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Case Number 02111

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The Women

Warner Bros. // 1939 // 133 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dezhda Mountz (Retired) // August 8th, 2002

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Women (2005 Release) (published June 14th, 2005), The Women (2008) (published December 19th, 2008), The Women (2008) (Blu-ray) (published December 21st, 2008), and The Women (1939) (Blu-ray) (published May 15th, 2014) are also available.

The Charge

In The Women…It's all about men!

Opening Statement

1930s audiences flocked to Broadway to see Clare Boothe Luce's hit play The Women, a treat full of cat fighting, gossip, bitching, and man-snatching—every society matron's worst nightmare come wittily to life. The play translated easily to screen, starring a who's who of classic cinema stars: Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Roz Russell, and Joan Fontaine are a sampling of MGM's silver screen grandes dames on display. The movie was a hit, and is now for all of us to enjoy on DVD in its entire sumptuous name calling, thanks to Warner Brothers.

Facts of the Case

Mrs. Stephen Haines, nee Mary (Norma Shearer), is an angel. A loving wife with a daughter whom adores her, it seems nothing could shatter her well being, not even the sniping of her gossip-hound friends. Until, that is, the manicurist speaks. As all the ladies get their nails done—in the latest, greatest Jungle Red—a nosy manicurist leaks the juicy fact that Mr. Stephen Haines is cheating on Mary, and with a perfume store salesgirl nonetheless! AND this salesgirl won't get her Jungle-Red claws out of Mr. Haines' heart; no, Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce) is out for the kill, and one way or another, she'll get her man. Heartbroken, Mary demands a divorce that comes easy in Reno, where she meets a bunch of divorcees who soothe her soul. But her pride only goes so far when she realizes her husband just isn't happy without her. With the help of her mouthy friends, Mary's got a few tricks up her sleeve. There's nothing a good woman can't do when she's in love.

The Evidence

This movie is a classic for a reason. First of all, the top female actresses of the day fulfill every cineaste's fantasy, including Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame) as Mary's good friend Sylvia Fowler. Russell talks at a feverish pitch, and yet you still understand every biting word. She's got a body made of toothpicks that flails like a cartoon character when she gets into a catfight with Miriam Arons (Paulette Goddard, An Ideal Husband), the woman responsible for Sylvia's divorce. Ever want to see two elegant, gorgeous women punch each other like Steven Seagal in a roadhouse fight? Well, here's your chance! "Don't start calling me names, you Park Avenue playgirl," chorus girl Miriam warns Sylvia—"I know more words than you do!"

Words, words, words. Who can beat the classics of the'30s, '40s, and '50s for such delightful dialogue, such as "And by the way, there's a name for you ladies but it isn't used in high society—outside of a kennel!" There are retorts and snipes in here that put modern scripts—particularly the wilting romantic comedy genre—to shame. Why, there's more bitching here than in the line to get into the Blue Oyster! And by such beautiful women, too. A great society study that the "high class" folks usually stoop to the lowest terms.

Not Mary Haines, though. And Norma Shearer is—to use the parlance of the time—just divine as our heroine. With a face like a china doll that reveals emotions exquisitely and the ability to act melodramatic without overdoing it, she is a dream to watch. We can see why director George Cukor wanted her and only her for the part.

The movie clocks in at 133 minutes, but time flew by. From the dangerous gossip at the spa, to the divorce hideaway in Reno, to the final catfight in a powder room bigger than my apartment, Mary's journey back to her husband is so peppered with oversized personalities, biting wit, and the kind of comedy that obviously influenced Sex in the City, you wish the movie didn't have to end. A glorious display of rich women gone haywire—all because of MEN. And get this—not one man shows his face in the film. A man is responsible for helming the whole affair, of course. George Cukor directed with charm and emotion, particularly highlighting Shearer's beautiful face in all its despair and joy. The movie, like the direction, is a sumptuous joy to behold.

The full frame aspect ratio here does the film little justice. Apparently this is the aspect ratio of the original theatrical exhibition (according to the back of the box). If this is the case, why then are women to the left and right of ensemble scenes—and there are many in this 2 1/2-hour long slumber party—cut off at the nose? The picture itself is no better. Tight black and white patterns buzz violet and green—which does happen often in good transfers—but grays are milky and vague and occasional soft focus is only made worse by the old print's lackluster transfer. I'll give this transfer the benefit of a doubt, as blacks were solid and not foggy and whites fairly pure, and the print is old. Just a note for collectors—be prepared for some grain and a less than crisp picture.

Sound was routine—a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono track without much shading in the colors of sound. Luckily, the mix is fine, and the soaring, sentimental score by Edward Ward and David Snell never overpowers the dialogue. You don't really need an outrageous sound mix here anyway, so the mono track—in French and English—is adequate.

Extras are fairly substantial for an older movie, but their relevancy is dubious. We have the standard list of cast and crew and a straightforward production not that are text accentuated with photo stills. Scoring session music cues allows you to hear only the score for 16 scenes and isn't that exciting, unless you want to cue up some wistful, sentimental music for the next fight you have with your significant other—could add some drama to your real life, but doesn't add too much excitement to the DVD. It is a nice touch for movie score fanatics, however.

Also nice for collectors but adding no new perspective to the film is the alternate version of the fashion show, which comes just before Mary's first confrontation with Crystal in the film. In The Women, it's in color, jumping out from the black and white film almost like a sore thumb, but for novelty's sake pretty interesting. Well, thanks to Warner Brothers, you can view it in black and white. Woo hoo. Not much different at all from its color companion, this is again just a nice thing to have for trivia's sake.

The trailer for The Women is enjoyable, and the trailer for the musical version, The Opposite Sex, is leaden and lacking all the verbal pizzazz of its predecessor. However, this trailer is in anamorphic widescreen and dazzles in Technicolor, so visually, it's a feast.

Finally, we have two short documentaries, all which eventually evolve into previews for a season of MGM films. The first, "Hollywood: Style Center of the World" uses Joan Crawford's stardom as a focus on how Hollywood's style influences everyone from metropolitan socialites to country farm girls. Adrian, one of the most famous costume designers of the day, is featured in this short film, which eventually dissolves into preview after preview of MGM flicks.

Secondly is "From the Ends of the Earth," all about how Hollywood imports various raw materials—textiles, lumber, rope—to create the grandeur of the silver screen. A few snippets from The Women display how well the costume department of MGM does its job.

As a classic buff, I enjoyed the previews in all their hyperbole and black and white splendor, and love to catch up on old movies I've yet to see. However, a documentary about The Women would have thrilled me over short films that merely featured this film. After all, this script has been brought again to the stage at the turn of the millennium and has been bounced around Hollywood for years for a potential remake starring the biggest divas of our day. Not only that, its influence is felt far and wide, from Jack and Karen's sharp tongues on Will and Grace to the aforementioned Sex in the City. People, The Women sets the standard for bitchiness in our filmed entertainment. It totally warrants a closer look.

But hey, the short films are a little piece of Hollywood history, so I'll take it.

Closing Statement

Another one of those deals where the movie is so good, if the print were covered with sludge I'd still delight in the pure bitchiness and name calling. But, alas, these Women deserve a helluva lot more than sub-standard transfer. And while you're at it, darling, could you pick up a more relevant extra or two than a couple short films? Just think about it, dear. Oh, and bring me a sherry!

I mean…um…the extras are perfectly fine, but not…substantial. Sort of like a handsome, rich husband who plays around on you with the local shopgirl.

The Verdict

Sentenced to one day selling the perfume "Summer Rain" to the meanest women east of the Mississippi…but free to come back and tell more glorious stories all about men!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 70
Audio: 80
Extras: 88
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
• French
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Cast and Crew Info
• Production Notes
• Short Film: Hollywood: Style Center of the World
• Short Film: From the Ends of the Earth
• Alternate Black and White Fashion Show Sequence
• Scoring Session Music Cues
• Two Theatrical Trailers

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Review content copyright © 2002 Dezhda Mountz; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.