BootLeg Betty

BetteBack March 26, 1997: The forgotten legacy of gal-pal films

Blytheville Courier News
March 26, 1997

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Early in “The First Wives Club,” Goldie Hawn has a Hne that pretty much sums up modem movie-making.

“There are only three ages for women in Hollywood,” she says.

“Babe, district attorney and ‘Driving Miss Daisy.”‘

If that line struck a chord with audiences, it’s because we know how hard it is to find a mainstream Hollywood comedy starring a group of actresses the caliber — and age — of Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton. Well, instead of congratulating Hollywood for
putting these three women together. we should be asking what took them so long. Female buddy movies like “The First Wives Club” (1996, Paramount, priced for rental) weren’t always this hard to find.

Back in the days when actresses were truly valued in Hollywood, comedies built around female friends were a common part of the studio mix. Now they’re so rare, when one arrives and succeeds, it becomes a national media event.

If we’re lucky, perhaps the smash box-office success of “First Wives” will inspire Hollywood to pay more attention to female friends. If not, we can always content ourselves with some old friends on video:

— “Stage Door” (1937, Turner, $19.98): Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller and Constance Collier hang around a theatrical boardinghouse trading rapid-fire wisecracks. The wit is eventually impeded by the plot (suicide followed
by show-must-go-on triumph), but while it lasts, it makes ’30s female camaraderie look like the highest achievement of Western
civilization.

— “A Letter to Three Wives” (1949, FoxVideo, $19.98): Like “First Wives,” the plot is set in motion by a letter sent by a woman to three of her oldest friends, played by Ann Sothem, Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell. Only tliis friend’s writing to say she’s run off with one of their husbands. They spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out which one.

— “The Women” (1939, MGM, $19.98): Classic all-star version of Claire Boothe Luce‘s often hilarious and sometimes tedious cat fight. Norma Shearer is the virtuous wife surrounded by Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Mary Boland, Marjorie Main and — as the evil man-stealer — Joan Crawford. Back in the ’60s, “The Women” was dismissed as sexist twaddle; now, any movie that provided even half as many good roles for actresses would be considered a feminist triumph.

— “The Mad Miss Mantón” (1938, Turner, $19.98): When socialite Barbara Stanwyck finds a corpse, she and her six debutante friends decide to solve the crime themselves. It’s awfully frantic (Stanwyck and her debs may have taken the “mad” in tlie title a little
too literally), but the stars keep it interesting. It could never be made today if only because no deb, mad or not, would feel safe walking alone in a big city at 3 a.m.

— “Three Smart Girls” (1936. Universal, $19.98): As the title promises, a surprisingly smart comcdy about three sisters who bring their divorced parents back together. This film made Deanna Duibin a star.

— “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (1944, Paramount, $14.95): This lightning-fast Preston Sturges classic stars Betty Hutton as a shopgirl who gets pregnant by an unknown soldier. Though the film works on many levels, for our purposes, focus on the bond between Hutton and her younger sister, Diana Lynn (perhaps the screen’s best teen brat), who are the only people in the movie who have a clue as to what’s going on.

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