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THE FOLLOWING IS A META REVIEW: a multilevel review of a movie, a book reviewing the movie, and a particular review in the book. Talk about a varied focus. On the other hand, it seems to fit my tidbits genre just fine, with Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow.
The Movie. The 1939 flick The Women was recently featured on Turner Classic Movies. And, in many ways, it certainly qualifies as a classic.
Its posters provocatively claim “It’s all about Men!,” yet what makes the movie special is that its cast members are all women. And what a cast! Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, and Bette Davis. And, among others, Virginia Weidler, a youthful favorite of mine.
As described in Wikipedia, “The Women is a 1939 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor. The film is based on Clare Boothe Luce‘s 1936 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 for it to be released.”
Wikipedia observes, “The entire cast of more than 130 speaking roles was female. Set in the glamorous Manhattan apartments of high society… and in Reno, Nevada, 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.”
Think “The Real Housewives of [Insert Community Here]” in a late Thirties setting and, in my view, considerably more witty and entertaining.
Movie Details. What’s more, Wikipedia notes, “Throughout The Women, not a single male character is seen or heard. 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,” Wikipedia cites, “are a poster-drawing of a bull in the fashion show segment, a framed portrait of Stephen Haines as a boy, a figurine on Mary’s night stand, and an advertisement on the back of the magazine Peggy reads at Mary’s house before lunch that contains a photograph of Douglas Fairbanks Jr.”
A Cast Balancing Act: Wikipedia relates a report from The New York Times describing director George Cukor’s “strategies for managing a cast of 135 women led by three famously demanding stars…. He made sure that all three stars were called to set simultaneously, either by sending separate staff to knock on their dressing room doors at the identical moment, or by calling “Ready ladies!” so all could hear. This system lapsed only once, and the offended star (not named) remained in her dressing room for a very long time.”
The New York Times, October 1, 1939, reported, “In desperation Assistant Director Eddie Woehler volunteered to go and bag the prey single-handed. A few moments later he was back at Cukor’s side. ‘Ever try batting your head against a stone wall?’ he asked mournfully. After that the ‘call’ system was never overlooked.”
Star Gossip. David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is an authoritative tome, not to say an entertaining source of gossip about the stars. For instance, he writes of Norma Shearer, “Undoubtedly, her highest fame owed itself to the determination of her husband, [Hollywood executive] Irving Thalberg, that she should be ‘the first lady of Hollywood.’ ”
“Like her husband,” Thomson continues, “Norma Shearer was very hardworking, utterly practical, and seemingly fully conscious of the way packaging and publicity could enhance performance.”
I’m reminded of the tale related here at SimanaitisSays, where Norma upstaged Hearst pal Marion Davies at one of their famed costume balls.
Film critic Mick LaSalle described Shearer as a feminist pioneer, “the first American film actress to make it chic and acceptable to be single and not a virgin on screen.”
Thomson observes: “Equally, Thalberg’s promotion of her bypassed the fact—evident to anyone who cares to look at her films—that she was fluttery, chilly, and more nearly vacant than any goddess. Lillian Hellman talks of Shearer’s ‘face unclouded by thought.’ (Even her fans have to decide whether or not she had a squint.)”
Virginia Weidler, my Fav Teen. The pivotal role of Shearer’s daughter in The Women is portrayed by Virginia Weidler, 12 at the time. Virginia had already played in MGM’s (and Mickey Rooney’s) 1938 Love is a Headache. I recall her as Katharine Hepburn’s precocious sister in The Philadelphia Story, 1940.
Indeed, Wikipedia lists 44 movies in a partial filmography, plus eight radio roles. She retired from the screen at age 16. (Family tidbits: Virginia’s architect father had a career building miniature sets for 20th Century Fox; her brother George’s first wife was Doris Day.)
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll glean tidbits from Frank Nugent’s review of The Women in The New York Times, September 22, 1939. His review is as rich with good lines as the movie being reviewed. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022