The Women (1939), or Is Gossip Poisonous In Large Doses?

8 01 2009
Family turmoil is great! Thats why Im smiling!

Women: Fact Or Fiction?

Another fine selection today! A big shout-out to Debbie for suggesting this one! Don’t forget to leave comments and suggestions everyone! Start a discussion in the comments section with other viewers or just tell me to fuck off! I’d be much obliged!

I…I honestly don’t know how to feel about this one, folks. It’s the strangest damn thing. I am torn on this one. The Women was not made for me, my generation, or even my sex, so I can understand why I would not enjoy it. But there is the nagging sensation that perhaps I would judge too harshly by giving it a poor review. Umm…

Let me try to explain this.

The Women was based off the Broadway production that premiered three years earlier in 1936. It tells the story of Mary Haines, a wealthy Manhattan socialite, whose husband is straying from her with a perfume-counter girl. Mary is a strong, intelligent, passionate spirit who is truly and deeply in love with her man, and that makes it all the more painful when she learns of his treachery. What’s worse is that she does not hear this from her husband or the other woman, but some loud-mouth manicurist. That is the theme of The Women. Half, if not more, of the storyline is told through gossip and idle chatter between Mary’s friends, servants, and even complete strangers who heard choice bits of info. Everybody seems to know more about Mary’s life than she does, especially her best “friends”, and until she finds out they talk to her in thinly veiled code, trying to make her guess what is going on in her own scenario. The only person in her life who is honest with her is her mother, but her ideas about love and relationships are caustic and unhealthy in any age, much more so in the 20’th century. Will Mary stand up for herself? Will she sacrifice her comfortable life for her dignity? Will her friends be thrown into an active volcano for their dishonesty?

The three stars, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell, are just about all the characters you could, or would want, to handle. Everyone else, and I mean every single other character, grates on you too much for my taste. They’re all horrible gossiping hens who delight too much in Mary’s predicament to even be considered friends. But the three stars, when they are on the screen, are good enough to stave off the bitterness of Manhattan’s hot-air machines. Norma Shearer as Mary, the eternal victim, really gets to you because she is so strong and independent and you feel she doesn’t deserve any of this. Joan Crawford as Crystal, the ‘other woman’, is the perfect role for Joan, who seems so self-righteous and conniving I could see myself as the weak man falling right into her gaze and her arms. And Rosalind Russell, as Mary’s friend Sylvia, is the worst “friend” of the bunch, and she is so bad that I could not help but laugh, as she is a living, breathing hyperbole of gossip and scandalous talk.

The film is brave for dealing with sensitive subjects such as divorce, which was still fairly unheard of in 1930’s America. But as soon as it takes a step forward, it takes two, sometimes three steps back with its still-antiquated view of women and black people, who could be offended by one or two of the film’s bigoted jokes. Now I know this was the 30’s and American audiences could only take so much independence from their women, but it still makes me uncomfortable to watch as they become devalued before my eyes. Women were still a disenfranchised member of society (and in some ways still are), and unless you had wealthy husbands that could afford you the luxury of self-sufficiency in your community, you were confined to a household or a few low-paying jobs. If you don’t believeĀ  me, take a look at the fringes of this movie, at the many servants and maids and counter girls, earning barely enough I’m sure to keep themselves afloat, who have to carry the coats and cook the dinners of the main characters.

So here’s the deal. I am not comfortable watching this movie at times, and other times it keeps me entertained. I do not know what to do. If you are a woman, this might be the movie for you. Despite the misleading tag-line, it is an all-female cast: not one male is shown throughout the entire movie, if that sounds like a plus to you. But I cannot put myself in your shoes (they are too small), so I have to go based off my personal feeling, and my feeling is split in two. Therefore I give The Women 5 conniving perfume-counter girls out of 10.

See you next time, where we talk about Bangkok Dangerous!

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2 responses

14 09 2009
Jenni David

very sweet review, I actually was nervous as I read it because you were so nervous writing!! BTW I hate that movie…and I played the workout instructor in a stage performance of it!

14 09 2009
cinematronica

It’s all very vitriolic, isn’t it? I just wished SOMEONE cared about the poor woman at the center of it all. Everyone around her was more concerned about their gossip reaching her ears rather than about her and her bizarre, maudlin children (their moronic doe eyes both disarm and anger me, I don’t know why).

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