Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Woman Against Woman (1938)

WOMAN AGAINST WOMAN is a very diverting 61-minute marital soap opera, thanks to a trio of fine lead actors and a polished MGM production.

In this briskly told story, attorney Stephen Holland (Herbert Marshall) abruptly decides to divorce his controlling, belittling wife Cynthia (Mary Astor). A few months later Stephen meets lovely Maris Kent (Virginia Bruce) when he's in Washington on business, and they wed after a whirlwind courtship.

When the newlyweds return home, Cynthia does her best to unfairly turn the community against Stephen, and she also stoops to using their little daughter Ellen (Juanita Quigley) to manipulate her ex-husband. By the end of the hour, Cynthia's deceits are revealed and future relationships are clearly delineated.

That's all there is to it, but what a fun hour! I found it enjoyable from start to finish. This would be worth watching if only to see how economically Mary Astor communicates the essence of her character in the film's opening minutes. She can say more with her eyes than many actors can with pages of dialogue.

Marshall and Bruce are both very appealing as the newlyweds. Bruce, in particular, engages the audience's sympathy as the understanding and supportive wife who doesn't back down from confronting Cynthia when necessary. Occasionally Bruce was not shown to good advantage in her screen appearances (TIMES SQUARE LADY comes to mind), but she looks quite lovely in this film. Bruce made a number of good films released in 1938, including THERE GOES MY HEART, YELLOW JACK, and THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS.

Cute Juanita Quigley, who plays Marshall and Astor's young daughter, had a lengthy career as a child and teen actress; when she was older her roles included playing Malvolia, the sister of Elizabeth Taylor and Angela Lansbury, in NATIONAL VELVET (1944). She is still alive today. Her older sister Rita, who passed away in 2008, played the daughter of Fredric March and Joan Crawford in SUSAN AND GOD (1940).

Marjorie Rambeau gives a delightful performance as the friend who doesn't hesitate to speak her mind or offer commentary on the proceedings. Janet Beecher plays Stephen's reserved but ultimately fair mother. Sarah Padden, Zeffie Tilbury, Marie Blake, Betty Ross Clarke, and Jason Robards Sr. are also in the cast.

This film was directed by Robert B. Sinclair.

WOMAN AGAINST WOMAN is not available on DVD or video, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer here.

January 2017 Update: This movie will be out on DVD from the Warner Archive next month!

April 2017 Update: My review of the DVD is here.


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