HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Thursday, May 15, 2014

THE WOMEN -- Blu-ray review by porfle

No doubt one of the big "event" movies of 1939 was THE WOMEN, director George Cukor's raucous and rocket-paced comedy-drama which boasts a cast of over 130 actresses with not a man in sight. 

The trailer tells us that even with an all-female cast, the movie is all about men.  But it's told from the women's point of view, and boy do we ever get to hear all about that in this wisecrack-packed script co-written by Anita Loos from the hit Clare Boothe Luce play. (An uncredited F. Scott Fitzgerald also contributed.)

It hits the ground running with the opening sequence, which takes place in a beauty parlor that's almost as elaborate as the one in the Emerald City of Oz (another MGM creation from '39), but filled with women of leisure abuzz with catty remarks and gossip--the latter eagerly absorbed by blabbermouth Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), who spreads the rumor that the husband of happily-married Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) is stepping out on her.

What starts out breezy and comical takes a sudden turn for the dramatic when the same gossip that a certain manicurist has been dishing out to all her customers finds its way to Mary Haines herself.  We can't imagine the radiant Mary being cheated on (especially with the radiant Shearer playing her) until we get a load of the other woman--none other than a ravishing Joan Crawford at her aggressive, overbearing best.  (The scene with her phoning a secret lover in the bubble bath while puffing on a cigarette is classic stuff, and the razor-sharp Crawford is superb.)

The snappy dialogue flies by fast and furious when these women get together in groups, with allegiances and loyalties switching according to who's cheating on who's husband.  Some of it goes by at such a breakneck pace, in fact, that you may have to listen to it more  than once just to get what's going on. 

At times, all that non-stop gabbiness gets to be a bit much--this is one movie that comes close to talking your ear off, especially when the incredibly energetic Roz Russell is gossiping it up with one of her pals and it sounds like a tape recorder speeding up out of control.  (Russell also supplies much physical comedy as in her frantic workout scene.)

Still, most of it is witty, giddy, and sharp as a cat's claws, aided by some fine performances with a wonderful succession of great female stars of the era.  Headed by Shearer, Russell, and Crawford, the cast also includes a cute young Joan Fontaine, Virginia Grey,  Ruth Hussey,  Marjorie "Ma Kettle" Main (as the proprietor of a Reno dude ranch for newly-divorced women where several of the characters including Mary end up), Butterfly McQueen, and a breathtakingly beautiful Paulette Goddard. 

The opening titles start the film on a wickedly comical note by comparing the main characters to various animals--a fawn, a jungle cat (today she'd be a cougar), a hissing house cat, a fox, a monkey, a lamb...even a cud-chewing cow.  Child actress Virginia Weidler is appealing as Mary's daughter Little Mary, and we hate to think of how she'll take her parents' divorce.  Her scenes with Shearer are just about the only truly heartfelt moments in the film. 

THE WOMEN is exquisitely photographed in black-and-white with a Technicolor fashion-show sequence featuring some wonderfully leggy models showing off an array of dazzling outfits.  The musical score by Edward Ward and David Snell is consistently good.  At 133 minutes, things get a tad draggy in the middle but perk back up when opposing sides really start to clash and Mary decides not to take the theft of her husband lying down.  And yes, there's a catfight.

The Blu-ray from Warner Home Video is window-boxed (1.77:1) with soundtracks in English and Spanish 1.0.  Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.  Extras consist of the featurettes "From the Ends of the Earth" (1939) and "Hollywood: Style Center of the World" (1940)(both of which contain several previews of coming MGM attractions), an alternate black-and-white fashion show sequence with different footage, almost an hour's worth of the isolated musical score, and trailers for both THE WOMEN and its 1956 musical remake, THE OPPOSITE SEX. 

When all the husband-snatching, hair-pulling, heart-rending, and other hysteria have finally propelled THE WOMEN to its claws-out conclusion, you may find yourself sitting back and taking a deep breath.  It isn't very deep (save for the scenes with Little Mary) but it's a fast-paced joyride of a film that left me exhilarated. 

Own it on Blu-ray: Check out the official site
Official Facebook
Official You Tube Videos

Get The Women on Blu-ray for the first time May 6th!


No comments: