Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dueling Lions: The Women and Ninptchka

Two of the biggest films of 1939 happened to be by MGM (no, not Gone with the Wind or The Wixard of Oz), and they both used fantastic melodramatic actresses in new found roles of comedy.
The Women is aptly titled because there are over 130 roles in the film, all played by women. In addition, no art represents the male form, and all of the animals used in the film were female. Talk about an estrogen-fest!
What really struck me about The Women was the speed at which Rosalind Russel was able to speak. No wonder she is on the cover of a book I recently read called "Fast-Talking Dames".

I love the dress with the eyes!
I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed Norma Shearer in this picture. Honestly, I have never cared at all for "Queen Norma" in the past. She often fell in my school of over-actors with Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Hayward. She was refreshingly likable and mostly sensible in this film, even in the scene where she gets a little bit cheesy. Over all, I respect her much more after seeing The Women, the only other picture I have seen of hers is The Divorcee, and I couldn't stomach the melodrama long enough to finish it.
"I've had two years to grow claws, mother. Jungle Red!!!"
Joan Crawford was also fabulous as the evil Crystal Allen. How about that clear bathtub?

I love that Virginia Weidler got her own card in the trailer. She was cute in the film, but I don't think they had fully realized her potential until The Philadelphia Story the following year. Maybe there just wasn't enough room in this film for another witty dame.

Qhile The Women was disguised as a high-class drama to afford tons of women sinking their claws in to each other, Ninotchka was a true high comedy directed by the king of aristocratic fare, Ernst Lubitch. The film was promoted with two very powerful words: GARBO LAUGHS.
With writers Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch, there were plnty of laughs. It got off to a rather slow start (as I find many Billy Wilder films to do. It seems to take an absurd catalyst to get the ball rolling), but about 20 minutes into the picture I began to really enjoy it.

Go to bed little father!
William Powell, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy were courted to play Leon. Melvyn Douglas does a fine job, but I would have preferred Powell or Grant.
Ninotchka was remade as Silk Stockings, with, get ready for it, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. I saw it a few months ago and I hated it, as I do most of the musical remakes I have seen.

That's all for now. Have a fun and safe new year.

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