The Women (1939)
Yep this was the precursor for the more recent 2008 version but that was just was like a paddling pool with rubber duckies in comparison to the predator infested deep waters that is this film. Everything is enhanced in the original from the incredibly knife sharp dialogue to the overblown characters and of course, for the purposes of this post, the costumes.
The film takes a peek and a poke at, perhaps a whole pothole out of the private lives in high society. Scandals ablaze but it’s not any different to any other class really other than everything they do makes the papers and they can afford much higher standard pity parties. Being that the film is called ‘The Women’ there are no men in this film, yep that’s right, no men or boys – at least not visually though maybe some of the animals/pets were male, most probably. (EDIT – I stand corrected, it turns out the animals and most of the artwork/photos used in the film were female too.) That said the entire plot is about husbands and lovers – getting, keeping and losing them and then repeating the cycle.
Starring a long list of well known actresses:
Norma Shearer as Mary Haines
Joan Crawford as Crystal Allen
Rosalind Russell as Sylvia Fowler
Mary Boland as The Countess De Lave
Paulette Goddard as Miriam Aarons
Phyllis Povah as Edith Potter
Joan Fontaine as Peggy Day
Virginia Weidler as Mary
Lucile Watson as Mrs. Morehead
Marjorie Main as Lucy
The first half of the film is as aforementioned – sharp and poignant, almost every angle is covered in how relationships are seen and why they are the way they are. The second half however denigrates into mass hysteria and hypocrisy – if I had been watching it in a cinema or theatre I would have walked out (unfortunately I was prevented from doing so in the latest 2008 rendition due my ‘friends’ sitting each side of me and me not wanting to be awkward). In my opinion overall the film is about cruelty; dealt to people, carried out on others can caused purposely and complacently. Seriously not my style.
The relationships are fickle e.g. the main marriage the film revolves around is ideal yet there’s still discontent! The couple are apparently as much in love as they were when they first met, they share mutual hobbies that they relish, enjoy each other’s company, have open communication (until infidelity), laugh and share lot’s happy memories, seem to understand each other well (as far as is possible to tell with one partner shown in the film) and aren’t wanting for anything materially, physically or emotionally. Yet he still gets duped by a seemingly sweet and coy almost look-a-like of his wife though his wife is known as consistently nice and tolerant (until), keeps it up because he wants to until caught and then stays with the mistress because he can’t go back to his wife. Then like a lot of people who don’t stand on their own two feet, refusing to choose a path preferring to hedge their bets until they know they’ve got somebody waiting for them. In the film the wife is the last to know regardless of all her friends, well with friends like those… She goes on about pride, does take her time to think about the situation but not address all of her feelings then forcibly takes dignity and throws it out the window.
The end of this film is just chaos. The farce could have lent itself to comedy but it was just too annoying, the script was satirical but no saving grace – there were moments of slapstick but were drowned in masses of sarcasm. The all star cast couldn’t make it worthwhile when the direction went downhill, their characters just ended up looking hypocritical and interested in shallow point scoring.
I only vaguely remembered watching this years ago on late night TCM and thinking that the opening sequence was interesting so when I watched it again I was sorely disappointed (ah what I go through to make up for slacking on the blog!) I guess the only compensation is that class doesn’t stop the women in this film talking to each other on equal terms, for better or worse. They’re really candid :-S
On a sidenote – the opening titles state ‘As presented for 666 performances in its triumphant run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York.’ and the film length is 133.13 (minute and seconds). Curious.
The opening sequence is very politically incorrect but sometimes the footwear fits (no offence to the animals shown and the stereotypes ascribed to them):
Anyway on to the best (well, sometimes) part – the clothes! Ha! As with many, I’m a fan of many vintage pieces and styles but seriously the design and construction can be a sad joke regardless of the times. As with any time or place though the film has some gorgeous pieces, some awful pieces and some what the hell were they thinking pieces. Decide for yourself which you think is which. That said, as a big millinery fan I found the amazing array of headgear quite interesting.
Note – I’ve included the most notable outfits but there were a lot to choose from with many being lovely skirt suits with gorgeous, individual blazers and some outfits that would have been ok to lovely had it not been for dire detailing!
P.S – in keeping with the tone of the film I’m going to be a little harsh (but only in a way that criticises things that are not beneficial to the wearers and in support of making fashion less stressful).
The film starts out with the usual well fitted/tailored suits and overkill of fur, do these people shed their skins like snakes and so take it upon themselves to wear other’s? It probably wasn’t faux at the time either. Ironically enough the spa these women are at has a crèche for their pooches to be pampered also, perhaps they’re just dressing like their furry friends. The ‘master’ matching the dog rather than the other way round as the expression is usually noted for. Perhaps I should go around in carnival plumage as a tribute to featheries everywhere reminding their collective memory of how their wings are cut and feathers ripped out.
Look at this gymwear, if everyone was comfortable like that who would be worried about their appearance? They’re all older women as well, good for them. As a person who has never worked out in a modern gym (I spent my club activity days in gymnasiums with the old fashioned giant apparatus that were attached to the walls, vaults, bars, beams, gym mats etc) I would not be comfortable in one unless I was feeling confident and ignoring the thoughts/gossip going on around me, plus I’d be wearing jogging bottoms/yoga pants and a long sleeved top, I exercise in layers baby :-p Ha I refused leotards without proper shorts for gymnastics, yeah I upset some judges – well two fingers to them and not the peace sign!
Checkout the third eye action going on there, a unique embellishment on her top. In her case though it probably stands for intel gleaned from spying, snooping and gossiping rather than the other type of enlightenment.
Love hats worn slightly to one side.
I couldn’t be dealing with all the stiff netting coming off the hat and wrapped like a noose.
I’m a sucker for vintage nightgowns, peignoirs and housecoats; Olga bodysilk l’amour. I’m not sure if this is a housecoat or jumpsuit but it’s certainly unique. A tad harlequin but with the details it certainly works well.
So many of Rosalind Russell’s (on the right) outfits were hit or miss but it’s a testament to her acting that she was able to look gawky and awkward/protruded in them, both the hits and misses, yet statuesque and elegant in other films.
The gorgeous dress on the right is jacquard but it wasn’t clear.
If the proverbial dragon had already entered with Rosalind Russell then the viper’s nest is ruled by Joan Crawford. Both her and her ‘friend’ looking well turned out in well fitted Black highlighted with accessories.
Whilst the women indulge in grotesque private shopping sprees in establishments that have buffets, orchestra, theatrical staging and assistants to attend to your every whim the film does something amazing. It seems the fashion is too divine to be shown in Black and White so the picture does a Wizard of Oz (also released in 1939 literally days before this film) and transforms into colour. Divine darling? Well, the fayre is eye opening if not eyebrow raising and like a lot of individual fashion items, the colour is shortlived.
Yeah I hate tennis wear, then and now – seriously why do they design them to show everything whilst jumping around? And nowadays they’re just like spandex or lycra mini slips. No thanks. Might as well play in mini pj’s. The rackets can be honourary pillows, the heavy grunting when hitting the ball is equivalent to the racuous giggling/laughter that seems to turn some people on and anyone with binoculars oggling, I mean watching for more than just the game can be the peeping toms. Heck it’s a slumber party… On a tennis court.
I have a repulsion for swimwear in general, swim’dresses’ and ‘shorts’ are a joke with the ‘dress’ being nothing more than a frill which covers nothing but causes some kind of mental reassurance/barrier somehow, and swimshorts are just hot pants if that. Seriously, I’d like swimwear that covers the top of the thighs, doesn’t ride up and shorts that maybe go somewhere near the knees – is that really so abnormal? Why is it normal to go out in supposedly waterproof negligee? I say supposedly because a ton of swimwear nowadays does not have the required lycra or lining and is just glorified rave wear. This suit is actually really nice (even the hat is cute with the ensemble) except it’s not long enough for me and looked too tight even on such a slender figure. I was under the impression that regular, even breathing was important when swimming, not gasping for air.
Then I saw the darker skinned mannequin hand (women are usually portrayed as lighter skinned than a male counterpart in films) with large ring and rose over her d’ecolletage – sleazy? Perhaps it’s ok for the catwalk but I’d hope that if anyone bought it the hand would be removed.
Everything’s cute except the maypole on her head.
The outfit on the left is like one big hug.
And I thought she was wearing an abaya and hijab but that was before she revealed she was Bat Woman, minimal style.
Ah look it has a see-through visor, how practical that it won’t block out the glare but will prevent bird droppings or unfortunate falling excrement from planes from falling in your face.
Yes those are animals in that ‘cute’ zoo scene cage in mini versions of the clothes for all to stare and giggle at whilst the models throw something (presumably food) anywhere but near them and in such a way that if they did it might hit them. This film is earlier than The Kettles in the Ozarks (1956) in which a car runs over a duck’s/goose’s tail feathers without giving a crap but shows that things didn’t get any better for a long time.
That said, it was in the time when sexualizing weapons was made popular (curse you fools) such as sitting provocatively atop torpedoes. It was also at the time where White women were trying to get ahead but their sisters were still lower class e.g. the way a Black woman working in the department store is treated by her colleague Crystal p*ssed me off.
It seems as long women look pretty and smile it makes it ok… uh-huh, keep telling yourself that.
Little Bo Peep
Sweet and adorable no doubt but practical for picnics? These ballgown beauties remind me of boating attire for Victorian women which consisted of shades of White delicate fabrics and trim, matching accessories and do their utmost not to move a muscle, avoid the wet parts of the boat nor get splashed, had to keep on the blankets and get upset if they had to go to the riverbank to rinse the dishes. These numbers are even more floaty than their predecessors – grass stains and the breeze blowing hems into the food and heaven forbid it be sticky jam much?
Remember running in floor length gowns = tripping hazard.
Ok I can’t criticise and critique everything, I’ll have each of these dresses please! (Vegan versions.)
This one actually had Gold sparkles underneath that cape but the underneath wasn’t shown.
Wow what a difference eh?
Remember the date of this film, slips were still slips and not outerwear. In the back area the models regaled the clientèle with undergarments and sleepwear.
It seems the models were allowed to barge into dressing rooms to show pieces the incumbents may not have seen/properly. This one just walked in to multiple rooms without knocking or saying anything and waiting to be invited.
One of the most awful baths ever? I’ve seen quite a few statement baths in films from this time but this one is completely gauche.
Such a beautiful gown worn with no grace – she barely stood still for a split second, stooped and leaned all over, flung the fabric everywhere and in keeping with her character behaved appallingly.
The forefront of the older women in the film imparting an older, though not always wiser, but still astute view of things. Love the arms on that dressing gown, almost like armor.
Is this film worth watching other than for the fashion? Well it has some great lines and sometimes insight but on the whole showed the common grim sides of people, though shown through women.
That last pic says it all.