1930s, Comedy, Fashion

The Women

The Women is a 1939 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor. The film is based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play of the same name, and was adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, who had to make the film acceptable for the Production Code in order for it to be released.

The film stars Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Lucile Watson, Mary Boland, Florence Nash, and Virginia Grey, as well as Marjorie Main and Phyllis Povah, the last two of whom reprised their stage roles from the play. Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, Butterfly McQueen, and Hedda Hopper also appeared in smaller roles. Fontaine was the last surviving actress with a credited role in the film; she died in 2013.

The film continued the play’s all-female tradition—the entire cast of more than 130 speaking roles was female. Set in the glamorous Manhattan apartments of high society evoked by Cedric Gibbons, and in Reno where they obtain their divorces, it presents an acidic commentary on the pampered lives and power struggles of various rich, bored wives and other women they come into contact with.

I am the man I want to marry!

Sylvia Fowler

Throughout The Women, not a single male is seen — although the males are much talked about, and the central theme is the women’s relationships with them. Lesbianism is intimated in the portrayal of only one character, Nancy Blake. The attention to detail was such that even in props such as portraits only female figures are represented, and several animals which appeared as pets were also female. The only exceptions are a poster-drawing clearly of a bull in the fashion show segment and an ad on the back of the magazine Peggy reads at Mary’s house before lunch.

Sylvia Fowler: Oh, you remember the awful things they said about what’s-her-name before she jumped out the window? There. You see? I can’t even remember her name so who cares?

Filmed in black and white, it includes a ten-minute fashion parade filmed in Technicolor, featuring Adrian’s most outré designs; often cut in modern screenings, it has been restored by Turner Classic Movies. On DVD, the original black and white fashion show, which is a different take, is available for the first time.

Nancy Blake: You just can’t bear Mary’s happiness, can you, Sylvia? It gets you down.

Sylvia Fowler: How ridiculous! Why should it?

Nancy Blake: Because she’s contented. Contented to be what she is.

Sylvia Fowler: Which is what?

Nancy Blake: A woman.

Sylvia Fowler: Ah! And what are we?

Nancy Blake: Females.

Sylvia Fowler: Really. And what are you, pet?

Nancy Blake: What nature abhors: I’m an old maid, a frozen asset.

The Women follows the lives of Manhattan women, focusing in particular on Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), the cheerful, contented wife of Stephen and mother of Little Mary (Virginia Weidler). After a bit of gossip flies around the salon these wealthy women visit, Mary’s cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) goes to a Salon to get the newest, exclusive nail color: Jungle Red. She learns from a manicurist that Mary’s husband has been having an affair with a predatory perfume counter girl named Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). A notorious gossip, Sylvia delights in sharing the news with Mary’s friends; she sets up Mary with an appointment with the same manicurist so that she hears the rumor about Stephen’s infidelity.

While Mary’s mother (Lucile Watson) urges her to ignore the gossip, Mary begins to have her own suspicions about her husband’s increasingly frequent claims that he needs to work late. She decides to travel to Bermuda with her mother to think about the situation and hope the rumors will fade. Upon her return, Mary heads to a fashion show and learns that Crystal is in attendance, trying on clothes in a dressing room. Mary, at Sylvia’s insistence, confronts her about the affair, but Crystal is completely unapologetic and slyly suggests that Mary keep the status quo unless she wants to lose Stephen in a divorce. Heartbroken and humiliated, Mary leaves quickly. The gossip continues, exacerbated by Sylvia and her friend Edith (Phyllis Povah), who turns the affair into a public scandal by recounting Sylvia’s version of the story to a notorious gossip columnist. Mary chooses to divorce her husband despite his efforts to convince her to stay. As she is packing to leave for Reno, Mary explains the divorce to Little Mary.

Sylvia Fowler: [Holding up a bottle of Summer Rain perfume] A friend of ours, Mrs. Stephen Haines, simply dotes on this.

Crystal Allen: Really!

Sylvia Fowler: Her husband picked it out for her. Perhaps you sold it to him. Stephen Haines, the engineer?

Crystal Allen: Oh, I’m afraid I don’t remember. You see, we have so many men come in here.

Sylvia Fowler: Awfully good-looking. Tall, fair, distinguished. I’m sure you wouldn’t overlook him.

Crystal Allen: I’m sorry, but when one’s mind is on one’s own business…

Sylvia Fowler: Of course. And, as you say, you have so many men.

On the train to Reno where she will get her divorce, Mary meets several women with the same destination and purpose: the dramatic, extravagant Countess de Lave (Mary Boland); Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), a tough-cookie chorus girl; and, to her surprise, her friend Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine), a shy young woman. Mary and her new friends settle in at a Reno ranch, where they get plenty of unsolicited advice from Lucy (Marjorie Main), the gruffly warm-hearted woman who runs the ranch. The Countess tells tales of her multiple husbands and seems to have found another prospect in Reno, a cowboy named Buck Winston. Miriam reveals she has been having an affair with Sylvia Fowler’s husband and plans to marry him. Peggy, who has discovered that she is pregnant, is urged to call her husband, resolve their misunderstanding and end the divorce proceedings. She succeeds. Sylvia arrives at the ranch, now that her husband has requested a divorce (“Well, girls: move over”). When she discovers that Miriam is to become the new Mrs. Fowler, a catfight ensues. Mary succeeds in breaking up the fight. Miriam convinces her that she, too, should forget her pride, get her husband on the phone and try to patch things up before their divorce becomes legal in a few hours. Before Mary can decide, it rings — the call is from Stephen, who informs Mary that he and Crystal have just been married.

Two years pass. At the Haines apartment, Crystal, now Mrs. Haines, is taking a bubble bath and talking on the phone to her lover, who turns out to be Buck Winston, now the husband of the Countess and a successful radio star. Little Mary overhears the conversation before being shooed away by Crystal, who, not surprisingly, has no time or patience for the child. Sylvia figures out with whom Crystal has been speaking and is having an affair. Still an unrelenting gossip, Sylvia tucks this information away for later use. Mary hosts a dinner for her Reno friends to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Countess and Buck, after which the Countess, Miriam, and Peggy go to a nightclub and urge Mary to come along. Mary decides to stay home. She chats with Little Mary, who inadvertently reveals how unhappy Stephen is and mentions Crystal’s “lovey dovey” talk with Buck on the telephone. This news changes Mary’s mind about the party. She gets dressed up, intent on fighting to get her ex back: “I’ve had two years to grow claws, Mother — Jungle Red!”

Exercise instructress: Mrs. Fowler you’ve hardly moved a muscle.

Sylvia Fowler: Whose carcass is this, yours or mine?

Exercise instructress: It’s yours, but I’m paid to exercise it.

Sylvia Fowler: You sound like a horse trainer.

Exercise instructress: No, Mrs. Fowler, but you’re getting warm.

At the nightclub (in the Ladies room), Mary worms the details of the affair out of Sylvia, then makes sure that a gossip columnist (played by a real-life one, Hedda Hopper) is alerted to it. Mary tells the Countess that her husband Buck has been having an affair with Crystal, then informs Crystal that everyone knows what she’s been doing. Crystal doesn’t care and tells Mary she can have Stephen back, since she’ll now have Buck to support her. The Countess reveals that she has been funding Buck’s radio career and that with Crystal he will be penniless and out of a job. Crystal resigns herself to the fact that she’ll be heading back to the perfume counter, adding: “And by the way, there’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society — outside of a kennel.”

Sylvia Fowler: [At the place Crystal Allen works] Well, here we are… Creeping up on her!

Edith Potter: Darling do you think we ought to do this?

Sylvia Fowler: Oh shut up!

Edith Potter: [Spots lady] That’s little Crystal!

Sylvia Fowler: None other…

Ugly saleswoman: [Turns around] May I serve you madam?

Edith Potter: [Surprised] No, thank you!

Sylvia Fowler: [Surprised] Just looking!

[Walking away]

Sylvia Fowler: Oh from the neck up I’d say no…

[Spots other woman]

Sylvia Fowler: Ah, how about baby?

Edith Potter: Of course!

[Walks over to her]

Edith Potter: Mmmm… Couldn’t be anyone else!

[Hears other lady call her “Pat”]

Sylvia Fowler: Pat?

Edith Potter: I still don’t know why he overlooked her.

Sylvia Fowler: I do…

[points to Crystal]

Sylvia Fowler: Pipe.

Mary, triumphant, heads out the door and up the stairs to win back Stephen, who is waiting for her.

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1890s, Comedy, France, Silent Era

A Terrible Night by Georges Méliès.

A Terrible Night (French: Une nuit terrible) is an 1896 French silent comedy film by Georges Méliès. It was released by Méliès’s Star Film Company.

A man tries to go to sleep, but is disturbed by a giant bug climbing up the bed and onto the wall. He attacks the bug with a broom and disposes of it in a chamber pot in a compartment of his bedside table.

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1920s, Comedy, Romance, Silent Era

Why Change Your Wife?

Some images of actress Gloria Swanson in the 1920 American silent comedy film ‘Why Change Your Wife?’ directed by Cecil B DeMille it tells how Beth Gordon (Swanson) a frumpy housewife devotes herself to bettering her husband’s mind and expanding his appreciation for the finer things in life, such as classical music. When he goes shopping at a lingerie store to buy some sexier clothes for her, he meets Sally, the shop girl. Rejected by his wife for a night out on the town, he takes Sally, who douses him with her perfume. When Beth smells another woman’s perfume, she kicks him out and files for divorce.

The film also starred Thomas Meigham as the hapless husband Robert, Bebe Daniels as the seductress that is Sally the shop girl and Sylvia Ashton as Swanson’s Aunt Kate.

 

 

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1900s, Comedy, Silent Era

Going To Bed Under Difficulties.

Le Déshabillage impossible, released in the United States asGoing to Bed Under Difficulties and in the United Kingdom asAn Increasing Wardrobe, is a 1900 French short silent comedy film, directed by Georges Méliès. In the film, a man attempts to undress so he can go to sleep.

A man in a hotel room wants to sleep for the night. He takes off his suit (placing it on a clothing rack) and his trousers (placing them on a chair), but then finds himself wearing a coat and hat that have appeared magically. The man removes them, but a new hat and a plaid pair of trousers appear in their places. He removes these clothes as well; this process repeats, with the man undoing each addition of clothing with more and more agitation.

The end of the film is lost; according to a contemporary catalogue description, the man’s attempt to undress ends with him rolling about on the floor and on the bed, and finally collapsing in an epileptic fit.

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1920s, Comedy, Silent Era

The Lucky Dog by Laurel & Hardy.

The Lucky Dog was the first film to include both members of the famous comedy duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, later known as Laurel and Hardy and is the first occasion that they worked together. Though they appear in scenes together, they play independent of each other and not as the comedic team that they would later become. The film was shot as two reels, but some versions end abruptly after the first reel where Stan is robbed by Ollie

A hapless hero (Laurel), who after being thrown out onto the street for not paying his rent, is befriended by a stray dog. The dog and young man then bump into a robber (Hardy) who is holding someone up. The bandit, who in the process has accidentally placed his victim’s money into the young man’s back pocket, turns from his first victim, who runs off, to rob Stan. The robber then steals the money he had already stolen from the bemused young man who had thought he was broke.

In this lobby card scene, Stan Laurel (left), is attacked by Oliver Hardy (above) as Jack Lloyd spots that Stan’s faithful dog has retrieved Oliver’s lighted stick of dynamite.

The young man and the dog escape and the dog makes friends with a poodle. The poodle’s lady owner (Florence Gillet) persuades the young man to enter his dog into the local dog show. When his entry is refused, the young man sneaks in anyway, but is quickly thrown out, followed by all the dogs in the show. The young man spots the poodle’s owner outside looking for her dog and offers his dog in its place. She accepts and in turn offers him a lift to her home. This scene is witnessed by her jealous boyfriend, who happens to bump into the bandit and together the two plot their revenge on the young man.

At the lady’s house, the young man is introduced to the boyfriend and the bandit, in disguise as the Count de Chease of Switzerland. The boyfriend proposes and is refused while the bandit attempts to shoot the young man only to have the gun jam. The boyfriend chases the lady around the house while the bandit tries to blow up the young man with a stick of dynamite. The dog comes to the rescue, chasing the bandit and the boyfriend into the garden with the dynamite and leaving them to be blown up.

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