The Women Blu-ray Review
If the cliché is to be believed, women go to hair salons to gossip. It’s at one such location that Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell, who would earn her first of four Oscar nominations two years later for MY SISTER EILEEN) hears that her cousin Mary’s (Norma Shearer, who had already earned all six of her career Oscar nods) husband is having an affair with a perfume saleswoman named Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford, who would win her sole Oscar six years later for MILDRED PIERCE).
Word gets through the telephone lines fast and Mary is forced to confront the realities of her life: Stephen is indeed cheating on her. During a trip to Reno and the introduction of a number of other women (including those played by Mary Boland, Paulette Godard and Joan Fontaine), the claws come out.
THE WOMEN was released in 1939, the same year director George Cukor was fired from GONE WITH THE WIND by producer David O. Selznick. It is based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play, which was also adapted into 1956’s THE OPPOSITE SEX and 2008’s THE WOMEN (with Meg Ryan, Annette Bening and Eva Mendes in the Shearer, Russell and Crawford roles). This screenplay is by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, who provide the cast with some very sharp one-liners (“There is a name for you, ladies, but it isn’t used in high society…outside of a kennel.”) and exchanges (“I’ll be doing the cooking, so you know what he’ll get.” “Indigestion.”).
But it is not all clever. Perhaps partly because of the time it was in production, THE WOMEN is full of the kind of hokiness and on-the-nose symbolism that will make modern audiences roll their eyes. An example: the opening credits sequence, which matches the leads to animals that represent their characters’ personality—Shearer is a deer, Crawford is a leopard and Russell is a black cat. (There are is also a monkey, a fox, a lamb, an owl, a cow and a horse, for what it’s worth.)
And even though the film is populated solely by females and Cukor was noted for being a “women’s director”—as evident in such films as 1954’s A STAR IS BORN, BORN YESTERDAY (for which Judy Holliday won an Oscar) and any of his numerous collaborations with Katharine Hepburn—THE WOMEN is only disguised as a work of girl power. Yes, characters like Mary’s mother (Lucile Watson, THE BISHOP MISBEHAVES) speak words of wisdom, but the characters tend to be shallow and gossip-obsessed, and have no problem being “the other woman.”
There are opportunities to redeem, but they’re all blown since it doesn’t even seem like the screenwriters notice how degrading their portrayals are. And that’s where the most crucial error is. The character of Mary is supposed to be the one the audience sympathizes with the most (it’s why she’s not, say, an alligator), but consider her final scene in the film and she is painted not only as a weak character but a shameful one.
THE WOMEN BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Warner has done a stellar job with the high-definition transfer of the 75-year-old THE WOMEN. The contrast is excellent and details are strong, while the sole Technicolor sequence pops with wonderful colors.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0; Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The chatty, quick dialogue is clean and without any significant flaws.
Another Romance of Celluloid contains two pieces: FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (10:20), which is a 1939 documentary about the shipping methods used by MGM, and Hollywood: Style Center of the World (11:07), a 1940 short on Hollywood’s influence on women’s fashion.
ONE MOTHER’S FAMILY (8:44): This 1939 Technicolor short features a mother hen taking her chicks for a walk.
Alternate Fashion Show Sequence (6:13): This black and white sequence fits better with the movie, but doesn’t have the same effect as the Technicolor version.
Scoring Stage Sessions (38:37)