The Women (Donne) – USA 1939

Directed by: George Cukor

Starring: Norma Shearer; Joan Crawford; Rosalind Russell; Mary Boland; Paulette Goddard; Joan Fontaine, Phyllis Povah.

Beware: never confide in your girlfriends!

1939 was a dreadful year for humanity, but a great one in Hollywood that reached the top of its Golden Age. That year were released among the others: Gunga Din, Beau Geste, Wuthering Heights, The wizard of Oz, Mr Smith goes to Washington, Ninotchka and, of course, Gone with the wind. The 1st of September, while Hitler’s Army was invading Poland, in USA was released “The Women” the story of a group of  wealthy Park Avenue women apparently only interested in  keeping themselves fit and pretty, gossiping and back-stabbing one each other between dinners, fashion shows, gym sessions, travels and divorces.

The film, a comedy-drama, is based on the play “The women” written  by Clare Boothe Luce (who became in 1953 the US ambassador in Italy, the first woman ever to hold such an important role) in  in 1936, a huge Broadway success. To direct the film was called George Cukor, the “women’s director”, who, just a month before, had been fired from the “Gone with the wind” set, due to disagreements with David O Selznick. “The women” starred almost all the top Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers female stars, only Greta Garbo (she was  “laughing” in Lubitsch‘s Ninotchka) and Myrna Loy were missing. To please the many women that surely would flock to cinemas to watch this film giving them a Park Avenue experience a Technicolor sequence was added to this black and with film: a fashion show of original Adrian‘s designs (Adrian was a famous costume and fashion designer who worked for MGM from 1920’s to 1940’s also designing movie stars’ personal wardrobes). Cukor hated this sequence and wanted to cut it from the film, but if you want to watch it in its original Technicolor splendour you can go to the Knitted Notes Facebook Page.

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russ...

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell in “The Women”, 1939 (Photo credit: thefoxling)

Though the posters said “The women- it’s all about men!” not a single man can be spotted in 128 minutes (if we believe in what the publicity said also animals were females in this film). Each character represent a different woman-type (a very stereotyped one). Norma Shearer is Mary Haines, the ingénue wife that discovering his husband’s infidelity, thanks to her thoughtful girlfriends, runs to Reno to divorce just a minute before deciding to reconquer her man’s heart; Joan Crawford is Crystal Allen a  single woman selling perfumes in a department store (apparently the right job for a “gold digger” those days), the bad girl that steals Mary’s husband and became the new Mrs Haines whose real sin is to be a lower-class girl; Rosalind Russell is Sylvia Fowler, the unhappy wife of an unfaithful husband who’s cynically glad to discover that also her cousin Mary’s marriage ain’t perfect (and to let Mary know it!). Then there are: the serial mother of too many daughters who always deny her insane passion for gossip (Phyllis Povah/Edith Potter); the young and innocent wife, whose only trouble is to have more money then her husband, that following Sylvia’s advices almost “commit” divorce (Joan Fontaine/Peggy Day); the old Lady that being very, very rich can believe in true love collecting husbands and divorces (Mary Boland/Countesse DeLave); the chorus girl who uses Sylvia’s (ex)husband as a social elevator (Paulette Goddard/Miriam Aarons) and many others… They can’t live without men also because, if we trust this movie, in late Thirties only the marriage (not work, a thing made for bad girls!) could give them a comfortable respectable life and they are ready to fight with each other for this.

A final suggestion: beware of remakes, your time once gone never come back…

A bunch of women fighting to reach success, a social status and, oh yeah, love! Enjoy it! (titles will lead you to a clip or a trailer, just click them):

Stage Door – USA 1937 Directed by: Gregory La Cava. Starring: Katherine Hepburn; Ginger Rogers; Lucille Ball; Andrea Leeds; Gail Patrick, Adolphe Menjou.

Gone with the Wind – USA 1939 Directed by: Victor Fleming. Starring: Vivien Leigh; Clark Gable; Olivia De Havilland; Leslie Howard.

All about Eve – USA 1950 Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Starring: Bette Davis; Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm; George Sanders; Gary Merrill.

Working Girl – USA 1988 Directed by: Mike Nichols. Starring: Melanie Griffith; Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford; Alec Baldwin.

Alice – USA 1990 Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Mia Farrow; William Hurt; Joe Mantegna; Alec Baldwin; Cybill Shepherd.

The First Wives Club – USA 1996 Directed by: Hugh Wilson. Starring: Goldie Hawn; Diane Keaton; Bette Midler; Sarah Jessica Parker.

Sex and the City – USA 2008 Directed by: Michael Patrick King. Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker; Kim Cattrall; Cynthia Nixon; Kristin Davis.

…and something to read (old but still interesting), recommended to the ex-little girls (and to ex-little boys too…):

Elena Gianini Belotti – Little girls: Social Conditioning and its effects on the Sterotyped Role of Women during Infancy.(1973)

Attente: mai fidarsi delle amiche!

Il 1939 è stato in anno terribile per il mondo intero, ma una grande annata per Hollywood, il momento di massimo splendore della sua Età dell’Oro. Quell’anno uscirono tra gli altri: Gunga Din, Beau Geste, La voce nella Tempesta (Cime Tempestose), Il Mago di OZ, Mr Smith va a Washington, Ninotchcka ed ovviamente Via col Vento. Il primo settembre, mentre le truppe di Hitler invadevano la Polonia, nelle sale cinematografiche degli Stati Uniti uscì “Donne”, storia di un gruppo di ricche signore di Park Avenue impegnate a mantenersi carine e in forma, a spettegolare ed a  pugnalarsi alla schiena una con l’altra tra cene, sfilate di moda, lezioni di ginnastica, viaggi e divorzi.

Il film, una brillante commedia, è l’adattamento cinematografico della commedia teatrale “Donne” scritta da Clare Boothe Luce (che nel 1953 diventò ambasciatrice degli Stati Uniti in Italia, la prima donna che abbia mai ricoperto un incarico di tale importanza) nel 1936, un grande successo di Broadway. A dirigere il film fu chiamato George Cukor, il “regista delle donne”, che solo un mese prima era stato licenziato dal set di “Via col vento” a causa delle molte divergenze creative con David O Selznick. In “Donne” lavorarono quasi tutte le più importanti star femminili della Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, mancavano all’appello solo Greta Garbo (nel 1939 impegnata a ridere nel film di Lubitsch Ninotchka) e Myrna Loy. Al pubblico femminile, che sicuramente avrebbe affollato i cinema, si decise di offrire la possibilità di partecipare alla vita fastosa di Park Avenue inserendo all’interno di questo film in bianco e nero, una  sequenza in technicolor: la sfilata di modelli originali di Adrian (il famoso costumista e disegnatore  di moda che tra gli anni ’20 e gli anni ’40 aveva lavorato per la MGM creando anche i guardaroba personali delle sue attrici). Cukor odiava questa scena ed avrebbe voluto tagliarla, ma se volete vederla nel suo originale splendore potete fare un giro sulla pagina Facebook di Knitted Notes.

“The women” 1939 poster (immage credit: wikipedia)

Anche se il poster del film recitava “Donne – è tutta una questione di uomini!”  gli uomini qui sono solo dei fantasmi e in 128 minuti non ne vedrete nemmeno uno e (se vogliamo credere alla pubblicità) persino gli animali sono femmine. Ogni personaggio rappresenta un diverso tipo di donna (decisamente stereotipato). Norma Shearer è Mary Haines, moglie ingenua che scoprendo, grazie alle premurose amiche, l’infedeltà del marito si precipita a Reno per il divorzio un attimo prima di decidere di riconquistare il suo uomo; Joan Crawford è Crystal Allen, donna sola che lavora come commessa dietro al banco dei profumi di un grande magazzino (a quanto pare il lavoro giusto per le “cercatrici d’oro” dell’epoca), la cattiva ragazza che ruba il marito a Mary ed il cui vero peccato è provenire da una classe sociale inferiore; Rosalind Russell è Sylvia Malinas infelice moglie di un uomo infedele cinicamente felice di scoprire che anche il matrimonio di sua cugina Mary non è perfetto (e di farlo sapere anche a Mary!). Poi ci sono: la madre seriale di troppe figlie che nega con fermezza l’insana passione per il pettegolezzo (Phyllis Povah/Edith Potter); la giovane e innocente moglie, il cui vero problema è di possedere più soldi del marito, che seguendo gli amichevoli consigli di Sylvia rischia il divorzio (Joan Fontaine/Peggy Day); la signora stagionata che essendo molto, molto ricca può permettersi di credere nell’amore collezionando mariti e divorzi (Mary Boland/Contessa De Lave); l’artista di varietà che punta a una promozione sociale grazie al marito di Sylvia (Paulette Goddard/Miriam Aarons) e molte altre… Tante donne che non potendo fare a meno degli uomini anche perché, se ci fidiamo del film, alla fine degli anni ’30 solo il matrimonio (e non il lavoro, roba da cattive ragazze!) poteva assicurare loro una vita agiata e rispettabile, non esitano a farsi la guerra tra loro con ogni mezzo.

Un ultimo suggerimento: diffidate delle imitazioni, il vostro tempo una volta passato non ritorna, spendetelo bene…

Un po’ di donne impegnate nella lotta per raggiungere il successo, un posto di rilievo nella società e,  oh si, l’amore. Spero vi piacciano (il titolo vi porterà ad un trailer o a una clip, basta un click):

Palcoscenico – USA 1937 Diretto da: Gregory La Cava. Con: Katherine Hepburn; Ginger Rogers; Lucille Ball; Andrea Leeds; Gail Patrick, Adolphe Menjou.

Via col vento – USA 1939 Diretto da: Victor Fleming. Con: Vivien Leigh; Clark Gable; Olivia De Havilland; Leslie Howard.

Eva contro Eva – USA 1950 Diretto da: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Con: Bette Davis; Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm; George Sanders; Gary Merrill.

Una donna in carriera – USA 1988 Diretto da: Mike Nichols. Con: Melanie Griffith; Sigourney Weaver, Harrinson Ford; Alec Baldwin.

Alice – USA 1990 Diretto da: Woody Allen. Con: Mia Farrow; William Hurt; Joe Mantegna; Alec Baldwin; Cybill Shepherd.

Il Club delle Prime Mogli – USA 1996 Diretto da: Hugh Wilson. Con: Goldie Hawn; Diane Keaton; Bette Midler; Sarah Jessica Parker.

Sex and the City – USA 2008 Diretto da: Michael Patrick King. Con: Sarah Jessica Parker; Kim Cattrall; Cynthia Nixon; Kristin Davis.

…e una lettura (un po’ datata ma sempre interessante) consigliata alle ex bambine (ma anche agli ex bambini…):

Elena Gianini Belotti –Dalla parte delle bambine(1973)

About Ella V

I love old movies, rock music, books, art... I'm intrested in politics. I adore cats. I knit...

19 responses »

  1. Tina says:

    I love that movie but my all time favorite is Gone With the Wind – such an epic movie!

  2. Mike Schultz Paintings says:

    Great post, Ella! Last week I randomly had a chance to hang out in Joan Crawford’s former 5th Ave apartment in New York that a friend was working at. The caretaker claims that her ghost is still there… 🙂

  3. Anne Bonney says:

    Loved your review of the film. They are not making them like that anymore.

  4. One of my favorite movies of all time. I pretty much know it by heart. Great post and review.

  5. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Ella! I can’t believe that so many wonderful golden era actresses acted in one movie! I will look for the DVD. I saw a Joan Crawford movie recently called ‘Humoresque’ and loved it. Out of the movies in your list, I want to watch ‘All About Eve’ (love Bette Davis!) and ‘Gone with the Wind’ (watched parts of it once upon a time, but want to watch the whole movie sometime. I loved the novel.). I also want to watch ‘Alice’ sometime as I love Woody Allen’s movies and want to watch all of them. Thanks for this wonderful review! I love the fact that you watch golden era movies every weekend. Looking forward to reading your movie review next weekend.

  6. Anarya Andir says:

    Haven’t watched The Women, but there’s no doubt that 1939 was one of the best years for films. I love Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gone With the Wind (and there were lots of other films out that year too as I remember)

  7. CurlsnSkirls says:

    “The women” isn’t one of my favorites, but “All About Eve” is, in a challenging way. The insidiousness involved is so sinister, so descriptive of real life situations… would these both be film noire? Don’t know, just know I have to be in a certain mood to watch ’em!

    • Ella V says:

      Good movies always make you feel a bit uncomfortable, sometimes they oblige you to think about questions you prefer to ignore.

  8. melanieylang says:

    This is such an entertaining film – the astonishing costumes, the utter lack of male appearances, the sharp one-liners…it’s one of my favourites!

  9. Dawne says:

    I love “The Women”! I just love old movies generally, and this is one of my favorites. I’m always amazed and amused with the opening of the movie as the camera goes from one chattering woman to another – I can never quite keep up with what they are saying, they talk so fast!

  10. Cinema Wonk says:

    Enjoyed this post, and the unique focus of your blog!

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