Movie Monday: The Women 1939
I remember first stumbling on The Women when I was just a nerdy kid with nothing to do on a snowy afternoon. Thank God for Turner Classic Movies! Ever since then, it has maintained a spot on my list of favorite movies. The funny thing is, until Robert Osborne gave his epilogue from his red leather chair, the 10-year-old me hadn’t realized that there were actually no men to be seen in this film. Not a one. The movie stars women, is about women, and celebrates while reviling women. And even after spending 133 minutes with all of these crazy ladies, you’ve still had an amazingly good time.
Part of the appeal of The Women is the entertainingly voyeuristic look into the lives of rich and fashionable housewives in the 1930s. Well, Hollywood’s version, that is. Each character has her own unique style, personality quirks, and hobbies. The main character, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), is probably the most likeable of the bunch, and so all of her friends are faced with the awkward dilemma as to how, or if, to let her know that they’ve discovered her husband, Stephen Haines, is having an affair with a lowly shopgirl named Chrystal Allen (who is, of course, played by Joan Crawford).
Ballancing advice coming from every angle, Mary is most concerned with the welfare of her daughter, though is unwilling to forgive her husband and make any efforts to win him back. Perhaps due to the epiphany of her own marital failures, the relationships of her friends begin to collapse all around them, causing all of the ladies to wind up in Reno, considering their divorces, forging alliances, and breaking off long-term friendships. After their return from Reno, the women have a new outlook on life and take New York’s social scene by storm, the plot suddenly racing towards a hilarious and satisying ending.
During that aforementioned January afternoon of my tenth year, I was delighted to discover that the following TCM feature was the sequel to The Women, starring one of my favorite endearing actresses of movie history- June Allison. I’ve always considered her the Jimmy Stewart of the ’40s and ’50s cinema – charmingly clumsy, an unmistakable speaking voice, and somehow irresistible by the opposite sex. So if you like The Women of 1939, you will probably adore the musical version made in the 1950s titled The Opposite Sex.
Oh, and my closing advice- if you saw 2008’s The Women, and didn’t like it (or hated it. Ahem.), don’t that that deter you from enjoying the original. It’s well worth watching, and would be a perfect flick for a ladies’ night in.