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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1920s, Drama, England, Greta Garbo, Silent Era

A Woman of Affairs.

A Woman of Affairs is a 1928 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer drama film directed by Clarence Brown and starring Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Lewis Stone. The film, released with a synchronized score and sound effects, was based on a 1924 best-selling novel by Michael Arlen, The Green Hat, which he adapted as a four-act stage play in 1925. The Green Hat was considered so daring in the United States that the movie did not allow any associations with it and was renamed A Woman of Affairs, with the characters also renamed to mollify the censors. In particular the film script eliminated all references to heroin use, homosexuality and syphilis that were at the core of the tragedies involved.

Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo), Neville (John Gilbert) and David (Johnny Mack Brown) were playmates as children, members of the rich British aristocracy. Diana and Neville are in love, but his father (Hobart Bosworth) opposes the match, disapproving the Merrick family’s lifestyle. Neville is sent to Egypt for business purposes and to become wealthy.

Diana, after waiting in vain for two years for Neville’s return, finally marries David, who is also in love with her and good friends with her brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). During their honeymoon to Paris and after the arrival of police inspectors, David commits suicide without an explanation. Diana does not explain the reasons behind her husband’s action. Jeffry, who was deeply connected to David, blames his sister for his friend’s death; he falls deeper into alcohol as his sister starts a reckless life, seducing man after man.

Years later, Neville returns to England to marry Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). Jeffry is now gravely ill, and Diana brings Dr. Trevelyan, a family friend, to his bedside and then leaves since Jeffry still refuses to see her. As she starts to drive away, she sees Neville who has followed her and Dr. Trevelyan in a cab. Diana and Neville go to his apartment, realize they are still in love, and spend that one night together. During the night Jeffry dies. Dr. Trevelyan goes to Neville’s apartment in the morning to give him the news and discovers that Diana has spent the night there. Three days later, Neville marries Constance.

About nine months go by: Diana falls ill (in the script she is supposed to have suffered a miscarriage, but because of censorship, this couldn’t be mentioned) and is visited by Neville. Diana professes her love for him before realizing Constance is in the room.

The reason for David’s suicide is revealed: he was a thief, pursued by the police. Diana, realizing that her and Neville’s love will ruin Neville, tells him that his wife is pregnant and sends him away. Diana drives her car into a tree, in front of which she and Neville had fallen in love and sworn eternal fidelity.

From Variety, January 23, 1929

A sensational array of screen names, and the intriguing nature of the story (The Green Hat) from which it was made, together with some magnificence in the acting by Greta Garbo, by long odds the best thing she has ever done, will carry through this vague and sterilized version of Michael Arlen’s exotic play…. But the kick is out of the material, and, worse yet, John Gilbert, idol of the flappers, has an utterly blah role. Most of the footage he just stands around, rather sheepishly, in fact, while others shape the events. At this performance (the second of the Saturday opening), whole groups of women customers audibly expressed their discontent with the proceedings…. Miss Garbo saves an unfortunate situation throughout by a subtle something in her playing that suggests just the exotic note that is essential to the whole theme and story. Without her eloquent acting the picture would go to pieces.

From The New York Times, January 21, 1929

Not only is the narrative translated with changes only where it was obviously necessary to circumvent censorial frowns, but Miss Garbo gives a most intelligent and fascinating impersonation of that ‘sad lady’ . . . Mr. Gilbert does nicely as the man with whom Diana is madly in love . . . Except for his penchant for flashes of symbolism, Clarence Brown has handled this production imaginatively and resourcefully. The story is never confused, and while the reason for all the trouble may at times be somewhat incredible, the scenes are invariably beautifully photographed and admirably constructed.

From Judge Magazine

The most interesting feature of A Woman of Affairs is the treatment accorded it by the censors. As is obvious, the story was adapted from Michael Arlen’s best seller, The Green Hat, and, as every reader of that Hispano-Suiza advertisement will recollect, the heroine’s white feather was borne for the proud fact that her suicide husband suffered from an ailment enjoyed by some of our most popular kings, prelates and prize-fighters. Well, sir, Bishop Hays changes that to “embezzlement.” And, for some strange reason, instead of using the word “purity” (the boy died for purity, according to Iris March) they substituted the oft-repeated word “decency.” To anyone who can show me why “purity” is a more immoral word than “decency,” I’ll gladly send an eighty-five cent Paramount ticket, to be used at your own risk. Outside of its purification, the movie is a good dramatization of the novel and for the first time I respected the performance of Greta Garbo. She shuffled through the long, melancholy and sometimes beautiful scenes with more grace and sincerity than I have ever before observed, and the fact that she rode down and practically eliminated John Gilbert’s goggling is in itself grounds for recommendation. Another indifferent performer, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., suddenly snapped to life under the guidance of Director Brown, and gave a splendid performance. Lewis Stone made his usual calm and reserved appearance and, even with its melancholy apathy, you will find A Woman of Affairs worth seeing.

The film was a hit, garnering receipts of USD 1.370.000 (USD 850.000 in the US and USD 520.000 abroad), vs. a budget of USD 383.000. It was one of the top 20 box office films of 1929.

 

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1920s, Drama, Fashion, Romance, Silent Era

Our Dancing Daughters.

Our Dancing Daughters is a 1928 American silent drama film, starring Joan Crawford and John Mack Brown, about the “loosening of youth morals” that took place during the 1920s. The film was directed by Harry Beaumont and produced by Hunt Stromberg. This was the film that made Joan Crawford a major star, a position she held for the following half century.

While the film has no audible dialog, it was released with a synchronized soundtrack and sound effects.

“Dangerous Diana” Medford (Crawford) is outwardly flamboyant and popular but inwardly virtuous and idealistic, patronizing her parents by telling them not to stay out late. Her friend Ann chases boys for their money and is as amoral as her mother.

Diana and Ann are both attracted to Ben Blaine (Brown). He takes Diana’s flirtatious behavior with other boys as a sign that she is uninterested in him and marries Ann, who has lied about her virtues. Bea, a mutual friend of Diana and Ann, also meets and marries a wealthy suitor who loves her but is haunted with her past.

Diana becomes distraught for a while with the marriage of her friends with questionable pasts. She decides to go away and Bea throws a party for her in which Ben declined and made Ann decline as well. The same evening Ann hopes to meet up with her lover, Freddie, telling her husband she is going to see her sick mom. When her mom calls and Ben realizes Ann has lied to him yet again they get into an argument and Ann storms out to meet Freddie.

Now alone, Ben decides to stop by the party where he and Diana realize their love for each other. Meanwhile a drunk Ann follows Freddie into the party only to find Ben and Diana. She makes a drunken scene in which both Diana and Ben leave the party declaring their love but saying their goodbyes to each other.

Bea’s husband comes home to find Bea trying to get a drunk Ann home. As Ann is mocking cleaning ladies and her life (as her mom used her beauty), Ann stumbles and falls to her death down a flight of stairs. Headlines show Diana returning home after a lengthy time away and she and Ben are free to unite.

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