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The Women
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Length:2h 13mins
Cast:George Cukor, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell

The themes explored in Clare Boothe Luce's play were so modern in 1939 that audiences found the film audaciously relevant, yet so timeless and universal that The Women could be successfully revived on Broadway in 2001, starring Jennifer Tilly, Kristen Johnson, and Cynthia Nixon. The film crackles with a sharp-toothed sarcasm even on a modern viewing. George Cukor's deft pacing and evident facility with actors (or, we should say, actresses) make The Women both a scathing and hilarious indictment of the institution of marriage. No less important, in fact probably more so, is the film's portrayal of the women's mercenary competitiveness. The ruthlessly casual deceptions they practice on each other are authenticated by the playwright's gender, as well as that of her adapters (Anita Loos and Jane Murfin). The Women recasts the discourse of high society as an exercise in the Darwinism of the animal kingdom, starting with an opening credits sequence that assigns an animal role to each character, from sly fox to gentle lamb. The opening shot says it all, as two dogs aggressively (and metaphorically) yap at each other as their pampered owners restrain them, all against a cacophony of background gossip. The women's ironic commentary on the regimen of exercise and beautification they must maintain to keep their men takes over from here, as does the rapid repartees and the almost incidental backstabbing. Casting the film entirely with women works beautifully, never straining the logic or staging, and the handful of leads each share the credit with Luce and Cukor for a fully realized farce on the warfare of feminine politics and societal advantage. Derek Armstrong

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