Thursday, January 27, 2011

Classic Movie Review: The Women

I finally broke down and Netflixed Meg Ryan's "The Women." I was hesitant because the 1939 original is one of my favorite movies of all time. Unfortunately, the remake is awful. It tries hard, even using elements and characters from the original, but in modernizing the plot they lost the focus of the story. The modern version is a rambling, woman-finding-herself-with-the-support-of-her-best-friends, chick-flick, complete with a fashion show and a birth at the end. The original is more sinister, and funnier. Women can be vicious and cruel, even with their best friends, and gossip is the weapon of choice. Mary Hanes must navigate not only the expectations of being a woman in the 30's, but the dangerous waters of her so called friends.

And yet, those friends are funny, intelligent, quick-witted and fascinating. They both love and hate each other, but would probably kill for each other without a second thought.

Mary Hanes, played by Norma Shearer, is the perfect wife in her perfect marriage, but she doesn't know her husband is cheating on her with the beautiful Crystal Allen, played by Joan Crawford. Unfortunately, her friends know, and they set her up to find out second hand from the too-talkative manicurist who informed them. Once Mary finds out, she must decide whether or not to fight for her man. But she might not have a chance against the stunning Joan Crawford.

The entire cast is all women, and each character, from Mary to her supportive mother to the catty Sylvia and sweet natured Peggy, is fully developed and unique. Norma Shearer is mesmerizing, especially in her silence. When she's on the phone talking to her husband after she's learned of his affair, you can see how hard she wants to tell him she knows, but she tearfully tells him it's okay for him to "work late," knowing full well he's with Crystal.

Joan Crawford wants her man, and she'll do just about anything to get him, even lie about her birthday to keep him from going home to his wife. Crystal is actually genuine. She knows what she wants and goes after it, manipulates her man to keep him hooked, but doesn't stab women in the back. If she attacks, you know it's coming.

Sylvia, played by Rosalind Russel, is the worst of Mary's friends. She loves creating havoc wherever she goes. But she eventually gets her comeuppance when her own husband cheats on her. Eventually Mary finds real friends, including the fabulous Countess De Lave, who's favorite thing to say after 5 marriages is "La Amour, La Amour," with a wave of her hands.

The original has a fashion show too, just like the 2007 version. Fashion shows in films were vogue in the late 30's and early 40's, especially since it provided the opportunity to show off the new color technology just being developed then.

The Women was originally a play written by the brilliant Claire Boothe Luce which ran successfully on Broadway for 666 performances (so the movie states during the opening credits, and she wrote the script as well. The new version of the movie takes scenes straight out of the original, like when Crystal and Mary finally meet at a dress shop and when the maid and cook discuss how Mary and Steven were fighting when Mary confronted him. But the ending of the original is completely different from the new version.

Ultimately, this is a comedy about the complexities of women's relationships. Frenamies is nothing new, it's been around since at least 1939.

Sylvia - "Why do we all like Mary so much?"

Nancy - "Because she's not afraid of being what she is, a woman."

Sylvia - "And what are we?"

Nancy - "Female."


msLaura said...

Looooove that movie! Paulette Goddard seems so modern, just change her hair a little bit and she could be an actress from today.

It also strikes me when watching this movie that little old ladies are still wearing those tightly permed short hairstyles, and now we think of them as "little old lady hair", but back in the day they were the fashionable dos of the period.

I mean, Joan Crawford's hair in this movie is that of an 80yo today, but back then she was the height of fashion, you know. Funny.

cyberibis said...

Well, hot damn. Now I'm going to have to go rent this film. Somehow, it slipped by on my radar.
I avoid remakes in general, they are almost always disappointing and miss the thematic boats entirely.
When something is adapted from a play to screen, you inevitably lose certain qualities. Then with consequent remakes of the movie, directors seem to get farther and farther from the 'Truth' of the original piece, ending up with a cinematic verion of 'Telephone'.

David said...

I am about to reveal a side of me that you didn't know existed (...or maybe I am fooling myself!). This film is one of my favorites too. I am most keen on the Countess ("L'amour, l'amour. Oh, the publicity - la publicite!") Mary's wonderful Scottish mother (does every line she speaks begin with "Now Mary..." or am I imagining that?), and Marjorie Main who runs the Nevada ranch. Marjorie is always my ideal American woman. Haven't seen this in years - must invest.