The Women Reviews
Directed by George Cukor, a filmmaker renowned for being a "women's director," "The Women" stars the plenty genteel Norma Shearer as Mary Haines, an affluent housewife more disposed to partaking in leisure activities and attending hoity-toity social gatherings than tend to her home. She spends her days gossiping, hanging out at luxurious spas, and observing lush fashion shows with a clique of high society dames, most notably with Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), a fast-talking big-mouth who seems to care more about digging dirt than the finer things in life.
Mary lives a comfortable existence, to say the least, and her domestic stability is just as rewarding. She's been happily married to her husband for years, and her daughter (Virginia Weidler) is a chirpy one that does the right thing and is more than willing to mind her parents. But idealism is only bound to last a short while, and Mary's cushy (if predictable) life comes crashing down when it's accidentally revealed that her spouse is cheating on her. The other woman, upsettingly, is a malicious shopgirl (Joan Crawford) who cares more about social status than actual love.
Going against the spirit of the film's biting attitude, Mary is crushed rather than spiteful, figuring that it'd be finer to win back her husband than look for love elsewhere, or, even better, get sloppy revenge. So after discovering her mister's infidelity, she gathers up her pals and considers what course of action to take next, eventually deciding that packing up her bags and catering to her stormy emotions will be the best thing to remind her husband what a catch she was when they first started courting.
But how boring "The Women" is when it teeters toward women's picture drama. Though Shearer, always a fetching go-to as a straight man and dependable good girl, is meant to be the moral commodity to prove that the film is more than its snappy lines and cutthroat catfights, she's instead the weakest link to an otherwise scintillating comedy. When the movie isn't revolving around the trials and tribulations of its protagonist, it's a terrifically witty hoot: Russell, screwball's grande dame (next to Carole Lombard), is beyond fantastic as the film's most reliable laugh machine, and Crawford, who can deliver a coy insult like no one's business ("There's a name for you ladies," she smirks after her villainous character is finally told off. "But it isn't used in high society ... outside of a kennel"), is deliriously fun to hate.
So when "The Women's" kidding around and flinging around one-liners generously and embodying frivolity, that's when it becomes the stinging classic it's so widely touted to be. Pretend its flourishes of seriousness don't exist and you have a showcase for some of the Hollywood Golden Age's most ferocious leading ladies.
My tone sounds disparaging, but the film is a hoot to watch, gathering 3 divas, several starlets and many old stagers (all main characters have their respective animal analogs indicate their dispositions before the film starts), Shearer is a worthy leading actress here, notwithstanding the fact that her character is a morally upright woman who may be too perfect to exemplify as a true-to-life impersonation, Shearer's sincerity and grace alone can effortlessly win over audiences' heart and against the grain the magnificence of her id outshines the alter ego on screen and retains the limelight.
Crawford is the anti-heroine, a manipulative home-wrecker owns every second during her presence, could be her stock-of-trade by hindsight, but how can one not relish the sparkling confrontations between her and Shearer when words are still able to kill. The last but not the least of the trinity is Russell, a snooty socialite falls into utter caricature, a loudmouth and busybody, oscillates between her chameleon-like affinities (either to Shearer or to Crawford), she might be the most dangerous creature among all the distaff.
Then among secondary tier, a drop-dead gorgeous Fontaine is the romantic dreamer, a reverential Boland is the undying love-pursuer, an elegant and witty Goddard is the tactful helper, then a worldly and sensible Watson is the mother who gives appropriate advice when it is needed, and a lovable and juvenile Weidler pulls through an empathetic daughter-mother rapport between her and Shearer.
A vivid dissection of vicissitudes on Park Avenue, the film may not be able to be connected to the huddled mass, and its thematic POV "pride is a luxury a woman in love cannot afford" might not be align with today's viewpoint, THE WOMEN still has its unique value in spearheading a paradigm shifting experiment (although ironically women are without exception subordinate to their men in the film) to break the shackles which 74 years later unfortunately is still hedging the film business ubiquitously, not to mention the astonishing fashion-show during the midstream (the only color part in this otherwise monochrome artifact), with a retrospective gaze, everything else is a puff, only haute couture relentlessly lasts!