BR: Woman’s World (1954)

July 28, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Standard

Label:  Fox Cinema Archives

Region: All

Released:  November 15, 2016

Genre:  Drama / Romance

Synopsis: Three couples are summoned to NYC, wined & dined, and auditioned for the top role as the first general manager & wife of the majestic Gifford Motor Company.

Special Features:  Stills Montage (2:20).




Having already directed Fox’s second CinemaScope film, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Jean Negulesco reunited with that film’s co-star Lauren Bacall plus Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) headliner Clifton Webb for another in a weirdly consistent obsession with stories about three women dealing with love, marital options, melodrama, and exotic and trendy locales.

With five writers credited for story & screenplay, Woman’s World lacks any controversial elements, and the final product is really just fluffy turquoise and pastel green packaging three pairs of attractive stars into an amiable formula with debonair emcee Webb orchestrating the actions which draw everyone to a climactic dinner. Even with its conventions and lukewarm drama, WW is exceptionally slick and briskly paced, running considerably shorter at 94 mins. than Negulesco’s other Three Women variants.

Webb is Ernest Gifford, heir to the family’s car empire, and he’s personally selected three men whom he believes have the right smarts to become the company’s top NYC executive. For what seems like a week-long audition, three couples are flown in at the company’s expense, billeted in swanky suites, and have meetings with the boss which will help winnow Gifford’s choice to the best man. Even though the drama is ostensibly about candidate selection, the script is firmly fixated on the women (hence the title) and Gifford’s own demands that his choice must have a wife willing to sacrifice time, love, family, and freedom for her husband’s demands, and the company’s requirement that she behave like a first lady of the Gifford auto empire.

Any jealousy among the men is perfunctory, with no one attempting to foil the other’s chances; they’re all decent hard-working guys. The women don’t engage in any petty backstabbing precisely because Negulesco’s interested in the way dreams, reality, and sacrifices affect relationships.

Bill (Cornel Wilde) and Katie Baxter (June Allyson) are mutually supportive blue collar types, with Bill honest & outspoken and his better half socially clunky but endearing. The marriage of Sid (Fred MacMurray) and Elizabeth Burns (Lauren Bacall) has weakened over the years as Bill’s worked his way up through the company ranks, developed ulcers and neglected Elizabeth and their two kids; in spite of knowing family and health should come first, he can’t say No when a prime offer is given. Jerry (Van Heflin) and Carol Talbot (Arlene Dahl) are gruff but sexy Texans, and there’s a sense their marriage is one of banal tolerance; they get along, they make love, but career and an upscale lifestyle is all that matters.

Gifford may profess to being scrupulous about each candidate’s personal habits and comportment in various professional and social environments and engagements, but when not checking out the wives, he has nephew Tony Andrews (beaming, loud-mouthed Elliott Reid) escorting the ladies throughout town, showing the sights & sounds, and giving Gifford the day-end intel on which would make the perfect First Lady of Motorland.

The men are only seen solo in a lengthy montage where Gifford shows them the corporate headquarters and testing labs for the latest in designs and concept cars (each contributed by the Ford Motor Company); pretty much every other scene has them with or meeting up with the wives, allowing the story to remain firmly anchored to their concerns about how a move to NYC would change their lives.

Elizabeth quickly develops a friendly supportive relationship with Katie, helping her find budget dresses, whereas Carol spends most of her time bantering with husband Jerry. Everyone is decent and fair, earnestly hoping they’ll win the prize but okay if it doesn’t pan out, making WW a bit too genial; with no tension, the film’s too soft, but it’s the relationship between drifting Sid and Elizabeth that’s the most compelling element within WW.

Allyson is fine playing sweet & awkward & forcibly funny Katie to good guy Ernest, but Sid’s close to a burnout, and Elizabeth’s cynical stance knows if Gifford’s carrot is ripe enough, her husband will toss aside promises and their marriage in the process. It’s a clichéd movie marriage, but the actors are perfectly paired in elevating their scenes, especially a contrived dinner in which they meet the waiter who became the owner, Tomaso, played by future Fred Flintstone voice marvel Alan Reed!

Jerry and Carol’s screen time is substantially less, but their marital outcome in the finale is much darker, with the husband’s success tied to his wife’s softening up superiors to ensure Jerry’s needed promotion. It’s a peculiar inference of Carol as a sexpot who superficially slept around for the benefit of her hubbie’s career but enjoyed every moment, and Charles Le Maire’s costumes reach an apex with Carol’s dinner gown that flatters Dahl’s physique as she pivots, poses, and remains verbally and physically pointed in 2.55:1, CinemaScope’s early wider screen ratio.

The ladies go to bed with coiffed hair and immaculate makeup, and the décor of every set is equally exquisite in detail, but WW also works as a dreamy encapsulation of grand NYC, with local restaurants and pubs peppering turn of the century apartment buildings, gorgeous cars, Gifford’s fine yacht, and the film beginning with obligatory aerial shots of NYC in CinemaScope.

WW is one of Fox’s first efforts to release MOD catalogue titles on Blu, and it’s a fine HD transfer with sharp details and radiant pastel colours. Magnetic tracks from the reportedly original stereo mix may no longer exist, hence the inclusion of a straight mono track that’s fine, but lacking the oomph typical of the studio’s superlative orchestra. Cyril Mockridge’s score is heavily monothematic, beating us over the head with the title tune at every vantage in the hope audiences would snap up “It’s a Woman’s World” as sung by The Four Aces.

Unlike labels Twilight Time and KINO’s KL Studio Classics, there’s no isolated score and commentary track, but Fox added a montage of production publicity stills set to stereo score extracts.

In terms of graphic design, Fox is still working with the same ugly sleeve template used for their DVD MOD titles, which needs a major overhaul, but it’s nice to see the label releasing some of the titles missed by indie labels, and Negulesco’s lengthy career at Fox slowly getting solid representation on Blu.

Negulesco worked his way up from short subjects to taut noir thrillers, eventually becoming one of Fox’s top widescreen directors. He may not have been too adventurous with camera movements, but his eye certainly helped sell CinemaScope with gorgeous images of exotic locales, be it France, NYC, or stunning Greece in Boy on a Dolphin (1957).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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