Back in 1939, George Cukor brought together that year’s greatest women stars to play a bitchy, fast-talky comedy called The Women, based on a bitchy, fast-talky stage play by Clare Booth Luce, who used the show to back-stab some Manhattan types — and oh, did she do it. Unique — the fact that men were the center of all the conflict — but there were no men in the film! And he used the year’s top stars: Joan Crawford as the main bitch, Norma Shearer as the wife betrayed, Rosalind Russell as the treacherous friend, and Joan Fontaine as the young innocent who only yearns for her husband to take her back.
This is love, 1939 style. The film is all women; the subject is men, men, men. The plot: Norma is betrayed by a husband who falls for the gal at the perfume counter. She goes to Reno for a divorce and meets many women betrayed, and the women bond (the hook that will connect the old version with the new). Joan gets the guy and marries him but in the classic turnaround including sexy bathtub scene (oh did I always want a tub like that one…check it out).
With a lock-the-bad-gal-in-the-closet scene, the bonded women manage to get rid of the perfume counter vamp and, in a great finale, our heroine hears (by landline telephone) that her husband is coming back to her. No question. A guy wants to return, you are lucky to have him back, and arms outstretched, she runs to him….
The Women is considered a sort of campy classic. Writer/director Diane English (creator of the popular Murphy Brown), was fascinated by a film with women only and thought how wonderful to get a group of today’s great actresses together… a film without men. Producer Victoria Pearman read the script, loved it, and got it to Mick Jagger who loved it. It took 14 years to finally get it on film. Now, The (new) Women is about to open.
But the 1939 world of women is not 2008. Women bonding to do little tricks to capture a lost husband is not going to wash. The question today: Do you want him back? And so Diane English decided that the link between the old and new was the bonding of women.
Yesterday, at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, these classy ladies met to talk about the storyline and how times have changed.
This year’s women? Meg Ryan — gorgeous with a headful of wild curls; sexy and sensuous Eva Mendes, but, as she herself explains: “I’m not the complete bitch that Joan Crawford played, and she was so marvelous! I played it this way. She’s got the guy…for a while…and maybe when she’s finished, she’ll give him back”; Annette Bening, cooler than the marvelous wild role she played in Being Julia; Cloris Leachman who, at a certain age and with a great new hair style, is looking so great; and others in the film but not at the table — Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fischer, and Debi Mazar. They are the women!
Since there was no way to use the original plotline, the key word became bonding. Not getting the guy back, but two women friends falling apart and coming back together. Two non-gay women bonding. Great women…and no men.
Meg Ryan talked about her childhood friends, how without bonding with women the world would not be the same. Annette Bening spoke about her home, her children, her career, and how she still needed her school friends, her early career friends; they were strong links of her life.
English said that fans of the original film will find their favorite scenes intact — the bathtub, the nail varnish…
I loved the old and can’t wait to check out the new. The ’39 film advertised: all about men. Today, it’s all about women.
Picturehouse Entertainment's 'The Women' is in theaters on September 12, 2008.