Friday, October 30, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Opposite Sex (1956) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The MGM musical THE OPPOSITE SEX (1956) was released on Blu-ray earlier this week by the Warner Archive.

THE OPPOSITE SEX remakes the studio's all-female comedy-drama THE WOMEN (1939), adding Metrocolor, songs, and perhaps most notably, men.

Unlike most people, I wasn't an especially big fan of THE WOMEN.  I found it entertaining enough, thanks to its strong cast, but the memories haven't worn well over time. 

Let's face it, THE WOMEN has an inherently downer plot, with so-called gossipy "friends" circling like vultures around the breakup of a previously happy marriage.  There's only so much pleasure which can be had watching as a nice woman experiences what she thought was her life circling the drain.

Although THE OPPOSITE SEX lacks the glamorous silver screen sheen of THE WOMEN, I think I actually enjoyed it more.  While acknowledging it's not a better film than the original and also not top-drawer '50s MGM, I nonetheless found that the fun cast, bright colors, Helen Rose fashions, and music (including a number with Harry James!) helped to offset the depressing story.  

I also appreciated that the cast of the remake featured several faves including June Allyson, Ann Sheridan, Joan Blondell, and Ann Miller.  There's also a small but noticeable good role for Carolyn Jones as a friend of homewrecker Joan Collins; honestly, Jones was way more interesting to me than Collins!

For those who haven't yet made the acquaintance of the story, based on a play by Clare Booth Luce, it's the tale of Mary (Allyson), who is happily married to Stephen (Leslie Nielsen).  They have a young daughter, Debbie (Sandy Descher). 

(As a trivial aside, Debbie was called Little Mary in the original, played by Virginia Weidler.  Curiously, another Weidler role from that era, Dinah in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, was also renamed in that film's 1956 musical remake, HIGH SOCIETY.)

Mary learns that Stephen's eye had wandered a bit to predatory chorus girl Crystal (Joan Collins); it wasn't serious and initially Mary decides to make a go of things, but later circumstances put her on the train to Reno for a divorce.

The Reno scenes are fun thanks to the additions of Miller, Agnes Moorehead, and Charlotte Greenwood at that juncture, and Mary's ultimate plot to jettison Crystal from Stephen's life is enjoyable as well.

The movie is a little long at 117 minutes, but at the same time I have to wonder about a musical which doesn't spend any of its running time taking advantage of the talents of Miller and Dolores Gray!  What a missed opportunity.  Instead we get a pointless number with guest stars Dick Shawn and Jim Backus and a cowboy rock 'n' roll number with a dubbed Jeff Richards; these should have been skipped to make room for the talented ladies in the cast.

On the plus side, the best change to this version of the story was the addition of Ann Sheridan's character as Mary's best friend.  Sheridan is warm and drop-dead gorgeous, a pleasure in every scene.

Blondell, who had been off screen 5 years, is slightly too old at 50 to play the extremely fertile Edith Potter, but it's good to see her in a relatively small role.  I also especially enjoyed Barbara Jo Allen as gossip columnist Dolly DeHaven.

The cast also includes Sam Levene, Jonathan Hole, Bill Goodwin, Maidie Norman, and Barrie Chase.

Allyson is sympathetic as usual.  Unfortunately, though she has some gorgeous Helen Rose gowns, she's also got some real wardrobe flops in this, including an unattractive traveling outfit and a blue pantsuit worn during what's supposed to be a torchy-type number.   At times in the '50s MGM's hair and costume department didn't know quite what to do with her; THE REFORMER AND THE REDHEAD (1950) and RIGHT CROSS (1950) are the most notable examples of MGM doing their worst to a lovely woman.

She's also stuck with a strange moment when she sings a quiet ballad, "A Perfect Love," and is noticeably dubbed (by Jo Ann Greer).

Curiously, the film's best number, "Young Man With a Horn" with Harry James, had also been performed by Allyson and James a dozen years earlier in TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR (1944). 

All in all, THE OPPOSITE SEX is lightweight fluff with enough going for it to compensate for the moments it misfires.  Fans of the cast will probably want to check it out; the less that's expected, the more it's likely to be enjoyed.

THE OPPOSITE SEX was directed by David Miller.  It was filmed in CinemaScope by Robert Brenner (aka Robert J. Bronner).

The Warner Archive Blu-ray print and sound are excellent.  Disc extras consist of the trailer and a song selection menu.  I'll be revisiting "Young Man With a Horn" in the future!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 


Blogger Vienna said...

What a great review, Laura. You have covered so much about this film. I still prefer The Women - for example, Joan Collins is never a match for the other Joan! And Dolores Gray, good as she is, can never surpass the sublime Rosalind Russell.
I do so agree Ann Miller and Dolores Gray needed musical numbers instead of what we got.
I loved the ‘Young Man with A Horn’ reprise. And why give June a song and then dub her - if it wasn’t considered suitable for her range, another could have been chosen,
I thought Ann Sheridan looked great as you said but was wasted in a small role.

1:55 AM  
Blogger mel said...

What really helps to make this movie enjoyable for me is the presence of two favourite character actresses - Carolyn Jones, the perennial kook, and of course Alice Pearce who certainly knows how to bat her eyelids very sexily...

3:22 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Laura, you have nailed this film in all but conclusion; I thought it unwatchable, or nearly. Not a moment worked for me despite the excellent cast. And like you, I intensely dislike the guest star moments. In conclusion, this is never to be seen again show.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all for sharing your thoughts on this movie!

Vienna, it's interesting, I'm quite a fan of Rosalind Russell yet found her so over the top in THE WOMEN that it's one of the reasons I didn't enjoy that one as much. I agree about Crawford! And "Young Man With a Horn" was a real highlight.

Mel, Carolyn Jones especially made the most of her few scenes. She stole those moments right out from under Collins.

Barrylane, the film might have caught me on a good day, but given the flaws I listed I also think you came to a reasonable conclusion. I had fun watching it, even though it baffled me fairly often, but I can understand your POV.

Best wishes,

10:24 AM  

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