Every feminist's nightmare? In some ways, yes; in others no. Adapted 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. Mary's mother, Mrs. Morehead (Lucile Watson), though, advises her to say
nothing and simply let the affair play itself out. Unfortunately, Mary encounters Crystal at a fancy clothing salon and, in a blistering scene, the two women exchange words. Mary leaves New York to race to Reno for a six-week divorce and meets the Countess de Lave (Mary Boland), an aging former
showgirl who has been married several times. She also encounters younger chorine Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), who is having an affair with Sylvia's husband. Mary and the others check in to a ranch owned by Lucy (Marjorie Main, along with the marvelous Phyllis Povah, the only holdover from the
original Broadway cast), a funny and voluble woman. Sylvia arrives, and when she realizes that it was Miriam who stole her husband, a battle ensues between the two women. Mary's surprise, though, is soon tempered as she learns that her former mate, rather than calling her to stop the divorce at
the 11th hour, has married Crystal.
Later, when she gets home to New York, Mary discovers that her ex is unhappy in his new marriage, and that Crystal has taken to both spending money with a passion and having an affair with a radio singing cowboy married to the former Countess. Finally showing her mother that, she, too, has had her
nails done in "Jungle Red", Mary embraces the predatory principles of her friends and artfully tries to win her husband back.
Filled with witty repartee and vicious gossip, THE WOMEN portrays a world where women seem to do nothing but obsess over men. Playwright Clare Boothe 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 is seldom used in high society, outside of a kennel"). 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. Cukor's direction is rich and confident, and the whole production fairly shimmers.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Every feminist's nightmare? In some ways, yes; in others no. Adapted 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 catt… (more)