The Women

The Women (1939)

The Women (1939)

Gossip and back-stabbing dog Mary Haines, driving her and her husband apart until she eventually goes to Reno to get a divorce, upsetting her upscale Manhattan lifestyle and both bonding her with and driving her away from an ever-growing circle of friends.

Hailed as one of the premiere women’s films of its era, this film is noted for not featuring a single male on screen over its entire length.  The cattiness was edgy for its time and its campiness helped set the stage for camp films for generations to come.  All of that aside, though, I’m not sure I get it.

All of the women are shallow, one-dimensional caricatures.  On the one hand, I’m sure that was intentional.  On the other, the story itself is pretty shallow, so the whole film sort of comes across as empty.  Also, while no men are shown on screen, they still drive the plots forward.  This isn’t a movie so much about these women and their relationships – as least not as much as it might purport to be – so much as it is about the way they are pushed and pulled by their relationships with the men in their lives.  The fact that off-screen characters can so powerfully shape the film says more to me about the lack of depth of the onscreen characters than it does about any strong or innovative approach to story telling.  There’s also something to be said for a story telling approach in which you refuse to show your antagonist – it shows a certain lack of faith in either your story or your audience, as if fearing that even showing the men in these women’s lives might lead to the audience sympathizing with them.

It is as a lighthearted campy flick that this movie works best.  Had it been left at that, it would have been a stronger, better film.  As it is, it takes itself too seriously while trying at times to poke fun at itself and it just doesn’t work.  It’s probably too dated to work as a chick flick and too pretentious to work as a comedy.  Viewed for what it is, it’s enjoyable enough, but with the all-star cast assembled here, there’s a lot of wasted talent.

Stars: 2.5/5


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