Theatre / The Women

"It's all about men!"
Tagline for the 1939 version

The Women is a 1936 stage play by Clare Boothe Luce. As its title implies, and contrary to the page quote, it's about women; in fact, there are no men at all in the story.

The story concerns a group of women, led by Mary Haines and Sylvia Fowler, whose lives are disrupted when it's discovered that Mr. Stephen Haines is having an affair. The other woman is Crystal Allen, a perfume saleswoman, and certainly not a decent person. As she heads to a Reno Dude Ranch for a quick divorce, Mary meets a few new friends on the way. A few twists come in when one of the new friends is revealed to be the new Mrs. Fowler and the new husband of another starts an affair with Crystal.

The play was made into a 1939 film directed by George Cukor, with an All-Star Cast of actresses that included Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and a young Joan Fontaine in one of her first big roles. (As a matter of fact, in the movie there are no males of ANY species. The dogs are all bitches and the horses are all mares.) One, titled The Opposite Sex, was released in 1956 and actually featured men; the other, also titled The Women and featuring an all-female castnote , came out in 2008.

This play and film features examples of:

  • Animal Motifs: The opening credits of the 1939 movie.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: "You should have licked that girl where she licked you—in his arms."
  • Bland-Name Product: The 1939 movie has Crystal working at "Black's Fifth Avenue." Curiously, they later have another character mention Saks anyway.
  • Break the Haughty: The whole point of the film; Mary basically is a wealthy socialite with a darling child who doesn't have a care in the world. But her cousin Sylvia, with a strained marriage of her own and semi-envious of Mary's happiness, decides to destroy Mary's life by revealing her husband's adultery and egging her own to divorce her husband.
  • Catchphrase: "Oh l'amour, l'amour!" by the Countess.
  • Cat Fight: Sylvia gets into one with Miriam when she learns she's the woman her husband's going to marry. It's complete with hair-pulling, clothes tearing, and even some biting.
  • Chromosome Casting: Look at the title, what did you expect? Even all of the animals that appear onscreen are female.
  • Divorce in Reno: One segment takes place in a Nevada dude ranch where the assorted (female) characters are waiting to establish residency. A newspaper gossip column is quoted: "[one character] is being Reno-vated".
  • Fashion Show: Featured in the middle of the film, in full color; the scene was purged from the film for decades due to it being out of place in a black and white film.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • A spectacular use is Crystal's last line in the film: "And by the way, there's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society — outside of a kennel."
    • And also this one: "He likes you even better than his horse! And it's such a blasted big horse too!"
    • There's also an early scene where, after Sylvia's just gone off on one of her cattier tangents, one of the characters (known for her sarcastic one-liners), seemingly apropos of nothing, offers a plate of nuts to her. Seems innocent enough until you consider that "nuts to you" is an early 20th century equivalent of "go f- yourself."
  • The Ghost: All the men, but especially Stephen. To get across Stephen's confrontation with Mary, the maid describes the conversation to the cook.
  • Gold Digger: Crystal takes up with the extremely wealthy Stephen, and then starts another affair with the very wealthy Buck, unaware of how fragile the foundation for Buck's fortune is.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: It's bad if you're a manipulative Gold Digger, okay if you're a Nice Girl and the wife is a horrible person like Sylvia.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The movie has Crystal lighting up whenever she's being really evil, like when she's being catty to Mary or when she's flirting with an old boyfriend on the phone after marrying Stephen.
  • Gossipy Hens: Sylvia and her manicurist, mostly.
  • Graceful Loser: Crystal, of all people, concedes when her affair with Buck Winston is revealed, along with the fact that Buck has no money of his own and thereby she's screwed since Stephen is obviously going to divorce her. She calmly expects it's back to the perfume counter for her, but she does get in one snarky comment before she departs.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Crystal brags to Mary that she can keep Steven because she's got Buck Winston, the Countess's latest husband... until she finds out that the company that Buck is the spokesperson for is actually owned by the Countess. She bought it because no one else would hire him, which means he's likely to be fired before or after he leaves the Countess.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The Countess, as her new friends on the train point out. One husband tried to poison her and another pushed her off a mountain in the Alps.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The entire initial exchange between Sylvia and Edith.
    Edith: Somebody ought to shut that manicurist up.
    Sylvia: A good piece of scandal like that? Not a chance, why that girl never stops talking. You know how those creatures are, babble babble babble babble babble, never let up for a minute, the lot they care whose lives they ruin. It wouldn't be so bad if only Mary's friends knew. We could keep our mouths shut.
    Edith: I know I never breathe about my friends' husbands.
    Sylvia: So do I.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Mary's mother chews her out for being so upset over Stephen's affair because of this—you're just supposed to expect that men of a certain age will have an affair.
  • In Love with Love: The Countess. "L'amour, l'amour!"
  • Large Ham: The Countess. And Sylvia when she gets into hysterics.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Sylvia winds up getting a divorce herself, and then meets the woman her husband is planning on marrying while at Reno.
    • Stephen goes through this when he marries Crystal, only to spend the next year completely miserable with her.
  • Meal Ticket: Stephen and Buc, for Crystal.
  • The Musical: The second movie.
  • Nice Hat: Comes up often in the film. Sylvia wears many ridiculous ones in both the movie and the 2001 stage revival.
  • Ow, My Body Part!:
    Sylvia: But you know how some women are when they lose their heads... they do things they regret all their lives.
    (Instructioness grabs Sylvia's leg and forces it into place)
    Sylvia: Ouch, my [caesarean] scars!
  • Pass the Popcorn: Invoked. When the Countess learns that Miriam is seeing Sylvia Fowler's husband, and then Sylvia herself arrives, the Countess makes Miriam stay as they get acquainted just knowing something's about to go down. Lucy has more fun watching the fight but departs to get smelling salts for the loser, but comes back to see Sylvia's breakdown and restrain her.
  • Pretty in Mink: The first couple films have loads of furs.
  • Really Gets Around: Crystal Allen.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": In the 2008 remake, Stephen is spelled as Steven.
  • Splash of Color: As noted above, the fashion-show scene is in Technicolor while the rest of the movie is black-and-white.
  • Time Skip: Two years pass after Mary fails to prevent Stephen from marrying Crystal.
  • The Unfair Sex:
    • Averted; the story directs its scorn to Crystal Allen, not the philandering husbands. It does turn out Stephen is miserable being married to Crystal.
    • Also of note in regards to Miriam Aarons, no one considers her bad for being with Sylvia's husband and she is far more sympathetic compared to Sylvia.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Little Mary is mature enough to understand that her father is miserable with Crystal without the two even needing to speak about it.
  • With Friends Like These...: Sylvia is gleeful over the Haines' marriage troubles, sets Mary up for an appointment with the manicurist to have her hear the rumor of Stephen's affair, and eggs Mary on to confront Crystal and then divorce him rather than reconcile. Sylvia also pals around with Crystal after Crystal marries Stephen.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: "WIFE K.O'S LOVE THIEF" and pictures of Mary and Crystal take up the entire front page of a New York newspaper.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Stephen's affair is what kicks off the plot.