The Women (1939)

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THE WOMEN  wielded for decades an undue 4-star cachet in any number of film guides. Having sat through it twice, I’d gladly trade the chore to being tied to an electric fence and attacked by rabid bats. If this is what people thought was ‘sophisticated’ in 1939, it’s no wonder everyone starting bombing each other. No doubt director George Cukor had a giddy time, cracking a velvet whip, hissing over the pampered kitty whiskers of his array of indulgent MGM divas, but apart from a few well executed claws-out, fangs-bared, litter-kicks from Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard, hanging with these horrid oxygen-poachers for 133 bloated minutes is unbearable except as an argument for either celibacy or the guillotine.

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Manhattan society pillar Norma Shearer (wake me up) is informed through her venomous cousin (Roz) that her husband is cheating on her with a (also poisonous) perfume counter girl (Crawford).  As other ‘friends’ shrilly compound the misery, the Force-8 decibel level and “dahling-look-at-those-gowns!” parade of conspicuously unearned wealth, pointless nastiness and phony taste labors to a conclusion that it would be harder to frankly, give less of a damn about (Cukor got this assignment after Selznick fired him from Gone With The Wind).

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Rumors circulated at the time, and still do, about the infighting that went on between the actresses. Yawn. In black & white, with a ten-minute fashion show sequence in color. Others in on the fur-flying include Joan Fontaine (22 and already pegged playing a sad girl), Mary Boland, Phyllis Povah, Marjorie Main (too good for this),Virginia Grey (22 and a knockout) and Ruth Hussey.

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Written by Anita Loos & Jane Murfin, toned down from the play by Clare Booth Luce, ostensibly it’s a satire, but one too self-satisfied by insulated chic and an acid-bath of emotional brutality to garner more than a few strained smiles,kudos mainly to the to the three tough cookies mentioned at the top.  It set the studio back $1,688,000, made $2,270,000, hitting 11th place for that stellar year, and also features Hedda Hopper and Butterfly McQueen (debut, at 28).  Remade in 1956 as The Opposite Sex, and again as The Women in 2008. Kind of the mean grand-mama to those vile Real Housewives Of….TV reality shows. Comes the revolution, witches…..

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