Old movies were a natural part of my childhood. My parents have always enjoyed classic films, so I grew up with AMC, Turner Classic Movies, and movies from our own VHS collection. My mother’s best friend from college would hand down her old movies whenever she upgraded to a digital edition. The first classic movie I ever saw was THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) at my aunt’s house. As a kid, movies were just movies, and it wasn’t until my teenage years that I made my love for classic movies my own.
I remember watching THE WOMEN (1939) on TCM with my mom. I was probably about 13 years old and I was eating jelly beans (it’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?). I remember laughing my head off at the fast-paced dialogue. I remember the costumes. The movie can be viewed in full on YouTube.
I also remember my mother connecting the faces and names to other movies I had seen. You know the feeling when you recognize an actress and you won’t feel settled until you can place her name and at least one other film you’ve seen her in? It was like a game. It was THE WOMEN that inspired me to start looking at the coffee-table-sized books in the library about classic Hollywood.
After seeing THE WOMEN, I became thirsty for more black and white movies. I started watching movies from before WWII – an era my young mind could hardly fathom as having ever existed! I started looking for those names and faces. The more I watched, the wider my web of film-fandom grew, including more names and faces and genres. I never would have guessed that many years later I would be writing about these movies on the world wide web!
I always recommend THE WOMEN as a good introduction to the world of classic cinema. The modern nature of the subject matter engages a more universal audience. Viewers of any age can enjoy the wit and humor of the dialogue. But the film is also a solid representation of its age. It includes the glamor of the 1930s with some slight hints to the impending international situation (“It’s lovely to be able to spread out in bed like a swastika.”)
Most importantly, THE WOMEN introduces audiences to a slew of classic film stars they will undoubtedly re-encounter in other old movies. Below is a list of some of the key characters/actresses in the movie. They seem like old friends now, and I’m sure you’ve all met before, but there’s nothing like a good wander down memory lane.
Having worked in moving pictures since 1919, and being married to studio executive Irving Thalberg, Norma Shearer was the reigning queen of Tinseltown throughout the 1930s. THE WOMEN was one of Shearer’s last films, made at he height of her fame and popularity.
“I’ve had two years to grow claws, mother – jungle red!”
[Reading from a book] “But if you would seek only love’s pleasure, then it is better for you to pass out of love’s domain into the outside world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”
Rosalind Russell (as Sylvia Fowler)
Rosalind Russell is by far one of my favorite actresses, from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) to AUNTIE MAME (1958) to GYPSY (1962) al the way to her last movie MRS. POLIFAX-SPY (1971). Her Sylvia Fowler is the most comedic performance in THE WOMEN. Audiences just love to hate her. The best part about Sylvia/Roz was that she wasn’t afraid to look less than glamorous for a few laughs.
“Oh, you remember the awful things they said about what’s-her-name before she jumped out the window? There, you see. I can’t even remember her name, so who cares?”
“Say, can you believe him?! He almost stood me up for his wife!”
“Thanks for the tip. But whenever anything I wear doesn’t please Stephen, I take it off.”
“There is a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society… outside a kennel.”
Flora’s plumy voice, affected use of French in every other sentence, and undying faith in the power of love (even after four divorces), make her one of the most endearing of Mary’s gaggle of girlfriends. Mary Boland is most often recognized as Mrs. Bennett from the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940).
“Get me a bromide! And put some gin in it!”
“Oh, l’amour, l’amour, how it can let you down. How it can pick you up again, too!”
“Oh, poor creatures. They’ve lost their equilibrium because they’ve lost their faith in love. Oh l’amour, l’amour.”
Weidler is perhaps one of the lesser known of Hollywood’s child stars, due to the brevity of her career, but she was a remarkably talented young women. Her rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) had her co-star Katharine Hepburn in stitches (you didn’t think I’d write a whole article without mentioning the great KH, now did you?)
“I don’t understand grown-ups on the telephone. They all sound silly.”
Marjorie Main had a prolific career as a character actress in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster movies, like MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), UNDERCURRENT (1946) and especially as Ma of the Ma and Pa Kettle movies. Her homespun, down-to-earth Lucy takes care of the gay divorcees on the ranch in Reno.
[Singing] “If the ocean was whiskey, and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom, and never come up. Oh baby, oh baby, I’ve told you before, the more I drink whiskey, I love you the more! Oh baby, oh baby…”
Real life gossip columnist Hedda Hopper appears briefly toward the end of THE WOMEN as… you guessed it, a gossip columnist. Her appearance is brief, but serves as a reminder that the journalist, famous for her remarkable collection of unconventional hats, was once known as the “Queen of the Quickies” for appearing in dozens of films in the 1920s and 1930s.
Dolly: “Oh, hello girls! My, don’t you look lovely! Got any dirt for the column?… I might as well shove off. I’ve never seen such a clean joint.”
Mary: “Dolly! Stick around! Something’s gonna pop!”
Dolly: “Good and dirty!?”
I could go on and on about the dozens of other female stars featured in THE WOMEN, but we’d be here for hours. This movie is an absolute must-see for all classic film fans, and for all women as far as I am concerned. It’s a great slumber party movie. Every time I watch it, I recognize someone else, or a pick up a line or joke I never noticed before. The costumes are spectacular, especially in the fashion show around the middle of the film. In a recent discussion, Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore were debating the relevance of the brief color sequence of the film, she for and he against. Where do you fall in the debate?
I’d like to say a special thank you to the Classic Movie Blog Association for hosting this blogathon. I can’t wait to read about other film fans’ favorite classic movies!