Although divorce and adultery may seem odd subjects for a Valentine's Day rental, stick with "The Women" for a range of views on love--most of them quite sensible--and a surprisingly happy ending, with a few tears and plenty of laughs along the way. The film has fun using the relationships between women (there are no men in the cast) to explore the relationships between men and women.
Norma Shearer plays Mary Haines, who learns her husband is having an affair--though not before much of her social set has learned it. What ensues is two hours of what brings out the worst--and best--in women in love, with wisdom, wit and feminine wiles.
Joan Crawford is perfectly wicked as Crystal Allen, and Virginia Grey gives a smart turn as Crystal's knowing co-worker. Paulette Goddard appears late as a feisty sister who is the other kind of other woman. Rosalind Russell is hilarious as the cattiest of the Park Avenue set; her Sylvia and Phyllis Povah's procreative Edith are almost too good to be despised. Joan Fontaine plays the young innocent with faith in romance. Also watch for level-headed approaches to love from Marjorie Main (a decade before Ma Kettle) and Lucile Watson, plus a cameo by Hedda Hopper as gossip columnist. Butterfly McQueen, who has a couple of lines about cooking a lamb chop, had a bigger role that year as Prissy in "Gone With the Wind."
Two unexpected touches are in the opening credits, which use animals as a hint of what's to come, and the mid-film fashion show sequence; the only part of the movie in Technicolor, it features the creations of MGM star designer Adrian.
"The Women" is based on a successful Broadway comedy by Clare Booth (later Luce), reportedly inspired by gossip Booth overheard in the women's room of a New York nightclub. Despite the Hollywood censors, most of Booth's best lines made it into the MGM comedy three years later.
"The Women" (1939), directed by George Cukor. 133 minutes. Not rated.