This one’s a weeper. Norma Shearer’s straightforward and endearing heroine, Mary, is surrounded by ill will. Her so-called friends can’t wait for her to discover that her husband’s having an affair—and not with someone in their set, but with a scheming shopgirl played by Joan Crawford. The humiliation is simply too much to bear!
Mary’s mother tells her to swallow her pride. They didn’t call it an open marriage in 1939, but that’s what a woman in Mary’s position was expected to put up with, to keep her home intact. Men have their appetites, you know?
But Mary goes ahead and confronts her cheating husband, takes herself off to Reno and gets a divorce. Only after it comes through does she admit to herself that she still loves the scoundrel. And Crawford’s character is such a bad girl. There she’s got Mary’s husband right where she wants him, he gives her everything she asks for, and she’s cheating on him? Talking all lovey dovey to her new beau on the phone while taking a bubble bath? How wicked can you get?
When Mary finds out, she decides to fight back. “I’ve had two years to grow claws,” she tells her mother, brandishing her newly-manicured fingernails. “Jungle red!”
So have yourself a good cry. You’ll be smiling by the end. Between the catty dialogue and the stellar performances (don’t miss Rosalind Russell!), “The Women” is another George Cukor gem.