" on DVD can be a welcome addition to anyone's film library, waiting for the right evening when light comedy combined with beautiful women and sassy dialogue is called for. It would be a great buy at twice the price.
on May 7, 2014
Happy to report Blu-ray looks gorgeous…all the shimmery black & white beauty you could ask for. Few sequences are grainier than others, but overall image is clean and rock solid (no more weird "video noise" around the text in the opening credits), and as with most Blu-rays you find yourself picking up on all sorts of trivial details you weren't able to see before: Joan Crawford's freckles, the art deco wallpaper in the ladies lounge at the end, the less-than-stellar faux finishing on some of the sets, etc. Technicolor sequence is also a beauty. As I hoped for...Joan's insane "glitter dress" in the final showdown leaps off the screen (I remember seeing this projected in 35mm back in the 80s, and the audience literally gasping when she comes busting into the room in that get-up).
Should you upgrade? Yes! The original DVD looked fine to my eyes, but this is obviously remastered for the 75th anniversary and the bigger your TV screen the more you'll notice the improvements. As I've mentioned in reviews of other successful B/W Blu-rays…the upgrade achieves that long-lost "silvery grain" image you used to only get in the theater with 35mm. If you don't care about that or know what it means...you can probably stick with your DVD.
The supplements are the same except for the addition of a cartoon and an audio-only sound cue session (the audio is very robust and clear). Would like to have seen Criterion-level supplements for this film…but Warners has pretty much discontinued that practice with their classic films.
As for the movie itself…I don't trust people who don't like this film.
on October 22, 2000
"The Woman" is one of the most amazing movies I have ever seen. For one thing there are no men here. But you don't miss them because they are the subject of the movie. The movie is adapted from a play by Clare Boothe, directed by wonderful George Cukor and has Butterfly McQueen (Ms. Scarlett, I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' babies), famed columnist Hedda Hopper and Hattie McDaniel in it as well Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind and others in the starring roles. Ruth Hussey plays a secretary and Virgina Grey is stunning as a store clerk. This comedy deals with issues that are never ending, cheating husbands, bitchy friends and divorce. Rosalind Russell as Norma Shearer's catty underhanded cousin is my favorite. These actresses are at their freshest and most beautiful. In the film all of the principals are wealthy, very much "high maintenence" and bored so they do lunch and go to fashion shows. Although the movie is black and white the magnificent fashion sequence is in color. I saw first saw "The Women" on a small b/w TV, imagine my surprise years later when I saw it on a color set and they started showing the fashions. WOW! Joan Crawford has one of her best man grabbing, husband stealing roles in this movie. At one point when the husband needs to cancel their date. She becomes indignant because "he tried to stand Joan up for his wife". Another time in a confrontation with the wife she says "When Stephen doesn't like what I'm wearing, I take it off" Are we sure this movie was made in 1939??However, all of these women are such a tight knit clique that they even go to the same divorce dude ranch in Reno (group divorce??) which is owned by Margorie Main who has no sympathy for these rich spoiled and pampered women.If you like your movies sharp, witty, fast paced and classy this is the movie for you. It's as fresh now as it was in 1939, especially when Mary (Norma Shearer) tells her mother, after she has found out that her husband is cheating on her, "Mother, this is the 20th century. . ." Her mother has said that Mary's father did the same thing and she kept quite, that Mary should also "keep quiet, do nothing and say nothing." There are so many witty quotes that time has not tarnished that you will be tempted to use them yourself.
on March 12, 1999
One of the greatest (and still most underrated) Hollywood comedies, about the lives, lies and tricks of few high-society "friends". Cukor is superb in its direction; he looks so comfortable directing only women, that this is one of his "gay-est" films. Not even man appeared as an extra, the women full the screen, with wonderful gowns, hilarious dialogue and catty fights. Norma Shearer in her heartbreaking speciality; she knows how to learn us the inmensity of the problem if Joan Crawford steals your man. Joan Fontaine is lovely, and Paulette Goddard and, specially, Rosalind Russell (our beloved Roz) are incredibly funny. Joan is terrific as well as Crystal Allen; she's at her best, when she proclaims: "There's name for you, ladies, but it doesn't use in the high society...outside of a kennel"
on April 22, 2000
I can't give this film high enough praise - the three things that make a film great to me are character actors, eccentric characters, and good dialogue, and this film has all three. One of the things I don't understand - Norma Shearer was getting Oscar Nominations like crazy all through the 30's for films that weren't NEARLY this good (Romeo and Juliet, A Free Soul, Marie Antoinette) and yet the Academy passed her up on this one (most of her nominations were given to her out of sympathy - her hubby Irving Thalberg, who had died in 1937, was EXTREMELY well-liked in Hollywood). Shearer and Joan Crawford both are excellent in this film (the scene they have in the dressing room together is pure electricity), and Rosalind Russell's Sylvia Fowler is just spectacular . . man oh man, WHY DIDN'T THIS WOMAN EVER WIN AN OSCAR! (There is no such thing as a "bad Rosalind Russell movie.") By rights Roz should have made the AFI list of top female actresses, I guess they think, who needs personality when you have Marilyn Monroe . . . But the acting all around is first rate - Mary Boland is spectacular as the Countess de Lave, Phyllis Povah plays Edith Potter, the role she originated on Broadway, to perfection, Marjorie Main plays what might be called a precursor to her "Ma Kettle" character of the '50's, the gorgeous Paulette Goddard is outstanding, not to mention Joan Fontaine, Lucile Watson, Virginia Wiedler, Hedda Hopper as a gossip columnist, and a little-known actress named Florence Nash who is a HOOT in the party scenes as Nancy, the "old maid" of the group who is reminiscent of Dorothy Parker . . One more thing, if you like this one, see "Auntie Mame" with Rosalind Russell and Coral Browne (Amazon used to have it for sale, but as of now it's on moratorium - hopefully they'll re-release it) - but if you've never seen this comedy, by all means, treat yourself to it today.
on May 13, 2014
Warner's Home Video continues it's excellent track record of restoring some of the classic films from Hollywood's Golden Age with an excellent video and audio Blu-ray of the 1939 classic "The Women" for it's 75th Anniversary. As they've proven with their recent Blu-ray upgrades of such B&W classics as "Mrs. Miniver"(1942) or Technicolor gems like "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone with the Wind"(both from 1939), they offer both fans and collectors the very best video presentations when it comes to their vast film library which includes all the MGM films. With the release last week of "The Women" on Blu-ray, Warner's has outdone itself with this fast paced and still funny film comedy that's even more enjoyable now on Blu-ray. It's a vast improvement over the 2002 standard DVD right from the opening credits(Bitrate: 22.95). Gone are the scratches, dirt, vertical lines, and fuzzy scenes that plagued previous versions and what we get instead is a nearly flawless video that really brings out things that went missing in the standard DVD(costumes, props & set designs, etc.) There are still some problems with certain scenes that appear softer than others but this may be due with the film elements used more than anything else. For the most part, the print used for this Blu-ray is in exceptional condition and may even have been restored. So has the audio(no more hiss or other noise artifacts). This is very apparent about halfway through the film when the picture suddenly changes to a ten minute Technicolor fashion show whose only purpose I can fathom was to show off the costumes of designer Adrian but the inclusion of which slows down the picture(George Cukor, the director wanted it removed to no avail). Of course, it could have been added to give audiences watching the film time to catch their breath that's how good the screenplay is(by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin). The story, based on the popular play by Clare Booth Luce, is about the pampered, rich, gossipy(and ultimately bored) lives of some of Manhattan's high society women who will stop at nothing to get what they want(usually for themselves) even if they have to destroy one another in the process. It may have been hard for Depression Era audiences to identify with such women but under George Cukor's expert direction the whole story holds your interest due in no small part to the outstanding cast(no men, only women). Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard and Mary Boland are all superb in their respective roles. The supporting cast is excellent too, with Lucille Watson, Marjorie Main, and little Virginia Weidler stealing all the scenes they appear in. But it's Norma Shearer who holds the film together with her outstanding and heartfelt performance as Mary Haines whose "perfect" life is torn apart by gossip and betrayal. An underrated actress, Shearer is a revelation and her performance should have been nominated for an Oscar that year, but was inexplicitly ignored(so was the film) in a tough year. Thanks to Warner's, a lot of her films have been released recently on DVD and viewers finally have the chance to see what an exceptional actress she was. "The Women" is 133 minutes with the Color Sequence(Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1) and contains the following subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish. Audio includes: English DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0. Special features include two documentaries and the alternate B&W fashion show sequence with different footage (involving the actresses) that Cukor filmed in addition to the Technicolor sequence. Also included are the original Theatrical trailers for "The Women" and the color musical re-make "The Opposite Sex"(1956). (Please note: This Blu-ray disc is housed in an eco-cutout case so you may want to change to a more solid HD case for added protection). "The Women" may have been overshadowed by other MGM blockbusters in 1939 such as "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz", but it still packs a punch after 75 years with this new Blu-ray presentation from Warner Home Video. It comes highly recommended.
on April 25, 2002
This is a terrific film and one of the many masterpieces from the 1930's. It's all about a group of feisty women and how they interact with each other and deal with the men in their lives. While they seem to be just a gossipy, back stabbing bunch of women, they also show how resilient and resourceful they can be when the chips are down. Norma Shearer stars as devoted wife Mary Haines who's been done wrong by her husband. Joan Crawford also stars as Crystal Allen, a catty home wrecker and Rosalind Russell is excellent as Sylvia Fowler, a scandal hound that just can't wait to spread the news of Mary's marital problems. Also stars Paulette Goddard and Joan Fontaine. This is a classic film with clever and fiery dialogue that also features a Technicolor fashion show with the ensembles designed by renowned MGM fashion designer Adrian. Be sure to see this film!
on December 2, 2002
Whatta CAT FIGHT!!!
I've loved this film for years -- perhaps more every time I see it! This was the classroom for those "Dynasty" broads! It is surely one of the best examples of ensemble performance.
The first inkling I ever had of this film was in the 197(?) Los Angeles Film Exposition's tribute to Rosalind Russell. They showed clips from about 15 of her films, and what they showed from "The Women" was the exercise scene. After that, I was on a mission to see the film (prevideo!). But, Roz isn't the only star shining -- they all do -- even the bit players ("So, whatta they want you to do? Lay an egg?").
The script by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin (adapted from the Clare Boothe play) is extraordinarily wonderful. What dialogue!
If you haven't had an appreciation for Norma Shearer before, -- well, you certainly will after seeing this film. And Joan Crawford -- "Crystal Allen" may be the woman we'll all like to hate best forever.
Oddly, there was no Academy Award nomination for any aspect of this film (perhaps there was an anti-George Cukor movement abroad in 1939 -- he was fired from "Gone With the Wind" remember), not even Adrian's costumes (just get a load of what he put on Roz!).
If you've never seen "The Women" -- shame on you!!