1939 saw the release of a crop of some of the most notable films in American cinema. Among the many classics was a film called The Women (1939), which starred a powerful cast of some of the top female actresses of the day. Inspired by Clare Boothe Luce’s original 1936 play, The Opposite Sex (1956) aimed to draw from these two previous renditions of the story albeit as a musical remake.
Though The Opposite Sex falls short of its more engaging 1939 predecessor, it features an updated blend of female actresses from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While the film offers musical numbers and Metrocolor, the songs do little to propel the story forward and the use of Metrocolor fails to enhance the plot and relationships among the characters. While the tension between the two leading ladies is present, some of the casting choices in the film seem rather out of place. An older Joan Blondell, for example, is portraying a character expecting yet another child in her ever-growing family. Ann Miller, a veritable MGM star and dancer, is cast in this musical but never dances. Furthermore, unlike its more celebrated predecessor, the film does not maintain an exclusively female cast.
The cast for this film is as follows:
- June Allyson as Kay Hilliard
- Joan Collins as Crystal Allen
- Dolores Gray as Sylvia Fowler
- Jeff Richards as Buck Winston
- Ann Sheridan as Amanda Penrose
- Ann Miller as Gloria Dell
- Leslie Nielsen as Steven Hilliard
- Agnes Moorehead as Countess Lavaliere
- Charlotte Greenwood as Lucy
- Joan Blondell as Edith Potter
- Sam Levene as Mike Pearl
- Bill Goodwin as Howard Fowler
- Alice Pearce as Olga
- Barbara Jo Allen as Dolly
- Sandy Descher as Debbie Hilliard
- Carolyn Jones as Pat
- Barrie Chase as Specialty Dancer
- Dick Shawn as Psychiatric Patient
- Jim Backus as Psychiatrist
- Alan Marshal as Ted
- Harry James as Himself
- Dean Jones as Backstage Delivery Person
- Leslie Parrish as Leg Model
- Juanita Moore as Powder Room Attendant
Directed by David Miller and Produced by Joe Pasternak, the film includes a screenplay by Fay and Michael Kanin. The music was crafted by Nicholas Brodszky, Sammy Cahn, Ralph Freed, and George Stoll, with cinematography by Robert Bronner.
The film tells the story of Kay Hilliard, a former nightclub singer, who finds out that her husband, Steve, is having an affair with a showgirl named Crystal Allen. Kay finds out this unfortunate fact close to her anniversary, on top of being the last one to hear the news among her gossip circle. Heartbroken, Kay travels to Reno to pursue a divorce, while Steve marries Crystal. As her friends reveal truths about themselves and Kay builds more confidence, Kay begins to fight to get Steve back.
Behind the scenes, the film’s casting decisions made for some awkward moments. Blondell, the second Mrs. Dick Powell, found herself working alongside June Allyson, who happened to be the third Mrs. Dick Powell. This film was Blondell’s return to films after a five-year absence and the production ran smoothly.
Some of the cast members from the previous version voiced their displeasure in this film. Joan Crawford actually commented on this remake by saying, ‘It’s ridiculous. Norma [Shearer] and I might not ever have been bosom buddies, but we towered compared to those pygmies in the remake.”
While The Opposite Sex aimed to update The Women, many of the changes and casting decisions made affected the base story tremendously. Harry James’s “Young Man with a Horn” number is admittedly toe-tapping but classic film fans will likely be more entertained by the original film.