In honor of Oscar week and our love of all things vintage, check out this movie review of the 1939 version of The Women – compliments of our talented actor friend, Amelia Lockwood (and yes, that is an alias!).
The Women, Hey, I’m one of those!
The 1939 version of The Women directed by George Cukor is one of my favorite films. Part of that is due to the fact that I was in a stage production of it that ran for three months when I lived in Los Angeles and it’s a very fond memory. I played Peggy (Mrs. John O’Day). She’s a small role in the play and an even smaller role in the film. I haven’t seen the most recent version, but I hear she was left out completely. Poor Peggy. ANYWAY. I wore an ill-fitting wig and a skirt with a 23″ waist. Ouch, on both counts. We know all the historical stuff about the film: it features an entire cast of women, the plot is about a backstabbing group of “friends,” all the actresses in it were the powerhouses of their day, and Joan Crawford, already 34 at the time, needed a hit and so took the smaller but pivotal role of Crystal Allen even though (in my opinion, at least) she is miscast. I think of Crystal as being manipulative but stupid (sort of a malicious version of Lena Lamont) and there is no denying the fact that Joan Crawford radiates competency and intelligence.
There are a lot of things that I like about the film, but Rosalind Russell’s Sylvia (Mrs. Howard Fowler) has to be the top of the list. Her quick delivery, while difficult to decipher on occasion, is absolutely modern and hilarious. The way she carries herself physically is self-consciously feminine and effortless all at once. That is tough to accomplish. I find Norma Shearer’s Mary Haines (Mrs. Stephen Haines) lovely to look at but she never grabs my heart the way Sylvia does. Sylvia’s story is the one I’m most invested in. I’d sure like to know Mrs. Howard Fowler in real life. I think we’d be fast friends. She’d share a Manhattan with me at noon and we’d never run out of conversation. The first things we would talk about would be her GLORIOUS hats. And when I could borrow them. Of course, there are things about the film that I don’t love: mainly, the message that you must be married to be Someone (the single women in the film are either home wreckers, vague-ish lesbians or VERY annoying 9-year olds who call their mothers “darling.”) Also, Mary Haines’ mother (Mrs. Mary’s Father’s Name) tells her not to confide in her girlfriends because they will gossip about her. That’s bad advice as far as I’m concerned. OF COURSE, my girlfriends are going to talk about me. I would expect nothing less. I hope they gossip about me a lot! Every crisis I have ever gotten though successfully is due to my friends hashing it out and telling me what they may have figured out while I was not around.
There is something so quaint about the way that Mary Haines finds out her husband is cheating on her. She goes to the manicurist who has a big mouth and spills the beans! Today, the manicurist is basically Twitter. Crystal (the other woman) would post some photos of herself in a bikini that she took while standing in front of a mirror in a bathroom and Stephen would be taking a shower in a glass stall behind her unaware of her shenanigans. Scandalous. And oh, so calculated. Also, the broads all go to Reno on a train to get divorced. I have no idea what the equivalent is of that today. Maybe while the divorce is happening all the girls go to Morocco and stay in a really expensive hotel while traveling around in matching Maybachs? Oh wait, that’s Sex and the City 2. Hang on, hang on, maybe those Sex and the City girls are just amalgams of The Women women! For instance, Carrie = Mary Haines/Sylvia, Samantha = Crystal/Sylvia, Miranda= Sylvia/Edith/Nancy(the masculine writer), and, stay with me, Charlotte = Peggy. Oh, look. Peggy is back! Hot Damn. AND both Joan Crawford and Sarah Jessica Parker wear lamé turbans. I think that proves it. Listen, I’m really on to something. I gotta call my girlfriends and run this theory by them. You know, see if they like it. They’ll tell me the truth, right?