The Women (1939)

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Women (1939) Movie Poster Image
All-star femmes manage marriage, morals, and money.
  • NR
  • 1939
  • 133 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Some of the women are gossipy, selfish, back-stabbing, and seem to enjoy their "friends" being hurt. This behavior is meant to get laughs. Most misconduct is shown to have consequences. African-American women are depicted only as servants.


Two dogs growl and bare teeth at each other in opening scene.


Philandering husband is referred to as "stepping out" on wife; woman seen in bubble bath, no nudity.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many of the female characters smoke cigarettes throughout the movie; this was common in 1939. Champagne consumed in moderation within a few scenes, whiskey in one other.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this old-fashioned comedy will be appreciated most by filmgoers who delight in the culture, charm, and artistry of old movies. It will not be of interest to most younger kids. Divorce is a core plot device and a young child is shown terribly upset at the prospect of her parents separating. As was typical in 1939, the few visible African-American women are portrayed only as servants. With one exception (a self-professed "old maid writer"), the women at the center of the story have neither careers nor involvement in any activities other than gossiping, shopping, visiting beauty salons, and witty repartee. They're either wealthy, indulged, and defined by their husbands, or they're predators, on the lookout for rich men to marry.

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What's the story?

Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) is the perfect wife. She has it all: beauty, poise, brains, a generous rich husband, a lovely young daughter, and a circle of worldly, wealthy, wise-cracking friends. But a few of those friends can't wait to gleefully shatter Mary's blissful innocence when they discover that the beloved Mr. Stephen Haines is "stepping out" with gold-digging shop girl Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). Mary is devastated, her pride crumbling, her marriage at the brink. From that moment forward infidelity, divorce, and shattered confidence touch the lives of almost all of the members of Mary's sisterhood.

Is it any good?

With great dialogue and broad, acid-tongued characters, this film is funny, sophisticated, and delightful to watch. THE WOMEN was a ground-breaking movie in 1939. It's about women, written by women, with an all-female cast (not a single man appears on-screen). The movie takes a brash look at the lives and manners of a group of gossipy, catty "friends" in New York City. They're rich; they're self-centered. Some are social-climbers; some are saintly. Its simple plot is accompanied by a number of fully drawn set pieces evoking the world of the very rich in 1939: the beauty salon, the exercise studio, department store fitting rooms and, though the rest of the movie is in beautiful black-and-white, a lengthy fashion show in bright Technicolor that dazzles with the fabulous costumes of the day.

The stellar cast, which includes Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine in addition to Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, bring charm and wit to the already sparkling written word.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the movie portrays women in 1939. How realistic is this movie compared to female-centered comedies today? Have times and behavior changed? What hasn't changed? Describe how women's lives are different now. In what way do the filmmakers show the distinct social classes of the late 1930s? What does this movie say about friendship?

Movie details

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