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Saturday, May 6, 2017

WOMAN AGAINST WOMAN (1938)

Don’t expect a catfight. Instead, a more-than-decent M-G-M programmer on modern divorce. Surprisingly, they‘re for it! Mary Astor plays the supremely selfish, hyper-controlling wife of successful lawyer Herbert Marshall. But so good at covering her intentions, so cunning in acting the injured party, no one spots her game. Even her adorable little girl and mother-in-law, all unawares, aid & abet. Leave it to dear old nanny to catch on to the act, step up and pull the wool from Marshall’s eyes. Turns out, he knows the score, just can’t admit it . . . or face up to the gorgon. But tonight, husband & wife will have it out! Post-divorce, one year later, it’s whirlwind romance with Virginia Bruce & a speedy marriage. If only Astor wasn’t poisoning the well with all the best people in town. The production is a bit threadbare; the child actor playing the daughter perfectly ghastly; and Robert B. Sinclair’s direction choppy at a harshly edited 61". Yet the topic & attitudes are fascinating here, alternately dated and advanced, with Astor’s bitch-wife subterfuges subtler than expected. Add in an amusing scene about stockings for Marshall in appellate court and for Bruce, a chance to break out of angelic mode to show some well deserved indignation. Just keep your expectations in check.

DOUBLE-BILL: A deluxe version of this situation came out from R.K.O. the following year with Cary Grant trying to drop duplicitous wife Kay Francis for fresh, honest Carole Lombard. It takes a big melodramatic turn, but works like a charm.

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