The Women (1939)

WomenDirected by the brilliant George Cukor, this is a vibrant adaptation of Claire Boothe Luce’s famous Broadway play and stars an incredible array of female acting talent from the MGM lot (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Godard, Joan Faintaine, Ruth Hussey, Hedda Hopper, Margaret Dumont, even an uncredited Butterfly McQueen). A wickedly funny portrait of interconnected women in the 1930s, it follows their beauty treatments, luncheons, fashion shows and romantic entanglements with each other’s men. Surprisingly modern in its mercilessly fast paced humour, this film’s razor sharp wit is filled with memorable invective.


Wealthy Mary Haines is unaware her husband is having an affair with a mere shop-girl, Crystal Allen, but Sylvia Fowler and Edith Potter find out about the affair from a manicurist. They arrange for Mary to hear the gossip and divorce proceedings ensue. On the train taking her to a Reno divorce, Mary meets the Countess and Miriam (who is having an affair with Sylvia’s husband). At Lucy’s dude ranch, Sylvia arrives for her own divorce and the Countess meets fifth husband-to-be, Buck. Back in New York, Mary’s ex is now unhappily married to Crystal, who is already in an affair with Buck. When Sylvia lets this slip at a country club dinner, Crystal brags of her plans for a still wealthier marriage, only to find the Countess is the source of all Buck’s money.

Crystal must return to the perfume counter and Mary runs back to her husband.


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.


She’s got those eyes that run up and down a man like a searchlight.

You simply must see my hairdresser, I DETEST whoever does yours.

Good grief! I hate to tell you, dear, but your skin makes the Rocky Mountains look like chiffon velvet!

Edith Potter:        Weren’t you going to Africa to shoot, Nancy?

Nancy Blake:       As soon as my book’s out.

Sylvia Fowler:      I don’t blame you. I’d rather face a tiger any day than the sort of things the critics said about your last book.

Beautician #1: [to Mrs Gillingswater] You don’t look a day over 35! [Gillingswater leaves room] That old gasoline truck, she’s 60 if she’s a minute.

Beautician #2: Who is she?

Beautician #1: Gillingswater.

Beautician #2: Oh, that old bag! One more permanent and she won’t have a hair on her head.

Beautician #1: [puff on cigarette] She’s got plenty on her arms baby!

Beautician #2: She sure does shed, don’t she!

Nancy: [to Countess DeLave] Chin up.

Miriam: Right, both of them.

Sylvia: Oh, you remember the awful things they said about what’s-her-name before she jumped out the window? There. You see? I can’t even remember her name so who cares?


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