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Theatre / The Women

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"It's all about men!"
Tagline for the 1939 film 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.) There were other film adaptations. One, A Musical Adaptation, 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. Notable ones are Crystal as a cheetah, Mary as a doe, Peggy as a lamb, and Edith as a cow.
  • Arc Words: The "Jungle Red" shade of nail varnish is mentioned a lot. It even becomes a part of Mary's boast of vengeance.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Peggy arrives in Reno with Mary, hoping to divorce her husband, but after she discovers that she's pregnant, she phones him and calls off the divorce.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Peggy is treated like this, especially by Mary, who is like her Cool Big Sis.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Mary is advised, "You should have licked [Crystal] where she licked you—in his arms."
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sylvia. She relishes in Mary's marriage rocking after her husband's affair, claims to stand by her, and then is seen being friendly with the mistress Crystal.
  • Bland-Name Product: The 1939 movie has Crystal working at "Black's Fifth Avenue." Curiously, they later have another character mention Saks anyway.
    • Possibly to avoid a potentially litigious Saks thinking the film was suggesting that it employed catty homewreckers.
  • 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 pressuring her 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.
  • Comical Angry Face: Sylvia gets a few exaggerated facial expressions, whether angry or not.
  • 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.
  • The Ghost: All the men, but especially Stephen.
    • To get across Stephen and Mary's argument, the maid eavesdrops and tells the cook everything she hears. We do, however, hear part of Mary's shouting as the maid sneaks through the house.
    • All of the final scene (and Mary's eventual revenge scheme on Crystal and Sylvia) takes place in the extremely large women's dressing room. A major (and violent) conflict between a drunken Buck and Stephen on the dance-floor is told to Mary excitedly by Miriam and a couple of other friends, as a tearful Countess sobs on the sofa.
  • 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.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Miriam says "all heck's broken loose".
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: It's bad if you're a manipulative Gold Digger like Crystal, okay if you're a Nice Girl like Miriam, 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:
    • Sylvia's discovery of Mary's husband having an affair satisfies her because she's having marital issues as well, but then discovers the reason why ... her husband is having an affair with a working-class girl too!
    • 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 18 months completely miserable with her.
  • Loved by All: Mary seems to be well-liked by everyone, especially her staff. Her maid is absolutely devastated when she divorces and has to move out of New York and rushes out of the room trying not to cry.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Alex Fisher is quite feminine in the 2008 remake. Being played by Jada Pinkett Smith helps.
  • Meal Ticket: Stephen and Buc, for Crystal.
  • Monochrome Casting: Barely averted by Lulu, although she is subjected to racist insults and the actress (Butterfly McQueen) is not credited.
  • The Musical: The second movie.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mary's mother Mrs. Morehead acts as this, always interfering in her affairs and always talking in circles around Mary, even urging her to "make the best" of the infidelity like she had with Mary's father.
  • The Obi-Wan: Miriam gives Mary advice on saving her marriage, telling her that Stephen is probably waiting for her to talk to him again and revoke the divorce. She tells Mary a story of how she dated someone who proposed to her, but she refused, later discovering that her ex-lover had married someone else by the time she wanted to reconcile. Mary takes the advice, just as Stephen phones her to let her know that he'd married Crystal the moment the divorce was finalized.
  • 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 arrives, the Countess makes Miriam stay as they get acquainted just knowing that Sylvia will eventually connect the dots. Lucy has more fun watching the eventual fight but departs to get smelling salts for the loser, but comes back to see Sylvia's breakdown and restrain her.
    • Miriam and the rest of Mary's friends rush into the dressing room excitedly, telling her about Stephen and Buck's big fight on the dance-floor. The Countess sobs on the couch throughout.
  • Perfumigation: Mary's mother is so overwhelmed by the clashing perfumes worn by Mary's Reno friends that she literally perfumigates the room, spraying Mary's scent into the air to overpower the others.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: "I've had two years to grow claws, Mother. Jungle Red!"
  • Pretty in Mink: The first couple films have loads of furs.
  • Really Gets Around: Crystal Allen.
  • Rich Bitch: Notably, Sylvia and Edith. Mary's mother, however, seems to think it's the whole of her daughter's gang.
  • Screaming Birth: Edith has one in the 2007 film remake, and it is hilarious.
  • 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.
  • Those Two Girls: Sylvia and Edith.
  • Time Skip: Eighteen months pass between Mary's divorce and the scene in Crystal's bathroom. Another six pass between it and the climax.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Sylvia, after the fight with Miriam, throws cutlery around screeching "I hate you!" and "I hate everybody!" repeatedly as everyone cowers around her.
  • 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.
  • Witch with a Capital "B": One of the most famous alternate versions of the trope with the "kennel" line seen above.
  • 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.
  • World of Snark: Everyone gets a chance to make a snide comment.
  • 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.