Clare Booth Luce's Broadway hit (which ran a lucky 666 performances) was given a typically regal filming by MGM, using several of their top stars, their best "women's director" (George Cukor, straight from his termination from "Gone With The Wind), and not a single male actor in the cast - a faithful carryover from the stage play's novel casting.
There really is no room for men in this densely written drama, as the cast aggressively plows through some meaty paragraphs of catty quarrelling (igniting at least one cat-fight), and elliptical (yet witty) invective. Cukor's confidence with the film camera offers some nicely executed sequences, although his respect for the material and the performances no doubt mandated some lengthy takes.
That underlying stage quality is also evident in the well-known fashion show sequence, filmed in early 3-strip Technicolor. Most of the parading models move around revolving or vertical sets, wearing clothes that show off Technicolor's unearthly and robust colors. Still a relatively new process, the Technicolor rainbow follows Rouben Mamoulian's color theory: easing viewers into the new terrain with off-whites and soft tones before a final explosion of Technicolor's classic red, green and blue saturation; the backgrounds remain muted, and act as a transitional bridge, as the show concludes and the first cut snaps back to the rich black and white cinematography of the onscreen audience.
(The DVD also includes an alternate version: basically a dupe form the color footage, the material has been intercut with a few audience shots with the film's leads. Grainy and worn, the material at the very least demonstrates how the color material was dumbed down for straight black and white prints.)
Overall, Warner's transfer is excellent, made from a decent print with minor nicks and wear marks. There's little sign of artifacting, and the grey levels are very natural. The only aspect that stands out is the heavily cleansed main titles, which are at odds with the opening MGM logo and subsequent film proper; bookended by footage with visible moving grain, the hygienic titles are just too perfect.
The soundtrack is clean and shows how nice a vintage mono mix can sound, the early engineers having competently balanced heavy dialogue with source and score music. While other labels have sometimes chosen to create economical pseudo-stereo remixes, Warner's choice to stick with the original is the right one.
Like previous titles in the label's gradual release of classic movies, "The Women" DVD contains a number of fascinating extras. In addition to some decent production notes, there's trailers for the original film and the 1956 musical remake, "The Opposite Of Sex" (mit men). Both are in good condition, though the CinemaScope "Opposite" trailer isn't anamorphic.
Two vintage shorts were originally played to loyal (and captive) audiences in the studio's theatres: "Romance On Celluloid" moves from the small town window-gazing of a your girl, to the fashion centre of Hollywood (with MGM as its key fountain of genius); “From The Ends Of The Earth: Another Romance Of Celluloid” initially flips between exotic locales to depict the volume of wood, shellac, rope, and the immense treasure trove of antiques used annually by Hollywood (with MGM, the town's biggest honcho, boasting the mostest and bestest of 'em all). Both shorts are in good shape with rather pinched audio, and after the inaugural, heady blather, offer a stream of teasers for upcoming and in-production pictures (from MGM, of course). It's good fun that, from a self-aggrandizing aspect, hasn't dated in the least.
The last goodie is 42 minutes of original score and source music cues, composed by veterans David Snell and Edward Ward; individually indexed, with a "Play All" option. While plenty of old scores remain locked away, hopefully Warner's trend of including score material will become the norm for future classic releases.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan