Norma Shearer as Mrs. Stephen Haines (Mary)
Joan Crawford as Crytal Allen
For those that don't know anything about The Women it was originally a hugely popular stage play, written by Clare Boothe, that opened on Broadway on September 7, 1937 and continued on for a total of 666 performances. Hollywood noticed the popularity and MGM optioned the rights assigning female screenwriters Anita Loos (who once worked with D.W. Griffith, early screen legend Mary Pickford, and later wrote the book, "Gentleman Prefer Blondes") and Jane Murfin to bring the play the silver screen. Interestingly enough, literary legend F. Scott Fitzgerald also had uncredited contributions to the screenplay. George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story (1940), My Fair Lady (1964) ) was hired on as director, after being fired off Gone with the Wind (1939) shortly before filming began. The film version was released on September 1, 1939 and like the play became a huge success. It was remade into a musical (which added men to the all female cast) called The Opposite Sex in 1956. It was remade for television and, at one point, was almost remade again as a motion picture in the 1970's to star Jane Fonda. Finally, after 15 years in development (according to director Diane English), it was updated and remade into a film in 2008.
So, now that everyone is caught up, the CATFIGHT can begin. Both movies have entirely all female casts...entirely female. One thing that is interesting, and showcases a real differance of the two time periods are the official character titles. Scroll back up and take a look at the main character, Mary, for an example. In the 1939 version, the character is credited as Mrs. Stephen Haines while in the 2008 version she is credited as simply, Mary Haines. While it's obvious why the character is Mary Haines in the updated version the reasons for the character billings in the earlier version might not be so apparent. The official titles of the characters helped to really elevate the main characters from that of the adultress, Crystal Allen. Just look how her name stands out from the other characters in the movie. It almost makes her title somewhat pathetic and lonely. It is noted that playwright, Clare Boothe, symphasized most with the character of Crystal Allen. And, during the time, when women were really controlled by men, at home and in the workplace, Crystal Allen's position, as one of unmarried adultress, would most definitely be the most undesirable. In the present day film, this isn't the case, as the adultress is almost in a more powerful and free position then that of the married woman, most especially Mary Haines, the woman whose husband with whom she is having an affair.
Perhaps, I am getting a little too deep. Both films are intentionally lighthearted comedies intended to showcase how women interact and converse with one another. The plotpoint of Mary Haines discovery that her husband is having an affair with some woman named Crystal Allen is simply used to springboard the womens' interactions with one another. As far as, the interactions go within both films, they are both very similar. It seems that women haven't changed all that much in out they communicate and interact with one another. The only problem is, what works in the 1939 version, comes off as extremely shallow and uinteresting in the 2008 version. In fact, everything in the 2008 version comes off as shallow and almost offensive.
The final verdict, is that the original 1939 film destroys the 2008 movie. It isn't that I prefer classic over modern films. In fact, I would think with this subject matter that the modern version would make the original outdated but the truth is the 2008 movie actually outdates itself in casting and subject matter. The new version feels as if it should have been made in the 90's. And, the truth is, it probably should have. It comes across as a wannabe Sex and the City. The original actually plays as that, original. The subject of adultery actually helps to make it timeless, especially considering that Hollywood tried to mask so many unsavory topics during its "golden age". It nice to know that people weren't as squeaky clean back then as we sometimes imagine.
The 2008 version is actually horrible and I barely it through the entire movie. The acting is bad, the direction is bad, and the dialogue is bad. Instead, of applauding women it seems to embarrass them. All the women are superficial and two dimensional and it's hard to really care for any of them. The fact that Mary Haines is keeping quiet regarding the knowledge of her husband's affair makes sense in 1939 (she did, after all, introduce herself as Mrs. Stephen Haines) but why would she ever do such a thing in 2008. The character of Mary Haines is an independent modern woman, and honestly, today the idea of divorce isn't as frowned upon. So, what we end up with is Meg Ryan running around like a crazy person avoiding her husband when the character she is portraying would easily confront her husband. It really is sad to see Meg Ryan in this movie. Can this Meg Ryan who has so obviously gone under the knife be the same Meg Ryan that was in When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle? It really isn't...but the sad truth is...it is.
THE WINNER: The Women (1939)- take extra notice of Rosalind Russell's iconic performance.
The Women (1939)
FORCE THE BOYFRIEND: 3 out of 10 (1 means he'll hate it, 10 means he'll like it)
Watch if you liked.... The Philadelphia Story (1940) or Love Affair (1939)
Chick Flick: 4 cartons of ice cream (out of 5)
DVD: 3 pieces of milky chocolate (out of 5)- for a very insightful documentary on the film
Beer: 5 manly high fives (out of 5)- Flying Dog Pale Ale
The Women (2008)
FORCE THE BOYFRIEND: 0 out of 10 (1 means he'll hate it, 10 means he'll like it)
Watch if you liked.... Do yourself a favor and watch the original.
Chick Flick: 0 cartons of ice cream (out of 5)
DVD: 2 pieces of milky chocolate (out of 5)- insightful documentary
Beer: 5 manly high fives (out of 5)- Miller Lite- I love Miller Lite...Ok.