The Clare Boothe Luce play made it to the screen with an all female cast, showcasing some of MGM's finest leading ladies of the 1930s. When MGM decided to release a remake in the 1950s, it was again a vehicle to display their top female stars. So far, so good.
The Women follows the failing marriage of Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) who discovers her husband has been unfaithful to her with a gold-digging strumpet named Crystal (played brilliantly by Joan Crawford). In the remake, June Allyson plays the wronged wife and Joan Collins fills in as the money-hungry side squeeze.
Many have argued that The Opposite Sex is terrible because it is a musical that does not use the considerable singing talents of Dolores Gray. Ms. Gray does not sing a note, not even over the credits. The singing job is handed over to June Allyson, who is known primarily as an actor who sings. Ann Miller -known for her tap dancing- is also cast in the musical, but her signature talents are not utilized either. The dancing is turned over to Ms. Collins, who is quite gorgeous, but she's not dancing, she's mincing around the stage.
The Opposite Sex is also criticized for the fact that it fails to use the earlier film's gimmick of casting only females. Usually when there is only one gender shown in a film - such as in stories of men fighting in World War II- there is a reason inherent in the story as to why you are not likely to see the opposite sex in the room. In The Women, there is no such excuse. They want to emphasize the female perspective in this story about men but without showing men. This is rare experiment in a film.
The Opposite Sex, however, reintroduces males onscreen. This could have been a fine idea, but the film does so without protecting the male characters. In both films, Mary is the martyr, a regular Joan of Arc. Mr. Haines has figuratively tied her to the stake and the mistress comes along and lights the fire under the wife. Both movies encourage the audience to despise the mistress and understand the husband, but they are both unsympathetic characters.
In The Women, we can only imagine what is going on Mr. Haines' head. Why does he leave his wife? Does he regret it? We don't know, but we can imagine remorse as the couple considers reconciliation. Once you show the guy onscreen, the actor has a tough row to hoe because there is now a face to the infidelity. With Leslie Nielsen's classic stoicism, Mr. Haines' sophistication and quiet demeanor in The Opposite Sex come across as heartless under the circumstances, especially in scenes with his unsuspecting little daughter. He's too nonchalant. He's too easily giving up everything. That would be fine, if the movie did not want the family to reconnect.
Other husbands are also shown. Often the couples are bickering and you stand aghast at this nest of vipers. No doubt the same happened off-screen in The Women, but the audience is spared these abuses. Ann Sheridan is on hand as Amanda, the only unattached, observing female (Florence Nash's Nancy Blake character from the first film) to comment on how terrible the women are to each other and why. The men are left out of her commentary; no one sheds any light on why the men do what they do in this film.
I thought that with The Opposite Sex we would finally get Stephen Haines' view of the story; perhaps he can explain his actions; maybe he is more complex than we think. Unfortunately, we are privy to Mr. Haines' body, but not his brain. It's as if the movie is saying, "Ok, men, you can be seen but not heard." It's infuriating. The women certainly have motives -good and bad. The men just kind of sit there, not fully realized. What are their ambitions and goals? What are their motivations? We haven't a clue.
The Opposite Sex is a relatively poor film, not because we have a sparkling original which cannot be improved, but because the remake squanders the opportunity to delve into issues that the first film does not address.