Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch us on Youtube Join the Archive Mailing List Read our Blog

The Women

Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell sitting in profile.
April 1, 2022 - 7:30 pm
intro by Cari Beauchamp, editor of Anita Loos Rediscovered: Film Treatments and Fiction.

The Women

U.S., 1939

This collaborative effort between Anita Loos and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jane Murfin (1884-1955) features 135 women, each of whom have a speaking role, to the complete exclusion of men on screen. While this may sound like a gimmick, Loos and Murfin’s adaptation from Clare Boothe Luce’s 1936 play begets delightful conversational gymnastics, with dialogue spewed with such rapid-fire, overlapping delivery to merit repeat viewings. We can forgive the film for nearly falling short of passing the Bechdel test (most conversations are about the men who exist off-screen), for what it fails to deliver in nuanced female relationships is made up for in the parade of familiar faces, several, including Vitagraph star Flora Finch, drawn out from Hollywood’s silent years. While the brunt of the film’s 132 minutes was shot on black-and-white film stock, there’s a surprise six-minute fashion show shot in dazzling Technicolor, featuring gowns by the iconic MGM-based costume designer Adrian.

Apparently called in by George Cukor “in a mild state of panic” on a rush job to appease Hays Code censors, who found Luce’s original script too salacious for Hollywood, Loos claims in her memoir Kiss Hollywood Good-by (1974) to have sat beside Cukor on set to provide live ad libs to replace the more lurid lines. In the chapter “A Sick Script Needs a Doctor,” Loos highlights Cukor’s brilliance for pulling incredible performances out of even the most novice of actors, including the less experienced Paulette Goddard. Dubbing him “one of the few really creative directors at MGM,” Loos would work with Cukor the following year on Susan and God (1940), also screening in this series.

35mm, b&w, 132 min. Director: George Cukor. Screenwriters: Anita Loos, Jane Murfin. With: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell.