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One of my all time favorites
AndrewDavidEskridge6 February 1999
The fact that Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford would consent to appear in a movie together is amazing. Shearer in 1939 was the queen of MGM, being the widow of studio production chief Irving Thalberg, and had her choice of material and co-stars. Crawford, although a power in her own right, didn't have Shearer's pull and complained bitterly about it. Crawford agreed to take the somewhat supporting, albeit juicy, role because she needed an A picture after a string of flops. So she had to suck it up to work with Shearer.

The two stars had only one scene alone together, and there were no reported problems, except one. Director George Cukor sent Crawford home early when she caused a distraction by loudly clicking her knitting needles off camera as Shearer tried to do her close-ups.

Crawford was proved right in taking the movie, it's one of her most memorable and, finally for once, villainous roles. As Crystal Allen, the scheming shopgirl who is out to sleep her way to a Park Avenue penthouse, she was ideally cast. It was her life.

Rosalind Russell, previously not known as a comedienne, surprised everyone with her rapid-fire sarcastic delivery. She would continue to perfect the biting style for 20 years until she reached the pinnacle with Auntie Mame. Roz gives the strongest performance of the film as the viciously catty Sylvia Fowler, and I don't think Shearer or Crawford knew what hit them.

As for the long-suffering, hair-clutching, heavy-sighing Norma Shearer, even she was able to make the difficult role of noble Mary Haines memorable. One of her best moments is when she raises her nails and growls "I've had two years to grow claws, Mother, and they're Jungle Red!," and then goes to take her husband back from Crawford. Unfortunately, Shearer has a few Silent Screen moments that look out of place, such as collapsing and weeping at her mother's knee. But she makes the character warm and likable and we root for her to win.

There are many gems in the supporting cast. Most spectacular is Mary Boland as the heavy-drinking, high-living Countess De Lave. "L'amour L'amour" she wails as she's about to divorce her fourth studly husband -- for trying to kill her.

Paulette Goddard, the most beautiful member of the cast, is the best I've seen her, as the streetwise Miriam Aarons. Like Crawford, she plays a role she understands, the chorus girl who snags a millionaire. But unlike Crystal, Miriam has a heart -- and Goddard is great at doling out straight-shooting advice and rolling out put-downs under her breath.

Marjorie Main gives a preview of the persona she would later use as Ma Kettle. It was the first time she was able to step out and create the character, and she used it the rest of her career. I never tired of her raucous horse laugh.

I wish in 2008 they had not attempted to update this classic with a failed remake. It is a priceless diamond in a golden setting.
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Best of the Best!
guil124 November 1999
This, by far, is the greatest classic bitch film of all time. It can never be equaled. They tried, but failed, when trying to remake it a musical with a less than glamorous casting of the roles made famous by the all-star female cast of the original written by Clare Boothe Luce. George Cukor, the director, had his hands full with the likes of these dames of fame. Each, in their own right, could steal a scene if left up to them, and they tried. But Cukor, held tight to the reins and kept them all in line. The beginning credits were cleverly done with each star being represented by an animal. Norma Shearer, the doe; the delicious Joan Crawford, a tiger; Roz Russell a cat; Paulette Goddard, a fox; Marjorie Main, a mule; Joan Fontaine, a lamb.

My favorite scenes were the fight scene with Goddard and Russell, bath scene with Crawford, and last scene when all THE WOMEN go at it at the ball. With wonderful, crisp dialogue, beautiful costumes designed by Adrian and a stellar cast, you can see the sparks fly in this all-time classic comedy of 1939.
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A Legendary Comedy Available On DVD
gftbiloxi22 April 2005
The female of the species goes jungle red in tooth and claw in this brilliant screen adaptation of Claire Boothe Luce's famous Broadway play--a wickedly funny portrait of 1930s society women whose lives revolve around beauty treatments, luncheons, fashion shows, and each other's men. Socialite Mary Haines is the envy of her set: rich, beautiful, and happily married... but when her husband steps out on her with a gold-digging perfume counter sales clerk, Mary's so-called friends dish enough dirt to make divorce inevitable whether Mary wants it or not.

The script is wickedly, mercilessly funny, fast paced, razor sharp and filled with such memorable invective that you'll be quoting it for weeks and months afterward: "He says he'd like to do Sylvia's nails right down to the wrist with a buzz-saw;" "Why that old gasoline truck, she's sixty if she's a minute;" "Gimme a bromide--and put some gin in it!" And the all-female cast, which includes every one from Cora Witherspoon to Butterfly McQueen to Hedda Hopper, plays it with tremendous spark.

This was the last significant starring role for Norma Shearer, one of MGM's greatest stars of the 1930s, and she acquits herself very well as the much-wronged Mary Haines. But the real winners are the members of the supporting cast. Joan Crawford is truly astonishing as Crystal Allen, the shop girl who leads Mary's husband astray, and Rosalind Russell gives an outrageously funny performance as the back-biting gossip whose nasty comments precipitate Mary's divorce. Indeed, it is hard to do anything except rave about the entire the cast, which includes such diverse performers as Marjorie Main, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, and Lucille Watson. Even the smallest bit parts score with one-liners that have the impact of a slap in the face, and director George Cukor does an incredible job of keeping everything and every one in sharp focus.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about THE WOMEN is the way in which director Cukor ties the behavior of its characters to their social status. Possessed of absolute leisure and considerable wealth, their energies are inevitably directed into competition for the ultimate status symbol: a successful man. Cukor allows us to sympathize with Mary (Shearer) and laugh at Sylvia (Russell), but he also requires us to pity them--and indirectly encourages grudging admiration for the devious Crystal (Crawford) and the savvy Miriam (Goddard), characters who are considerably more self-reliant. Consequently, not only does THE WOMEN paint a poisonously funny portrait of women as a sex, it takes a hatchet to the society that has shaped their characters as well.

Unfortunately, this landmark comedy has not received the full benefit of what DVD offers. Although the print is crisp, the film has not been restored, and the extras are spurious and hardly do the film justice; while I would recommend the DVD simply because you're likely to wear out a VHS, the DVD has no great advantage over the VHS release. But whether you have it on VHS or DVD, this is one title that you must have in your collection: you'll watch it again and again. A must-have! Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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Women as Darwinian Predators
nycritic3 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Women having cat fights over men never looked better than they did in George Cukor's adaptation of Clare Boothe-Luce's hit Broadway play. An all-star cast of actresses (which included the established, the Broadway vets, and the rising in one huge ensemble), THE WOMEN never once seems as if it's aged a bit because its story could very well be placed in a modern setting.

The only shame I think is that its release coincided with the year 1939. There were too many other movies that were already vying for recognition and because of this massive competition it got lost in the shuffle. Had its release been withheld until the following year, there's no doubt it would have gotten at least an acting nomination, or multiple nominations in different categories including best picture.

The story at the center is any woman's nightmare: that her husband is having an affair and that everyone but her knows about it. Norma Shearer is this woman. She plays Mary Haines, happily married to Stephen Haines and mother of Little Mary. She has no idea that Stephen is having a torrid affair with perfume clerk Crystal Allen, but Sylvia does (as does everyone else) and plans to have Mary find out about it. Sylvia uses the communication skills of a manicurist to have Mary find out about her husband's secret, and things boil up to a crescendo at a fashion show when both Mary and Crystal meet and spar. Mary decides after an argument to leave her husband in a quickie divorce signing at Reno where she meets not only the eccentric Countess deLave but Miriam Aarons, who is the other woman in the Fowler marriage. Sylvia later also arrives in tears and then finds out that Miriam is set to be the next Mrs. Fowler and a fight ensues. At the last moment, Mary gets a call from Stephen: he will marry Crystal Allen after all. Crystal, now the new Mrs. Stephen Haines, takes to his money and her new lifestyle with a vengeance and makes Stephen pretty miserable. On top of that, she is carrying on with a new guy, Buck, who was up to now the Countess deLave's husband. Sylvia of course learns of this, and the news reaches Mary's ears, who tries to win back her husband and re-kindle her marriage using the same viciousness used against her.

At first glance this is a pretty straightforward comedy of manners among the women who inhabit this world -- who are more real than anyone would like to imagine. However, there are a lot of little elements that the script adaptation of Booth-Luce's play tell about women and how they see not only other women in society, rich or poor, but how they see themselves in a world where the next young thing could displace them and their perfect homes. In essence, this is the first movie to tackle the issue of divorce so successfully and movies like THE FIRST WIVES' CLUB and the TV soaps MELROSE PLACE and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES owe a lot to THE WOMEN. The use of the term 'sister' is an interesting one, it being at the heart of the feminist movement -- female bonding is one of the film's strongest points and serves as a counterpart to the viciousness that we see early on. Interesting that Miriam Aarons, herself an "other woman" is the first to come up with the term. She is the exact opposite of Crystal Allen. She also comes from the streets but is a well-meaning woman and Paulette Goddard plays her like she herself has been there.

Cukor definitely knows his actresses and extracts their best performances of their careers. Of the main actresses, the only one to have been past her prime is Norma Shearer but she gives here her last great performance. Restrained, at times even underplayed, vulnerable in a world of female sharks, watch for the scene when she collapses into tears at the news that her husband will marry another woman. This other woman, played by Joan Crawford at a time when she needed the boost in her career (albeit a temporary one), is vicious, made of steel, and Crawford sinks her teeth and claws into Crystal, all growls and purrs, and literally walks off with the movie. Too bad she wasn't considered for a Best Supporting Oscar. This is her best performance on screen, multi-layered, fascinating. An interesting sequence between her and Virginia Weidler (who outdoes her admirably in a sensitive role) playing Mary's daughter is one with future "Mommie Dearest" echoes. And needless to say the rich comedic timing that Rosalind Russell brings to pretty horrific character, Sylvia Fowler. What an actress! She pulls out all the stops in her scenes, going from plain bitchy, to conniving, to furious, to deceived, and all the time in that rapid-fire speech of hers. Marjorie Main, Mary Boland, Lucille Watson, and Joan Fontaine are all great -- well written characters all directed by the equally great George Cukor who has created a timeless classic with this movie.
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jotix10019 October 2003
"The Women" owes its appeal to the great George Cukor. Without him, it would certainly have been a different movie. Because of his direction this is a Hollywood classic at its best.

They certainly don't make pictures like this anymore. Imagine what it would have cost to have a first rate cast to fill the shoes of all these women in today's Hollywood? It would probably be so prohibitive that no one in the present climate would touch it with a ten foot pole.

"The Women", as written by Clare Booth Luce for the stage, was a delicious comedy about New York society, as it was in the late 30s. Of course, by today's standards, this is a very chaste take on that subject. Had it been done today, it would have been done entirely different and the excellent text by Ms. Luce would have probably been thrown away to satisfy the taste of contemporary audiences.

Norma Shearer was excellent as Mary Haines, the suffering wife, who has no clue of how her husband has fallen to the charms of Crystal Allen, beautifully played by Joan Crawford. Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and the rest of the cast seem to be having a lot of fun while playing these women.

One thing does come clear, those women had a style and a sophistication well beyond the times they lived. It's very clear that Claire Booth Luce was well ahead of it all, as she had an understanding for what was going on around her. What a thrill it must have been to have been around New York in that glamorous era!

Women: Love them, as we cannot live without them!
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The Quintessential Film of the Late 30's
dinnymo269 May 2005
There were so many excellent films produced in 1939, but this is the best at showing (what Hollywood wanted to show) the current times. It showcases so many wonderful actresses all at once. Norma Shearer is just outstanding; this is my favorite movie of hers.

It also shows the values and thinking about women's roles at that time; but challenges them at the same time. As embodied by Mary's mother-in-law, there's a feeling of "boys will be boys" and the thought that even though her husband is playing around (for no good reason given - they seem to be a happy couple), Mary should let him get his "wild oats" out of his system, and look the other way. On the other hand, it shows a rich and varied view of all types of women, intelligent, catty, gentle, vicious, etc. They are not necessarily defined by the men in their lives - who are not shown. It actually shows the women ultimately deciding how their men will live - and with whom.

Overall, a wonderful, enjoyable movie.
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Divinely Funny
Caledonia Twin #17 September 2000
I just saw this film for the first time a few months ago. I laughed harder than I remember laughing at anything made in the last twenty years. The Women is brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and a whole lot of fun! Norma Shearer is such a sympathetic Mrs. Haines, and the "Jungle red" scene had me in laughing fits. I just could not stop the video for anything. Rosalind Russell was so funny! I thought the scene in the exercise room was absolutely hysterical. I've always been a fan of the demeure Joan Fontaine of Rebecca, and I was surprised to see her here, though not surprised that she played the lamb! This film is such a delight. I think anyone of any age would enjoy it.
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The claws are out, and they're jungle red!
Incalculacable12 March 2006
This movie has one of the best casts ever - Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Paulette Goddard, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Joan Fontaine, Hedda Hopper and Virginia Weilder just to make a few. These women carry the movie perfectly and acting is perfection. Some people disagree and say that Norma Shearer acts in a 'silent screen' type of way - but I cannot agree with that. I think she did an excellent job especially when she had the crying scene on the sofa (I don't think I have ever seen anybody cry that well before).

Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) discovers that her husband is having an affair with money-hungry perfume sales girl Chrystal Allen (Joan Crawford). Aided and abetted by her cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) and her army of girlfriends, Mary sets out to win back her man...and teach Chrystal a lesson or two in the process! The movie runs at a rapid pace, and never leaves you bored. The dialog is incredibly witty, it very much surprised me. There was also physical comedy - the hilariously done (and no stunt doubles too!) cat fight between Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard. I found the fashion show a bit dragging and too long, but it was still fun looking at all the wonderful classy fashions of that era.

This hilarious comedy about women and their men can appeal to people who are not necessarily fans of old movies. 'The Women' is a wonderful catty, witty, hilarious movie that can be enjoyed by many.
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"Claws, I've Had Two Years To Grow Them"
bkoganbing27 February 2007
It was fitting that MGM was the studio that brought The Women to the screen. Claire Boothe Luce's play which ran on Broadway for 657 performances, was her view of the Republican ladies of Park Avenue, in whose society she fit in so well.

None of those studio bosses were exactly flaming liberals, but probably the most political of all was Louis B. Mayer who served on the California Republican State Committee and had his stable of stars ready to do or die for the GOP whether they wanted to or not. Mayer was very active in the campaign to defeat Upton Sinclair for Governor of California in 1934 and put all of MGM's propaganda resources to defeat the radical Mr. Sinclair.

Claire Boothe Luce knew this world well and certainly had the satirical skills to define it. But make no mistake about it, the real villain here is Joan Crawford, shop girl, working class, and I've got no doubt is a Democrat.

Norma Shearer is her opposite, tasteful, refined, and unfortunately getting a little stale with age. Why would her husband now be eying Crawford at the perfume counter if not so.

Due to a lot of interference by not so well meaning friends like Rosalind Russell, who does nothing but gossip about others, Shearer's marriage does break up and her husband goes off with Crawford. Norma's down, but not out.

The Women has aged very well as entertainment. It's as fresh as it was when first presented on Broadway in 1936. There's always the complaint about no good parts for women being written for the female sex. Definitely not as good as the characters that Clare Boothe Luce created in this play.

My favorite in the cast is Rosalind Russell. Usually cast as second leads and colorless heroines, she fought hard for the part she got her as the heroine's best friend and worst nightmare. She also fought hard to share above the title billing with Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford who had lots more seniority at MGM than Russell. In her memoirs Russell gives total credit to George Cukor for bringing out comedic talents that no one really thought she possessed. Russell had done comedy before, but had not been as well received as she was in The Women.

George Cukor always had that reputation as a women's director and I think this film with the obvious title probably is what gave him that reputation. The Women takes a lot of its edge also from the real life situation at MGM. Norma Shearer, being the widow of Irving Thalberg, was the dowager queen of the lot and she still got the first pick of dramatic parts. Only Greta Garbo at MGM who was in a different plane of existence practically topped her. The rest got Shearer's leavings, especially Joan Crawford. That led to a lot of resentment around MGM.

Among the supporting cast look for good performances from Joan Fontaine as the young and shy divorcée, Mary Boland as the scatterbrained Zsa Zsa Gabor of the day, Paulette Goddard who gets Russell's goat, her man, and the best of her in a chick fight and Marjorie Main as the wisecracking owner of a Reno dude ranch where the women stay when they're shedding their mates.

Within two years Norma Shearer would retire from the screen and Joan Crawford in four years would leave MGM. This was the last really good film either of them did at Leo the Lion's den and it's fabulous.
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What Dialogue!
priscilla-hopkins4 September 2003
This movie's stage origins show beautifully in the dialogue richness and witty one-liners. Things come so fast, you will miss some sparkling cattyness if you let you attention wander for a moment! The fashion show sequence must have seemed a highlight when the film was made, but fast-forward through it now and get to the great dialogue!
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A fabulous fun movie!
SHOCK-614 June 2002
This movie is two wonderful hours of gossipy, clever fun. The script is incredibly good and makes you wish every movie in the world could turn out as well as THE WOMEN. The performances all blend together perfectly, which is what you need if you are going to tell a story like this. Joan Crawford is sublime as the husband stealer and Norma Shearer plays the usual virtuous kind of part she always played in her career. However in my opinion, Roz Russell, who played Mrs. Fowler simply is at her best. It is one of the most funny and exquisite performances that i have ever seen given by an actress on film. It is plain to see she only cares about herself and her own superficial motives but you cant help being on her side and enjoying all the trouble she stirs up. And also Paulette Goddard gave a sassy performance as the sarcastic woman who has seen it all and wants no more of it. The best scene of hers is when she and Mrs. Fowler fight at the divorce ranch. I loved this movie!
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summer1111dg6 December 2006
The Women is absolutely one of the best movies of the era. It is such a fun movie to watch over and over. A classic chick flick!

And, most remarkable in that there are no male actors in the movie -- yet you feel their presence throughout.

The young Joan Crawford is perfectly cast as the gold digging "other woman."

Norma Shearer, while not a beauty in any sense of the word, does a fine job as the beleaguered wife. Though I think it might have been better cast with someone lovelier in the lead role.

But it is Rosalind Russell though who absolutely steals the movie. She is delightful to watch!
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Girls Talk
Lejink27 December 2007
As has been said before 1939 was a great year for Hollywood classics, "Gone with the Wind", "The Wizard of Oz", "Wuthering Heights", "Stagecoach", but I must admit I'd never heard of this film, or its place in the pantheon before now. It merits its spot. Once the novelty of an all-female cast wears off (there' nary a male extra in the backgrounds either), the movie crackles along as a small group of society women present a kaleidoscopic view of relations with men so that while men are absent physically they're ever-present in the dialogue and thoughts of this contrasting set of women-folk. Introduced wittily over the titles alongside their attributional equivalents in the animal world, the actresses play out of their skins and make a two hour plus set-bound movie simply fly by. Central to the whole is Norma Shearer, whose perfect marriage is shattered by her husband's casual infidelity with on-the-make shop girl Joan Crawford in a terrific, venomous turn. Shearer effectively plays queen bee to the drones around her both in her society set and in the motley assemblage at the divorce farm in Reno. She makes the journey from marriage to divorce and back with dignity and intelligence and even if I personally disagree with her choice and the sickly schmaltzy close-up with which she ends the film, about to fall back into her errant (ex-) husband's arms, this doesn't invalidate the fun and wit that has gone before. As good as Crawford and Shearer are, in their contrasting roles, it's Rosalind Russell as the treacherous, waspish Mrs Fowler, who steals the show and gets many of the best situations (her cat fight with Goddard is priceless!) and lines. Goddard too is radiant and knowing in her part, while a young Joan Fontaine simpers pleasantly as the naive "little child" of the group. A special nod also to the child actress playing Shearer's daughter without artifice and yet with appreciable warmth and naturalness. There are one or two anachronistic moments which jar, reflecting contemporary attitudes towards race and censorship, but on the whole, "woman's director" George Cukor keeps all the ingredients close to or at boiling point throughout. Perhaps too many of the speeches are head and shoulder shots fore square to the camera and having got good play out of two servant staff extemporising the doings of their masters, Cukor makes the mistake of repeating the trick immediately afterwards, thus diminishing the comedic impact. Nevertheless, appreciating that some of these criticisms are merely due to a retrospective eye (obviously cinematic times and styles change) on a film which in some respects is dated, there are still some neat turns in the language and phrases used, which still resonate today.
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Exceptional but maybe not for all tastes
MartinHafer15 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
1939 was a TERRIBLE year to release a movie and have any hopes for an Oscar. After all, GONE WITH THE WIND, GOODBY MR. CHIPS, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and many, many other huge profile films came out of Hollywood that year and in any other year THE WOMEN might have garnered several Oscars--such as for Writing and Best Actress and Supporting Actress. But wonderful performances by Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and the rest were pretty much overlooked due to a major glut in great films that year. Plus director George Cukor, who was called a "women's director" because of how he handled women and made the most of their performances lost out to Victor Fleming for GONE WITH THE WIND--even though many different directors (including Cukor) had actually worked on the film (producer David O. Selznick fired them faster than on possibly any film project in history).

THE WOMEN is amazing because all the parts (even the dogs and pieces of art throughout the film) are played by females. Some ladies might love this since it is a form of giving "equal time", but others might be dismayed because many of the roles are pretty stereotypical and old-fashioned. I assume many of the more rabid feminists out there might strongly dislike the film because of this, but in its context it's a fine film. The only part I thought was pretty lame was the very beginning where it showed the actresses one-by-one and then had them turn into animals meant to symbolize their personalities. This seemed pretty heavy-handed and kind of silly. Also, there are probably some guys who simply will dismiss the film because it's a "chick movie"--but this is a mistake because anyone with an open mind can enjoy this movie.

The film is presented in three segments. The first centers on Norma Shearer's marriage and her many friends and so-called friends. It seems that everyone but Shearer knows that her husband is cheating on her with bimbo, Joan Crawford. Through most of this segment, Shearer is happy and oblivious. When she discovers the truth (and this was handled very well in the film), she is torn--she loves her husband but keeps getting barraged by messages from everyone. Her mother, ably played by Lucille Watson (in a less domineering part than is typical for her) advises Shearer to pretend nothing is happening and it will all blow over--a view that seems to be what the film is trying to tell women! This really was annoying. It seemed to say that infidelity was inevitable and women should just mind their own business!! Despite this old fashioned idea, the rest of Shearer's friends and so-called friends also have a variety of opinions and some push her to get a divorce, some push her to ignore it and some push her to confront the "evil tramp" that is breaking up the marriage. Oddly, no one seemed to blame the man--as if ALL men are salivating pigs who can be led anywhere by a conniving tramp. UGGGH! I hated this message, but could look past it because this WAS the 1930s and because the film was brilliant in how it portrayed those who seemed to love Shearer's plight--despite the fact she was a nice and decent person. In particular, Rosalind Russell was wonderfully cast as a viper of a woman who did everything to spread gossip and make the problem explode.

In the second segment, Shearer leaves for Reno to get a divorce. Here she is escorted by her sweet friend, Joan Fontaine, and she meets a lot of new friends while staying at a ranch/rooming house run by the always funny Marjorie Main. This section mostly is about women's solidarity and comradeship. All this is deflated, somewhat, when Ms. Russell shows up--as her husband just left her (a smart move based on what we've seen of her).

The third section takes place over a couple years. Joan Crawford is now married to Norma's ex-husband and life is NOT as wonderful for this new family as you might have expected. This is due to the fact that Shearer and her ex really cared for each other AND because Crawfor turned out to be a selfish pig. And, not surprisingly, her new best-friend is Rosalind Russell--who has, thankfully, drifted away from Shearer. What follows is very, very enjoyable--with Shearer deciding maybe she wants her old husband back but not until she hatches a plan. How this all comes together in the end is GREAT and well worth seeing.

Despite some complaints above, the humorous and ironic script and the exceptional acting of dozens and dozens of great MGM contract actresses make this a must-see film for old movie buffs. According to IMDb, all the contract women at MGM were in the film apart from Greta Garbo and Myrna Loy. If you look close during the dressing room scene, you can even see Blossum Rock--that's "Grandmama" from the ADDAMS FAMILY and the older sister of Jeanette MacDonald.
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You could never recreate this cast on the stage
MOscarbradley3 September 2006
One of the best films of the 1930's and one of the greatest comedies ever made. This typically uncinematic George Cukor movie may possibly be the very pinnacle of his work on screen because he had the intelligence to film it straight knowing the material and the cast would speak for themselves. And the cast is to die for. You could never recreate it on stage, (even Norma Shearer is wonderful in this one). It may be very un-pc but there are few films that capture that uber-bitch mentality of upper-crust New York society dames and their gold-digging counterparts better than this. It is the zenith of the all the smart-assed, hard-boiled women's pictures of the thirties.

Adapted by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin from Clare Booth Luce's hit play it's about how 'Mrs Stephen Haines', (Shearer at her very best), loses her husband to Crystal Allen, (Joan Crawford before she went all serious on us), with more than a little help from her so-called 'friends', in particular catty Rosalind Russell, (terrific), before winning him back thanks to some new-found friends, (Paulette Goddard and Mary Boland among them). Men are conspicuous by their absence and it's to everyone's credit that you never miss them. A joy from start to finish.
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Every woman's worst enemy is another woman- often her best friend
JamesHitchcock26 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
There have been plenty of films with an all-male, or almost all-male, cast, but films with an all-female cast are much rarer; in the thirties they were virtually unheard-of. There were, of course, plenty of what were called "women's pictures", aimed at a predominantly female audience and generally with a strong female character in the leading role, but as the theme of such films was normally heterosexual love and relationships there generally had to be men in the cast, if only as secondary characters. "The Women", however, is a "woman's picture" in which man are much discussed but never make an appearance; every single member of the cast is female.

Today we tend to think of the Production Code era as being a time when the film industry was dominated by a crippling and oppressive Puritanism, but films like this one remind us that, in America at least, the censors were not as puritanical as we sometimes imagine. I cannot imagine this arch, knowing comedy about divorce and adultery finding favour with the British censors of the thirties, but the Hays Office appear to have raised no objections.  

The film is set among the women of New York's high society. The main character is Mary Haines, wife of a successful engineer and mother of a young daughter. Mary's marriage initially seems to be a happy one, but in fact her husband Stephen is having an affair with a shop-girl named Crystal Allen. They say that in cases like this the wronged wife is always the last person to know, and so it proves here, but the time-lag between the rest of the world knowing and Mary knowing herself is a fairly short one, largely because she has the sort of "friends" who (in the words of the song) can't wait to bring all of that bad news to her door.

Despite the advice of her worldly-wise old mother, who takes the view that women ought to condone their husbands' adultery for the sake of a quiet life, Mary travels to Reno, Nevada, to obtain a divorce. (In the 1930s it was very difficult to get a divorce in New York State itself which, despite being liberal in many other matters, has always been conservative when it comes to matrimonial law; it was the last state to legalise no-fault divorce, as recently as 2010). Stephen marries Crystal, but the marriage is not a happy one and Mary sees her chance to turn the tables on her rival.

The role of Mary- the noble, idealistic, long-suffering wronged wife, not unattractive but a bit sexless- seemed ready-made for Norma Shearer, who seemed to specialise in such parts. Joan Crawford tries to make the most of the mercenary, conniving Crystal, but she was really a bit too old for the part. Crawford tended to guard her age as though it were an official secret, but she seems to have been born around 1904, making her about 35 in 1939, only two years or so younger than Shearer. The age-gap between Mary and Crystal needs to be much greater; a dedicated gold- digger like Crystal would doubtless have got her man long before she reached her mid-thirties. When the film was remade in 1956 as "The Opposite Sex" Crystal was played by another "Joan C", Collins, sixteen years younger than June Allyson who played the Mary-figure.

"The Women" is often regarded as a great classic from Hollywood's Golden Age, but it is not a film I care for very much. It has some good points; there is occasionally some witty dialogue, Shearer is reasonably good as Mary and the child star Virginia Weidler is enchanting as her young daughter Little Mary. It also, however, has a number of faults. The first is that the decision not to have any male characters was a mistaken gimmick; the makers of "The Opposite Sex" clearly realised this because they altered the plot in order to show Stephen and some of the other men referred to. The mainspring of the plot is, after all, the marriage of Mary and Stephen, and to show only one side of their relationship is to tell only half the story.

The second flaw is that the action does not always flow easily. The film is in black-and-white but includes a ten-minute fashion parade filmed in Technicolor, which does not advance the plot at all but slows the action right down. Apparently director George Cukor disliked the sequence and wanted to remove it but was overruled by the studio who evidently felt that female audiences would want to see what the well- dressed woman was wearing that year. Today it has little interest except for the few who care about what the well-dressed woman was wearing more than seventy years ago. At other times, however, it seems that Cukor, perhaps realising that the script contained too much dialogue to be accommodated within the film's running time, had instructed his cast to speak their lines as quickly as possible. The worst, although by no means the only, offender in this regard is the motormouth Rosalind Russell as Mary's bitchy cousin Sylvia. (Russell was to be better in another comedy, "His Girl Friday", the following year).

The film's third, and worst, fault is its general tone. For what is ostensibly a "woman's picture" it is surprisingly misogynistic, embodying a number of male prejudices about the fairer sex. The characters in "The Women" inhabit the sort of world where nearly all women (Mary being one of the few exceptions) are spiteful, scheming, bitchy, gossipy and backstabbing. It is a world where every woman's enemy is another woman, often her so-called "best friend", who is either trying to seduce away her man or spreading malicious gossip about her. If there is a "war of the sexes" the female authors of this drama seem to have been fighting on the side of the enemy. 5/10
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The Women, AKA: All the Women Rejected as Scarlett O'Hara Have it Out
scarlaohorror20 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Many of the elements in this classic are sexist by today's standards, and the ending is a bit of a wash-out. But the top-notch performances and series of zingers and one-liners transcend any plot discrepancies. But overall it is the performances that make the movie. Norma Shearer is engaging at first, palling around with her daughter in the yard. Unfortunately, after her husband cheats, she becomes too saccharine and nobly strong to be enjoyed in an otherwise wisecracking comedy (at least she's always fashion conscious: during one of her numerous breakdowns, she collapses on a couch that matches her plaid shirt). Joan Fontaine is an adorable parody of Shearer's soft character; she's especially ridiculous and charming in a phone call to her husband at the ranch. Joan Crawford is a little too terrifyingly mean to be convincing as a sexy temptress (her gorgeous and sassy co-worker Virginia Grey would in reality be the more obvious choice for an erring husband), but she's exuberant and energetic, a welcome contrast to Shearer's refined humility. Paulette Goddard is equally exuberant and energetic, exuding confidence and assurance in every line she utters. She's a foxy little charmer. Mary Boland is hilarious and giggly, though her "l'amour, l'amour" lines get a little old. Marjorie Main's appearance is all too brief, her salty ranch-owner a welcome change of pace from the more sophisticated lodgers.

The most triumphant turn comes from Rosalind Russell as the "high-sterical" Sylvia Fowler. It's as if an escapee from an insane asylum were masquerading as a high-society wife, turning her charade into a mad burlesque. She's wonderful. Her tall, slouchy, slinky frame is so perfect for the role, and I can't recall having ever seen anything funnier than her cat fight with Goddard and its after-math. You can tell you're watching an under-appreciated genius at work when in a frenzy she destroys various dishes and pitchers while yelling, "I hate you! I hate you! I hate everybody!" It's regretful that her motives and fate are left ambiguous while too much screen-time is devoted to Shearer's precious tears, meditating on her plight and redemption. Or her husband's redemption. Or--oh, who knows! The moral dilemma is too muddled, and neither Cukor nor the screenwriters seem to know how to resolve it. All the attention paid to this darker storyline messes up the screwball rhythm set-up by Russell and others, and it's so jarring it wrecks the movie once in awhile. It's worth these occasional transgressions, however, for some of the finest performances to come out of old Hollywood's best actresses. Not to mention the privilege of witnessing them utter such great lines as, "Well, let the story ride! No one will remember! You remember those awful things they said about What's her name before she jumped out that window? See, I can't even remember her name, so who cares?" Or the classic closer, "There's a name for you ladies, only it isn't used in high society. Outside of a kennel."
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Loved it! Absolutely loved it!!
ChristinaMarie1437 June 2006
Loved it! Absolutely loved it! Such an amazing cast, there wasn't just one star carrying it through like other movies. It is said that the casting was so particular for this movie that everyone in Hollywood wanted to be involved with it! As Rosalind Russell even joked "everyone down to Lassie had a screen test!" Even Rosalind Russell had to prove that she was perfect for her role because the studio felt that she wouldn't make a good comedy actress! She sure showed them! Now team the comedic Roz up with the seductress Joan Crawford against the sweet Norma Shearer and watch out! As if the cast isn't enough, throw in the funny Paulette Goddard and you have a very exciting hour and a half! If you love golden age comedies, this will surely be a treat! :~)

Ciao Christina
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One of the greatest films ever made!
MarkDain16 September 1999
It's not exaggerating to say this is one of the wittiest, smartest and glamorous films ever made. Almost every line is an absolute gem, and every time you watch it, you hear another brilliant comment that you missed before.

Crawford was in her wickedest prime. It could be said she's a tiny bit too old for the part, but it doesn't matter due to her force of presence. Shearer was absolute perfection as the slightly self-righteous overly dramatic heroine who finally turns into a fighter. I still get goose pimples when she does the "... two years to grow claws, mother. JUNGLE red!" line. As for Russell - she's an absolute scream in her fast-talking, slapstick role.

None of the three leads steal the film from the others, as the time which they are on-screen together is limited. The supporting cast is just as fantastic - all the way down to Hedda Hopper's brief appearance at the denouement, up to Paulette Goddard, and, of course, the Countess deLave ("Oh, la publicite, la publicite!")

In terms of comedy, it is unequaled, in my opinion (except perhaps for Some Like it Hot, which is very different)

No remake could do it justice - let's please not have one!
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A Must See
jannahaymesmassey14 September 2008
With an "all-star" cast of only women-there is a lot of competition-which results in a great deal of first rate acting. In my opinion Joan Crawford gives a stand out performance!Known for her over the top performances Joan plays it more low-key and its perfection. Though there are a few scenes and characters that seem outdated,the main plot is timeless,and will never go out of style.There is drama and some great humor that doesn't "knock you down"-so pay attention! And then, the performance by Joan that should not be missed.Don't let a couple of bad remakes,one with a title change, keep you from watching this original gem. A must see.
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Innovation of color
margins5 November 2005
I can't believe that no one has commented on the ingenuity of using color in the otherwise black & white movie. It is used in the fashion show. Quite unexpectedly and quite ingeniously...given the era. The movie is outstanding and well ahead of its time. Well worth seeing over and over. It is a relevant movie even today. One could learn a lot from seeing this movie. Take a page from history and apply it to today. Lot of lessons learned here. If you watch closely you can apply it to life today. Lessons in love, humility, and pride. Well worth learning and living. The actresses are all excellent and one can relate to any one of them and learn some life lessons.
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New Favorite movie of all time!
g-britosgutierre13 October 2016
Male director George Cukor takes on an all female cast in this classic "rumor has it" film of women chasing after men, and then each other's men! Shearer and Crawford made a hit with the on screen chemistry of hatred toward each other although drama was said to have occurred between the stars off stage as well. Although the action of the play turned blockbuster was conducted by the actresses it was the mise en scene that made the film a hit. The cinematography crew once called the directors of photography had beautifully set the stage for an elegant but destructive story of drama being unfolded before us. Through every scene change the women had still kept their attire appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate) of their original character. They even put time into the Technicolor of the fashion show scene which was a delight to see! A classic to watch, will definitely go back one day, the story was brilliant and being an old soul, I love the look of the classic women and times where quarrels were settled with elegance.
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One of my all-time favorite movies!
magpie111214 April 2002
I first saw this film on AMC; I was killing time & thought a movie with Joan Crawford would be a great way to spend a bit of time. I absolutely fell in love with this movie! The writing is excellent; and the actors really know how to make the most of their lines. The first-rate ensemble cast works very well together. I was so sucked in the first time I saw it that I was surprised when someone told me there were no men in the film. I hadn't noticed; the characters were that compelling! For anyone who "doesn't like old movies" - make an exception. See this one!
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The "other women" of THE WOMEN...
icblue0217 November 2005
After reading other user comments for this film, I will admit that a good many viewers saw this movie as I did: a raucous free-for-all with memorable quotes, scenes, and personalities. I do, however, wish to expand upon a couple of reasonably untouched areas for commentary...the understated, underrated performances in the film, namely Joan Fontaine's portrayal of Peggy Day and Lucille Watson's Mrs. Moorehead.

One viewer commented that Fontaine's "Peggy" was, at times, along the lines of "mentally retarded" (other user's words, NOT mine). While everyone is entitled his own opinion, I assert that the complete point of the Peggy character can be lost in the mix of bigger, brasher characters and stars in the film. In every group of female friends, there is a "Peggy"... the naive, doe-eyed woman who is unsure and uncertain and tends to seek the counsel and affirmation of her older, wiser, more experienced friends. When it comes down to it, Peggy is a young woman, newly married, and dealing with the pressures of maintaining a Park Avenue life on a tight budget (at least by the standards of her friends!!). She is timid and unsure, and she finds solace and security in her older friends. This is incredibly normal where female relationships are concerned. So, while Fontaine's performance may seem, at times, to be a little over-dramatic, remember that the whole movie is over the top. That's part of what makes it so fun. The character of Peggy merely adds a little sincerity and innocence to a plot full of back-stabbing and lost youth.

Peggy's polar opposite, "Mrs. Moorehead," is yet another understated character and performance (played by Lucile Watson). This woman is the mother of the wise Mary Haines, and serves as Mary's sounding board. She offers advice to her daughter and dispatches sarcastic one-liners off the cuff that rival even many of Roz Russell and Paulette Goddard's best lines. She also pulls no punches with her honesty, whether you agree with her or not. Her comments about "those dreadful women" and her "fumigating" scene are particularly humorous. Keep an eye on her character, and I assure you the movie will be that much better!!

This movie, maybe more than any other I have seen, depends on the presence of all of the characters to a large degree. No one in this film is there on accident...they each have a very specific purpose in the plot. Allowing oneself to really appreciate the lesser characters can only serve to make to viewing experience more enjoyable each time.
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Catty comedy played for stylish laughs, not histrionics...
moonspinner5517 September 2006
Norma Shearer, an almost infuriatingly sane and even-keeled actress, is once again typecast as the Voice of Good Reason. Here, she's an upscale wife and mother who finds out that her husband is having an affair and leaves him; her girlfriends surround her for support, but they're going through their own marital woes. Catty, brightly chatty screen-adaptation of Claire Booth's celebrated play is well-cast with energetic actresses and never bows to soapy melodrama; yet, when all is revealed, it's rather tame and good-girly. The color fashion show sequence inserted into this otherwise black-and-white film really says it all: the picture is less about relationships than it is about how fabulous each woman looks. Remade with music (and men) as "The Opposite Sex". ** from ****
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