The Women (1939)

Estrogen: The Movie

The Women explores the tribulations and dilemmas of weather sleeping dogs should lie. Unless you’re easily offended by a movie in which majority of its female cast are vicious gossips then stay away. The gossiping stereotypes here are greatly exaggerated to the full, being all part of the film’s humor; as Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) puts it, “you know how those creatures are, babble babble babble babble babble, never let up for a minute”. That’s probably the best way to describe The Women, like the other notable female ensemble Stage Door, the dialogue in The Women is delivered so furiously it’s impossible to keep up with it; after all how many people can talk as fast as Rosalind Russell.

Joan Crawford is delightfully mean as Crystal Allen, particularly with her scene in the bathtub which so ridiculously villainous she could be playing a mafia boss. Likewise the pairing of Crawford and her screen rival at MGM Norma Shearer as Mary Haines is the closet thing at that point to a Baby Jane showdown in a battle of the egos. To choose the show stealer for this gargantuan cast is a hard choice between Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.  Myrna Loy and Greta Garbo on the other haand where the only two major actresses at MGM who did not appear in the film. I can picture Myrna Loy in Norma Shear’s role although she would have been too big a star otherwise to play a supporting role, while Garbo is well, too much of an odd ball to fit in with an ensemble like this. Also being a heterosexual male this movie earns some bonus points.

Although made into the era of the production code, several sexual references still manage to slip through (“Whatever Stephan doesn’t like I take it off”) while also look out for the topless woman in the mud bath at the beginning of the film not to mention Paulette Goddard’s clear lack of a bra, no really. I also found it interesting when Norma Shear speaks of how she and her husband are equals and how things have changed from her mother’s generation, this being in 1939 of course.

This kind of being made today (which it unfortunately was in the form of a remake) with the likes of the Sex and the City films would come off as a ghastly exercise in consumerist pornography. But the overall innocence of this period of the late 1930’s makes The Women come of a piece of harmless escapism, even if it is one of the most decadent movies of the depression era, maybe even the most. The majority of the cast is dressed like a million dollars, every actress is light like a goddess and inhabiting a world which largely consists of retail stores and beauty salons. There is even time for a Technicolor fashion show it has no relevance for the rest of the plot, but it looks pretty.

With two hours of some of the finest actresses of the 1930’s spewing nonstop machine gun fire dialogue, scenery chewing and competing for the camera’s attention amongst an art deco wonderland, then I’m in movie heaven.


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