I've always been a particular fan of MGM movies, but I had never seen THE WOMEN until now -- perhaps because Joan Crawford is my least favorite actress. However, the film also stars a number of fine actresses I enjoy very much, including Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Fontaine, so I decided the time had come to give it a try, and I'm glad I did. It's a very entertaining movie.
THE WOMEN, filmed with an all-female cast, concerns a nice upper-class wife and mother, Mary (Norma Shearer), who discovers her husband is having an affair with a salesgirl (Joan Crawford). Unfortunately, most of Mary's friends are more interested in gossiping about this sad turn of events than in lending her support.
Shearer and Fontaine are the film's "good" women, while Crawford is hissably nasty as the bad girl. (My aversion to Crawford thus turned out to be no problem!) Russell plays her cruel, catty character for laughs in a memorably over-the-top performance, with an eye-poppingly exaggerated wardrobe to match. Paulette Goddard lends sparkle to the last section of the movie as a "homewrecker" who lends Shearer unexpected support. Shearer herself gives a warm, dignified performance; she has a particularly expressive face capable of conveying a wide range of emotions without dialogue.
The cast also includes Marjorie Main, Virginia Weidler, Mary Boland, Phyllis Povah, Hedda Hopper, and Lucile Watson. Even small one-scene roles are filled by actresses such as Ruth Hussey and Virginia Grey.
Aside from the fun of watching so many wonderful actresses working with some great dialogue, the movie is also an interesting reflection of its time -- for instance, Mary's mother (Watson) counsels her to turn a blind eye to her husband's infidelity. Hard to imagine that being advised in this day and age.
One of the curiosities about the film is that there is a Technicolor fashion show plopped into the middle of the otherwise black and white movie. It's fun to look at -- the costumes were designed by Adrian -- but it has nothing to do with the plot. Given the film's lengthy run time of 133 minutes, it probably would have been better to omit the fashion show, but director George Cukor said in an interview that the studio insisted on including it.
Joan Fontaine credited Cukor with teaching her more than anyone else about acting. Fontaine has a lovely solo telephone scene near the end of the film, and Cukor said that scene convinced Fontaine that she was really capable of acting; it probably helped her land the lead role in her next film, REBECCA, for which she received an Oscar nomination. Fontaine recently turned 90 years old.
Coincidentally, it was just announced that THE WOMEN is one of 25 films being added this year to the National Registry, ensuring that the film will be preserved at the Library of Congress.
This movie is available on DVD and VHS.
THE WOMEN can also be seen on TCM, where it next airs on March 24, 2008. The trailer can be seen here.