There’s a Name for You Ladies

The Women is all about men even though there’s not a single man in the picture. Based on a play written by Clare Boothe Luce, The Women is a rare production with an all-female cast. 1939 was a big year for classic films, but that was my biggest reason for watching it. Since The Women was also screenwritten by women, director George Cukor was the only man who stood between an all-star cast of ladies of all ages. Though I only recognized Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell were just as big at the time. The attention to detail was so good that every background extra, portrait, or animal was sure to be female. The Women passes the Bechdel Test many times, but men are a frequent topic of conversation.

The film focuses on mostly married women from upper-class Manhattan. Though black & white, there is an out of nowhere fashion show shot in technicolor. Shearer goes through many emotions as the married Mary Haines who suspects her husband is cheating. Lucile Watson offers a wise older perspective as Mary’s mother and the young Virginia Weidler is wise beyond her years as Mary’s daughter Little Mary. I didn’t think it was possible to show marital dysfunction without ever seeing the husband, but they found a way. Despite The Women not receiving a single Oscar nomination, Crawford deserved recognition for her delightfully villainous role as Crystal Allen. Crystal takes joy in stealing Mary’s husband and she’s the one who says the film’s most iconic line.

Due to the Hays Code, Hollywood had to get creative with profanity. Referring to ladies as a word used only in a kennel is a perfectly classy insult. Russell is just as rotten as Mary’s manipulative cousin Sylvia Fowler. Along with Phyllis Povah as their gossiping friend Edith. Though there are plenty of positive female friends who help Mary through her divorce. Fontaine is the more innocent Peggy, Mary Boland is an eccentric older divorced Countess, and Paulette Goddard is the younger no-nonsense Miriam Aarons. Fun fact: my mom once played the role of Miriam in a production of the play. Marjorie Main rounds out the cast by taking on her usual role as a strong-willed rancher in Reno. The Women can be funny, but it’s also a classic drama that really takes time to understand what women go through.

The Women 1939

The women gather ’round

4 thoughts on “There’s a Name for You Ladies

  1. The Women was one of Hollywood’s biggest innovations when the industry perfected sound. The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were the Technicolor marvels while The Women was the ensemble cast and character driven story marvel. The film itself has become universal because even today women go through all the stuff that happened in The Women, making the story, themes, and characters constantly relatable no matter the generation. I’ve never seen the film all the way through yet, but what I have seen is really well done and the cast is top notch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never seen The Women but I’ve heard much about it.

    Norma Shearer who’s little known today was actually one of the biggest female stars of the 1930s.

    And certainly the biggest female star at MGM where she was called The First Lady of MGM.

    It’s a shame she’s so little known today because she was a great actress.

    Liked by 1 person

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