Monday, February 1, 2010

Woman Hater (1948) – a hilarious battle of the sexes!

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! :-)

14 comments:

  1. Ohhh, this sounds fabulous! (Well, anything just has to star Stewart Granger for me to classify it as fabulous). And I'm with you completely for a rom-com that dares to poke fun at the male of the species. Another I'd recommend on that count is the Rock Hudson starrer Man's Favourite Sport?. I loved that one too: seeing Hudson running around in circles was a pleasant change from the usual! ;-)

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  2. This sounds absolutely lovely. I really want to see it. I agree with you that the older films, even from the sixties, are sometimes dreadful when it comes to strong women. I remember this one John Wayne movie I watched with my father when I was a kid--he grabbed his female co-star, shoved her face-down in a watering trough, and spanked her with a shovel while she screamed. Did I cover my eyes and change the channel? No, my dad and I laughed till tears came into our eyes. Weird how things can change in just 20 years--my dad stopped watching 24 because all the women on it were idiots or bitches and he was angry at the writers. LOL

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  3. dustedoff, I loved Man's Favorite Sport, too. But I dont think that film was sufficient reparation for all of Hudson's sexism in his other comedies! ;-)

    "anything just has to star Stewart Granger for me to classify it as fabulous" - I have just bought a 12 DVD set of his British films, and I am beginning to rethink that view. Not even Granger can turn theatrical and boring costume dramas into fabulous films. He can still make me watch them, though!

    ajnabi, I KNEW I disliked John Wayne for a good reason! ;-)

    Seriously though, things have changed quite a bit, in the last twenty years - at least in the way I think. Several books I remember liking as a kid, now annoy me so much with their blatant sexism and exoticising of "others".

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  4. "Not even Granger can turn theatrical and boring costume dramas into fabulous films."

    Do me a favour, please? Tell me which ones to avoid! (Frankly, I thought Moonfleet wasn't that great, and Beau Brummell, though he's deliciously handsome in it, ends badly - not the way I'd have wanted it to finish).

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  5. So Moonfleet was bad? I havent been able to watch the whole film because my DVD gave out half way through. As to what to avoid - none of his early films seems to be any good at all! I've seen Love Story, Blanche Fury, Fanny By Gaslight, The Lamp Still Burns and part of Caravan - they were all very dull. Still... he has enough good films for me to forgive that! ;-)

    How did Beau Brummel end? I dont remember much about it - except his romance with Liz Taylor.

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  6. This sounds absolutely wonderful... I love Stewart Granger too (so gorgeous), and like you said, nothing better than a man who learns his lesson well (probably why I like Austen's Darcy so much).

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  7. This sounds like a must-watch! And Stewart Granger looks so gorgeous.

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  8. Spoiler coming up:

    Beau Brummell ends with him on his deathbed in France. He's made up with Prinny, so he can now die happy, but that's it. No happily ever after into the sunset with Elizabeth Taylor! :-(

    Spoiler ends.

    Nah, Moonfleet wasn't that great either. My favourites, I think, are Scaramouche, King Solomon's Mines and The Prisoner of Zenda - so far. And yes, Salome. He looks good even in a short skirt! ;-)

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  9. Daddy's Girl, Darcy is definitely the definitive well-taught hero! :-D I bet Granger would have made a great Darcy, too, even if he had botched it up like Laurence Olivier did.

    sunheriyaadein, I bet anybody who likes old films and romantic comedies will enjoy this. :-)

    dustedoff, it ends in a deathbed scene?! That is SAD. I wonder why I didnt remember it - maybe the whole film was forgettable? And you've seen Salome! I am still trying to get my hands on it. Granger appears in mini skirts in Caesar And Cleopatra, too, and beats Dharam and Dara Singh hollow in that department! ;-)

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  10. Oooooh, I LOVE you, bollyviewer!!! You just made my day - Caesar and Cleopatra is next on my list of films to watch, and I was toying between watching that and seeing Paths of Glory. Guess which, now!

    Salome is fabulous, BTW. Rita Hayworth's dance of the seven veils draws the men in, of course, but for me, Granger is it!

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  11. I never knew that such films existed as well. And a comedy at that! Wow!
    This makes my feminist heart smile.

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  12. dustedoff, maybe we should do a watchalong! I havent seen Caesar and Cleopatra in ages, but I do remember that there wasnt enough Granger in it (not for me at any rate!) - he looked great and such a fun person, in it. Paths of Glory is lovely too - but sad in a disturbing way.

    harvey, that was exactly my reaction! I am so glad I was able to unearth something of this kind - and one starring Granger at that. :-)

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  13. Having by now finished seeing Caesar and Cleopatra, I have to agree with you - it doesn't have enough Granger for me!! I much prefer Salome - he's the hero in that, so we get to see lots of him there, even literally since he's revealing plenty of leg and arm. ;-)

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  14. I will find Salome, I will, I WILL... :-D

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