24 February 2008

The Women (1939)

Few movies are as true to their titles as is The Women. There's not a Y chromosome in the entire film. Not that I minded terribly; men can be very annoying, and I found myself glad to be rid of them while watching this movie.

The Women follows the story of socialite Mary Haines, whose husband, unbeknown to her, has been unfaithful to his wife (to put it blithely), seeing perfume saleswoman Crystal Allen on the side. Hilarity ensues as, thanks to a loose-lipped manicurist, Mary learns of her husbands extracurricular activity, and files for a divorce. Mary's so called friends, among them the odious Sylvia Fowler, delight in her downfall, wretched gossips that they are. Of course, this being 1939, everything works out in the end, with everyone getting their just desserts.

Mary Haines is played by Norma Shearer, who gives an admirable and sympathetic performance of the wronged wife. Joan Crawford plays Crystal, the gold-digging homewrecker par excellence, and she turns in quite a performance (although her hairdresser, it must be said, deserves a traitor's death. Joan sports a rather unflattering coiffure throughout the flick, sad to say). The two work extremely well as rivals in the film, since they were fierce studio rivals at MGM in the 1930s, and probably hated each other. Seriously, there's a cat fight that I'd pay good money to see.

The character I really loathed (as I no doubt was supposed to) was Sylvia Fowler, played well by Rosalind Russel. Russel does a fine job of being a manipulative, obnoxious, conniving shrew--I wanted to backhand Mrs. Fowler no fewer than a half-dozen times.

The film is in black and white, with the exception of a Technicolor fashion show, apparently inserted into the movie with the sole purpose of showing off the haute couture of costume designer Adrian. This, I thought, was a bit much, and I can understand why the sequence isn't always included in showings of The Women. On the other hand, it was enjoyable to see some of the incredibly gaudy outfits, some of which I can't possibly imagine any respectable woman wearing, even back in the day. Of course, The Women was produced on the even of the 1940s, and I find 40s styles in many ways atrocious, especially when it comes to women's hairstyles.

As a personal note, I was glad to see Dorothy Sebastian back on screen, even if hers was only an uncredited, bit part. I could barely recognize her with blond hair (which, I might add, was done up in hairdo on par with Joan's. I don't know who was responsible for styling the hair in this movie, but they are dire need of a beating).whoops, never mind that part.

I rather enjoyed The Women. I found the recurring references to Jungle Red particularly amusing, especially Mary's remark about her "claws" at the end of the movie. If I ever find myself leading an armored division into battle, rest assured that "Jungle Red" will be our battlecry.

And did I really just write several paragraphs arguing about costume design and hairstyles? Good God. Pardon me, but I have to go play some violent video games while listening to Death Metal.

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