Much as I love classic Hollywood romantic comedies, there is no denying that they are very retrogressive when it comes to gender relations. Every time a Doris Day turns into a puddle for a Rock Hudson or a Cary Grant’s marriage proposal, I sympathise, but can't help the groans, either! Why couldn't the woman win for once, get the upper hand and show up the guy for the idiot that he is – at least in the beginning? WHY? To my comedy-loving, feminist heart, this British film was manna from heaven. Not only does it star my all time favorite British-Hollywood actor – Stewart Granger – it is also the very antithesis of woman hating!
Stewart Granger plays Lord Terence Datchett – the eponymous “woman hater”. For reasons never explained, he hates women and tries his best to persuade all his friends out of taking the fatal matrimonial vows. Being Granger, Lord Datchett succeeds quite well. He might have gone on being a woman hater all his life, had his path not crossed that of the visiting film star Colette Marly (Edwige Feuillere).
Miss Marly’s admiring fans throng the streets and leave rude marks on Lord Datchett’s car. Then, he is denied a good table in his favorite restaurant because Miss Marly and her entourage are expected. If that isnt enough, he even has the misfortune to fall through one of her fan’s placards. As he gazes up from the folds of “Welcome Colette Marly”, his annoyance with Ms. Marly is cemented into positive dislike.
Colette, of course, has no idea that there are men who dislike her as much as Lord Datchett does! If she did, she'd probably heave a sigh of relief. She’s been wishing her admirers at Jericho, for a while now. When she wishes aloud for solitude, citing her boredom with admiring men, her agent promptly makes an interesting news release of it. Lord Datchett happens to see her “I am bored with men” spiel in the press and is unwise enough to publicly doubt the veracity of her statement. Unwise because he will be stuck with the job of trying to disprove her dislike of admirers! He claims that she’ll fall for the first available man, should she actually be “left alone” as she desires. Naturally, he is obliged to prove his point by volunteering to BE the first man available in her solitude.
To prove his claim, first he must provide the solitude and then be the “first” man to break it. So he invites her to stay at his country home while he is “away in Scotland”. He promises her complete solitude on the estate and total freedom from admiring men as well as the third estate. A trusting Colette walks right into the spider’s den, where almost the first person she meets is Lord Datchett himself – he passes himself off as his own estate agent/factor, Dodds.
Thence follows a battle royal of the sexes with the women - Colette and her maid Clair (Jeanne De Casalis) - running circles around the hapless men – Lord Datchett, his butler Jameson (Ronald Squire) and the kitchen-hand Robert (David Hutcheson). Its hard not to sympathise with Lord Datchett as he fights for macho honor against the clearly superior feminine force, especially as his co-conspirators are only with him half-heartedly. He comes up with scheme after scheme to prove how much Colette needs men and is willing to fall for him - with hilarious results, and the laugh always on him!
When I read the synopsis of the film, I wasnt sure it would be the sort of film I’d want to watch. After all, most classic English (Hollywood or British) romcoms that I’ve seen, come down solidly on the side of the male of the species. The only exception I can recall is the Henry Fonda-Barbara Stanwyck starrer The Lady Eve, and that too messed it up in the end. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see how well this turned out – including a most awwww-inducing-heart-squishing end!
Stewart Granger is seriously gorgeous and awesome as the “woman hater” who is secure in all his prejudices - prejudices that come tumbling down one by one, every time his brilliant plans fail. Edwige Feuillere as the fiesty, no-nonsense Colette was such a pleasure to watch. Colette tells Datchett time and again, not to make sweeping generalisations about women, and then sits back calmly, watching him learn his lesson. Of course, at one point, she begins to take an active part in the teaching, herself, but it was really quite unnecessary! The man’s prejudices and assumptions were enough to trip him up, anyway. And for all his faults, Lord Datchett takes his come-uppance really gracefully. There is nothing like a man who learns his lesson well!
This one is likely to find its way into my DVD player again and again – for the hilarious comedy, the witty dialogues, the gorgeous leads, and the scrumptious romance.
Mr. Granger – thanks for leading me to this film. I’d never have watched something with so much potential for misogyny, if it hadnt been for you in it! :-)