Monday, January 14, 2013

Outside our demographic: The Women (1939)

Nothing says "The League" like a 1939 women's picture directed by George Cukor, but I'd been hearing about The Women for what seems like forever, and I'd never seen a Norma Shearer movie, and as it also had Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford, I wanted to give it a try.

Let us say that this is a movie of its time, and while I salute the movie for never showing a single person of the male persuasion in the film in any way, it's a product of its time in many, many ways that I think had Jamie squirming in her seat throughout the movie.  That said, it actually covers divorce, adultery, acknowledges sex and illicit sex ten years into the Code era in a way that frankly surprised me.

Parts of the movie are daffy fun, others are intended to jerk on your heart strings, and the movie is sort of an early Sex and the City, I guess.  Like Sex and the City, also with all female leads, oh my lord, is this movie never in danger of passing The Bechdel Test.  

Basically, Norma Shearer is a Park Avenue society woman whose husband is cheating on her with Joan Crawford.  As is probably true in these matters, Shearer is the last to know, and when it comes out, it causes a scandal that makes the society pages.  Rosalind Russell plays the nosey, annoying pal and a hoard of other women play stereotypes defined by barnyard animals at the beginning of the film.  


Anyway, it's not a bad film, it's just hopelessly dated.  The standard "I can make it on my own" lesson of women's movies of the Imitation of Life or Mildred Pierce period which came a bit later is never learned in this movie.  Instead, the lesson is a bit more of "just wait, and be true to the guy who is now loudly making it with Joan Crawford, because one day, when he wants his laundry done, he'll come back".  

Because this was a movie aimed at the ladies, it also features an extended "fashion" sequence that serves absolutely no narrative purpose, but is presented in Oz-era Technicolor, while the rest of the film is black and white.  At the time, that had to have really been amazing, sort of like in 2006 when you could see some scenes of a movie in 3D.  It also features all costumed by a fellow named "Adrian", who had very specific ideas about hats.

I tip my hat to Norma Shearer, and in context, the movie is fine, but you also want to smack the screen writers and Cukor, especially for that @#$%ing awful final shot of the movie.  But, you can say the movie paved the way for women's films and messages of strength in those movies.  Even if that meant the 90's would plague us with endless scenes of actresses singing R&B tunes into a hairbrush in order to indicate their quirky, newfound strength in themselves and from their friends.

I hear there's a 2008 version of this movie starring a bunch of people I don't care about and Annette Benning.  I will be giving that a skip.

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