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The Women (1939) Blu-ray Review

The Women (1939) movie poster The Women

Theatrical Release: September 1, 1939 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: George Cukor / Writers: Anita Loos, Jane Murfin (screenplay); Clare Boothe (play)

Cast: Norma Shearer (Mrs. Mary Haines), Joan Crawford (Crystal Allen), Rosalind Russell (Mrs. Sylvia Fowler), Mary Boland (The Countess De Lave - Flora), Paulette Goddard (Miriam Aarons), Joan Fontaine (Mrs. Peggy Day), Lucille Watson (Mrs. Morehead), Phyllis Povah (Mrs. Edith Potter), Virginia Weidler (Little Mary Haines), Marjorie Main (Lucy), Virginia Grey (Pat), Ruth Hussey (Miss Watts), Muriel Hutchison (Jane), Hedda Hopper (Dolly Dupuyster), Florence Nash (Nancy Blake), Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Van Adams), Ann Morriss (Exercise Instructor), Dennie Moore (Olga), Mary Cecil (Maggie), Mary Beth Hughes (Miss Trimmerback), Butterfly McQueen (Lulu - uncredited)

Buy The Women from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

Many experts consider 1939 the greatest year in the history of cinema. While it may not compete with more recent times for general public consumption, it's an interesting year whose standing as the apex of Hollywood's Golden Age seems tough to dispute. The biggest releases of 1939 remain two of the most widely seen and loved films of at least the first sixty years of cinema, MGM's The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.
Beyond them, you may start to doubt the breadth of your film knowledge. Some of the more significant works include products of legendary actor/director pairings: Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach, John Wayne's debut for John Ford. There were also sequels to hit films (Son of Frankenstein, Another Thin Man), adaptations of classic literature (Wuthering Heights, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), one of the best known Sherlock Holmes films (The Hound of the Baskervilles), and one of the least highly regarded Alfred Hitchcock movies (Jamaica Inn).

Also featuring among 1939's output was The Women, the first of thus far three feature film adaptations of future Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce's 1936 Broadway play. Currently ranking eighth for the year by number of IMDb user votes and standing third behind Oz and Wind on the website's trend-reflecting MOVIEmeter, The Women received a boost in profile back in the fall of 2008 when a major remake of the same name boasting a famous cast struck out with critics and to a lesser degree moviegoers, inviting comparisons that spoke highly of the 1939 version. While a number of the aforementioned 1939 productions received instant acknowledgement and awards consideration, The Women did not have a single accolade to its name until the Library of Congress chose it for National Film Registry preservation in 2007.

Awkward: Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) learns from a loose-lipped manicurist (Dennie Moore) that her husband has been cheating on her. At the perfume counter, Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) discovers that embarrassing homewrecker Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford) is no easy task.

This original filming of The Women advertised the fact that its cast was comprised of 135 women and not a single man. To reach those heights, it overwhelms us briefly, showing in passing a wide variety of females calling New York City their home. This is not the most flattering portrayal of the so-called fairer sex. Our dizzying first glances find these women all dabbling in rejuvenation, pampering, and gossip. It is one juicy piece of gossip that drives the plot. A loose-lipped manicurist blabs about a woman whose husband is stepping out on her. The client, Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), refers the story's subject, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), to the same manicurist, exposing Mary to the same tale which is entirely hurtful news to her.

It isn't made-up, either. Mary's husband has indeed been cavorting with perfume counter girl Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). The heartbroken mother of one school-aged daughter gets advice from her own mother to let the transgression slide. Mr. Haines loves his mistress no more than Mary loves a new dress, this grandmother explains. Mary might just look the other way, until the affair makes the newspaper's gossip pages. The next thing you know, Mary is on a train headed for Reno, apparently a standard trip for newly-divorced women.

In Reno, talking and living with other recent divorcees, from the young, sympathetic Peggy (Joan Fontaine) to homewrecker Miriam (Paulette Goddard) to aging countess Flora (Mary Boland), who's repeatedly espousing "L'amour", Mary wonders if she was perhaps too hasty in ending her marriage. Just as she's about to reconsider, though, she gets the call that her ex has already married his gold-digging perfume girl.

And now, for no apparent reason, here is a fashion show in glorious Technicolor! In olden days, divorced women took a train to Reno. Mary (Norma Shearer) does that here, joined by Countess Flora (Mary Boland) and young Miriam (Paulette Goddard).

You assume a film called The Women that takes the trouble of not featuring a single man onscreen must be pretty progressive, but inevitably it reflects a highly patriarchal society that seems incredibly sexist by today's standards. These women are defined by their husbands. They have little else going on besides worrying about keeping their men.
Women are granted some agency, in that they can file for divorce. But even those who can emerge from that process standing do not have anything clear to live for. They dwell on the past, second-guess their decisions, and continue to gossip and speculate. The film may intend to empower women, but it depicts them as a weak-minded lot who live only to serve men, take care of their bodies, and dish the dirt. The two-dimensional portrayal can't register as surprising after the opening credits liken each character to an animal (and, of course, identify them by placing a "Mrs." before their husbands' name if possible). And this is a film which purportedly counts F. Scott Fitzgerald among its uncredited screenplay contributors.

Demonstrating that cinema gimmickry is nothing new, the film features a random fashion show sequence -- bearing minimal connection to the rest of the film -- in full Technicolor, still very much a novelty back then.

The Women's director, 40-year-old George Cukor, was no novice. Previous credits included 1933's Little Women and 1936's Romeo and Juliet. Starting in 1937, Cukor had put a lot of time into planning to direct Gone with the Wind, only to be replaced three weeks into filming by Victor Fleming. Fleming had previously replaced Cukor on The Wizard of Oz, though Cukor was never intended to direct that musical fantasy, only to temporarily steer the ship through its rocky production of rotating personnel. While Cukor receives no credit on either of those landmark blockbusters, he did just fine for himself, proceeding to helm such classic films as The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rib, A Star Is Born, and My Fair Lady.

The women of his cast fared all right too. Joan Crawford may be best known as the monstrous, abusive subject of Mommie Dearest, a film adapted from the tell-all memoir of the daughter the actress adopted in 1940. But Crawford had a long and illustrious screen career, ranging from 1920s silents to 1970s television. The Women was a comeback film, following a string of box office failures at MGM. Moving to Warner Bros. in 1945, Crawford would win the Academy Award for Best Actress and be nominated for it twice more while occupying lead roles into her sixties. The younger sister of Gone with the Wind's Olivia de Havilland, Fontaine was just about to take off; she would next star in Hitchcock's 1940 Best Picture Rebecca, which she followed with an Oscar-winning turn in Hitch's Suspicion. Likewise, Russell's career was on the rise; she would next make the screwball comedy His Girl Friday with Cary Grant and would remain prominent in film into the late 1960s with highlights including Auntie Mame and Gypsy. The widow of MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, 1930 Oscar winner Shearer would soon retire, not long after passing up lead roles in Now, Voyager and Mrs. Miniver to make some flops.

Warner Home Video, which handles the bulk of MGM's library, recently observed The Women's 75th anniversary by treating the film to its first Blu-ray Disc release.

The Women (1939) Blu-ray Disc cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
1.0 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Castilian Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish,
Not Closed Captioned; Some Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($19.97 SRP; repackaged June 14, 2005)
Previously released as Snap Case DVD (July 2, 2002)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Women looks pretty terrific on Blu-ray. The 1.37:1 Academy Ratio transfer exhibits light grain and is soft at times, but overall is quite great, boasting a clean and sharp element despite its considerable age. The monaural soundtrack, presented in 1.0 DTS-HD master audio, can't hide that age as well. The recordings are passable yet clearly dated. Most troubling, their dynamic levels are frustratingly inconsistent, requiring you to crank the volume at times just to hear what is being said.

Would ya look at that? Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland have a new picture for MGM, as featured in the promotional "Another Romance of Celluloid: From the Ends of the Earth." This small-town girl wanting the look of her favorite movie star is the springboard for more MGM promotion in "Hollywood: Style Center of the World." In "One Mother's Family", this mama hen has her wings full with the most mischievous of her many chicks, who here bears the scent of a skunk.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's bonus features, all recycled from DVD and all unfortunately still presented in standard definition, begin with "Another Romance of Celluloid." The case calls these documentaries, but the menu's "featurette" designation is more accurate.

They are a pair of shorts from 1939-40 with historical interest and some relevance.

"From the Ends of the Earth" (10:20) promotes The Women and its MGM contemporaries (including Babes in Arms) with trailer clips within a boring discussion of how films are shipped to the studio. "Hollywood: Style Center of the World" (11:07) also promotes the studio's latest offerings, starting with the story of a small-town girl dressing in the costumes from MGM movies.

Though the menu calls it a featurette, One Mother's Family (8:44) is actually a 1939 MGM animated short from director Rudolf Ising. I'm guessing it's here because it accompanied The Women in theaters, though the menu doesn't say anything about that. In it, a hen and her many chicks -- well, one in particular -- endure a number of dangerous run-ins with other small creatures. There are a few cultural gags we'd deem politically incorrect today and the cartoon manages to be pretty dull in spite of that.

"Alternate Fashion Show Sequence" (6:14) presents the film's color scene in black and white with evidently some minor differences.

"Scoring Stage Sessions" (38:37) play music over the menu image. It just sounds like the score to my ears, playing like an isolated score only without the time commitment, irregular gaps, or film visuals to go with it.

The trailer for 1939's "The Women" advertises its complete lack of men. The 1956 musical remake "The Opposite Sex" doesn't take such a hardline approach, casting Jeff Richards as leading man, and having him host the trailer.

The extras conclude with two theatrical trailers. The Women's (3:27) is a fairly standard late-'30s preview, lathered with catchy text. The more interesting trailer for the 1956 musical remake The Opposite Sex (3:45) finds leading man (yes, there is one of those here) Jeff Richards addressing the camera directly. Sadly, a trailer for the 2008 remake starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, et al. isn't included, though it too hails from Warner.

Typical for the studio and for most catalog discs these days, the basic menu attaches score to the cover art image. Per the studio's current standards, the disc does not support bookmarks, but does automatically resume playback like a DVD.

No inserts or slipcovers jazz up the eco-friendly keepcase.

No matter what, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) will still have her pride and her daughter (Virginia Weidler) in 1939's "The Women."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Warner treats The Women to a solid Blu-ray release, but, despite its ability to remain well-known and highly-regarded for three-quarters of a century, this is a far from great film. The dated, troubling portrayals of women undo the goodness of giving the screen entirely over to the gender that's sorely underrepresented in today's cinema.

Buy The Women from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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August: Osage County Frozen 3 Women Sex and the City Austenland

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Reviewed May 18, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 2014 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.