The Women (1939)

Eighty-two years ago today, the film The Women premiered. A stellar cast, amazing director, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was an early uncredited writer of the film treatment. It is full of quotable quotes. You have to see this movie.

Title: The Women
Directed by: George Cukor
Produced by: Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay by: Anita Loos, Jane Murfin
Based on: The Women 1936 play by Clare Boothe Luce
Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell
Music by: David Snell, Edward Ward
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg, Oliver T. Marsh
Edited by: Robert J. Kern
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distributed by: Loew’s Inc.
Release date: September 1, 1939 (United States)
Running time: 133 minutes
Budget: $1,688,000
Box office: $2,270,000

The film is a scathing look at a group of Manhattan women and the scores of women who work for them. It centers on Mary Haines, the cheerful, contented wife of Stephen and mother of Little Mary, and her circle of “friends”. Mary’s cousin Sylvia Fowler goes to Sydney’s elite salon to get the latest nail color: Jungle Red. Olga, the manicurist, reveals that Mary’s husband has been “stepping out” with a predatory perfume counter girl named Crystal Allen. Sylvia eagerly shares the news with Mary’s friends and sets Mary up with Olga.

Mary is shattered to learn about Stephen’s infidelity. Her wise mother urges patience and takes Mary to Bermuda with her, so she can take time to think. When they return, Mary goes to a couturier for a fitting. Crystal appears, ordering expensive clothes. Stephen is now keeping her. At Sylvia’s insistence, Mary confronts Crystal, who slyly suggests that Mary keep the status quo unless she wants to lose Stephen in a divorce. Heartbroken and humiliated, Mary leaves. The gossip continues, exacerbated by Sylvia and their friend Edith, who turns the affair into a public scandal by recounting Sylvia’s version of the story to a gossip columnist. Mary decides to divorce her husband despite his efforts to make her stay. As she packs to leave for Reno, Mary explains the divorce to Little Mary, who weeps alone in the bathroom.

On the train to Reno, Mary meets three women with the same destination and purpose: the dramatic, extravagant Countess de Lave; Miriam Aarons, a tough-cookie chorus girl; and, to her surprise, her shy young friend Peggy Day, who has been pushed into divorce by Sylvia. They all settle in at a Reno ranch, where they get plenty of commonsense advice from Lucy, the gruff, warm-hearted woman who runs the ranch. The Countess tells tales of her multiple husbands and seems to have found another prospect in a cowboy named Buck Winston. Miriam has been having an affair with Sylvia Fowler’s husband and plans to marry him. Peggy discovers that she is pregnant, calls her husband and happily plans to hurry home. Sylvia arrives at the ranch; Howard is suing her, thanks to recorded evidence of mental cruelty. When she discovers that Miriam is the next Mrs. Fowler, she attacks her, and a catfight ensues.

Mary’s divorce comes through, but Miriam tries to convince her that she should forget her pride and call Stephen. Before Mary can decide, Stephen calls to inform Mary that he and Crystal have just been married.

Two years later, Crystal, now Mrs. Haines, is taking a bubble bath and talking on the phone to her lover, Buck Winston, now a radio star and married to the Countess. Little Mary overhears the conversation before being shooed away by Crystal. Sylvia picks up the phone and hears the voice of Crystal’s lover.

Mary hosts a dinner for her Reno buddies and her Manhattan friends—excepting Sylvia—celebrating Buck and the Countess’s two-year anniversary. The Countess, Miriam, Peggy urge Mary to come along to a nightclub, but she stays home. Little Mary inadvertently reveals how unhappy Stephen is and mentions Crystal’s “lovey dovey” talk with Buck on the telephone. Mary is transformed, crying “I’ve had two years to grow claws, Mother—Jungle Red!”

In the nightclub’s ladies’ lounge, Mary worms the details out of Sylvia, and gets the news to a gossip columnist (played by Hedda Hopper). Mary tells the Countess that her husband Buck has been having an affair with Crystal, then informs Crystal that everyone knows what she has been doing. Crystal does not care. Mary can have Stephen back, since she will now have Buck to support her. The weeping Countess reveals that she has been funding Buck’s radio career and that without her, he will be penniless and jobless. Crystal resigns herself to the fact that she will 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.” Mary, triumphant, heads out the door, arms wide open to receive Stephen.

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