English Department and Gender Studies plan screening of early feminist film

Jonathan Rainey, Staff Writer

The English Department Film Series and the Gender Studies Program will jointly host a screening of “The Women,” a 1939 screwball comedy offering a unique glimpse into the foundations of the feminist movement in Hollywood and a snapshot of society 70 years ago.

The screening will take place on Sept. 27 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. in the Lowrimore Auditorium. For this film in the English Film Series, there will be a reception along with door prizes.  Also, a discussion about the movie will take place immediately afterward for those who are interested.

Dr. Shawn Smolen-Morton, assistant professor of English who coordinates the Film Series, explained what the film is about.

“[‘The Women’] is a film in which there are only women… it attempts to highlight the perspective of women in a culture dominated by men,” Smolen-Morton said.

Rather than highlighting the male perspective or giving equal time to both genders, “The Women” gives almost exclusively the feminine aspect of the story.

This film was unique for its time in 1939 because of its all-female cast of 135.  The plot, detailing the comedic outcomes of otherwise serious problems, including adultery and divorce, also gives a glimpse into the more progressive nature of the film industry during the beginning of the classical Hollywood period.

“It allows students to gain a perspective on the role of genders 70 years ago,” Smolen-Morton said about screening the film.

He also said that this film certainly was not revolutionary for its day, in that it didn’t break cultural taboo with its depiction of women.  Instead, “The Women” was about taking a small step forward in the genre.  He said that “the film was about reforming and restructuring, not redefining” the role of women in the 1930s and 1940s.

“The Women” stars famous female actresses of the time, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.  Shearer in particular has been noted as a progressive actress of her day, often breaking the stereo-typical molds of early 20th century womanhood.

In “The Women,” Shearer plays Mary Haines, a housewife who suspects that her husband has been having an affair because of his frequent late nights at the office.  Ensuing gossip spreads like wildfire, and Haines hatches a plan to expose the assumed affair and regain her husband.  As is typical with screwball comedies of this era, illogical and unexpected sequences of events coincide to produce a hilarious result.

Director of “The Women” George Cukor is often noted for his outstanding work with actresses in films for which he directed or worked on.  He is known for his work on other popular films from 1939 such as “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”