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The Opposite Sex (1956) is a remake of The Women (1939), which was based on Clare Boothe Luce's 1936 play of the same name. In the latter two, a group of New York society women gossip, scheme and steal each other's husbands, and a man is never seen. The Opposite Sex changes the milieu to show business, and adds three elements which The Women did not have: men, music, and color. Most critics felt that the first two additions were mistakes. However, the third, along with an excellent cast, helped mitigate those errors.
June Allyson plays Kay Hilliard, a former musical theater star now a happy wife and mother -- happy, that is, until her friends find out that Kay's theatrical producer husband is cheating with a trampy showgirl, played by Joan Collins. The good wife heads for Reno, loses her husband to her rival, then puts on her Jungle Red war paint and sets out to win him back.
The Opposite Sex was something of a homecoming for Allyson. Signed by MGM to repeat her stage role in the film version of the musical Best Foot Forward (1943), she had spent a decade at the studio, and had been one of its most popular stars. Dissatisfied with the films she was being offered, Allyson left MGM in 1953 at the end of her contract, and had been freelancing at various studios. She had returned to MGM for a dramatic role in Executive Suite (1954), but The Opposite Sex would be her last musical at the studio. Most of the songs were new, and written by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn for the film. But the best song in The Opposite Sex is a reprise of one of Allyson's early hits from Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) - a duet with trumpeter Harry James, "Young Man With a Horn."
Joan Collins writes in her autobiography that the role of Crystal in The Opposite Sex was her first "grown-up role." Crystal, she writes, "was definitely not a girl. She was all woman - and all bitch. Sexy, conniving and shrewd, she was the embryo Alexis," the character Collins would later play in the 1980s television series Dynasty. Collins also recalls two incidents from the filming of The Opposite Sex. In a confrontation scene, Allyson's character slaps Collins. "June hauled off and belted me. This little lady with her tiny hands had a punch like Muhammad Ali!" Allyson was distraught and apologetic, Collins' face bore the imprint of the slap, and shooting had to be postponed until the welts went down, writes Collins, possibly exaggerating for dramatic effect. Another incident was even more painful. A long scene with Crystal in a bubble bath talking on the telephone took several days to film. The bubbles were made with harsh detergent, and Collins had an allergic reaction that left her body raw and blistered. The prop department had to devise a method to keep the bubbles away from her, and ended up rigging a piece of plywood with a hole cut for her body. The plywood was covered with a rubber sheet and the bubbles, with Collins' upper body above the hole, and her tender lower body swathed in bandages below.
Sylvia, the cattiest tigress in the pack, is played by Dolores Gray, a stage musical performer who appeared in just a few films, but usually stole them from her better-known co-stars. Oddly, except for the title song over the opening credits, Gray's musical talents are not on display in The Opposite Sex. Neither are those of Ann Miller, who plays a showgirl in Reno dumping one husband to marry another. She has no dance numbers in the film. Most of the musical numbers feature Allyson, and are big, flashy, and to modern eyes, campy and unintentionally funny. Other standouts in the cast are Ann Sheridan as an acerbic writer, Agnes Moorehead, as a much-married countess, and Joan Blondell as an always-pregnant matron. Interestingly, Blondell had been married to Dick Powell, who later married Allyson and was still married to her during the making of The Opposite Sex. Apparently, the ladies avoided each other as much as possible during filming. Allyson does not mention the film at all in her autobiography. The men in the cast included Leslie Nielsen as Allyson's philandering husband, and Jeff Richards as a singing cowboy, but they added little to the proceedings.
The film's assets include Robert Bronner's eye-popping color cinematography, and Helen Rose's over-the-top costumes, an haute-fifties fashion parade. The satire is less pointed than that of The Women, but The Opposite Sex is one of the last examples of 1950s glamour, and of MGM's trademark deluxe style.
Director: David Miller
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: Fay Kanin, Michael Kanin, based on the play The Women, by Clare Boothe Luce
Cinematography: Robert Bronner
Editor: John McSweeny, Jr.
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Daniel B. Cathcart Set Designer: Edwin B. Willis, Henry Grace
Music: songs by Nicholas Brodszky, Sammy Cahn, George E. Stoll, Ralph Freed
Principal Cast: June Allyson (Kay Hilliard), Joan Collins (Crystal Allen), Dolores Gray (Sylvia Fowler), Ann Sheridan (Amanda Penrose), Ann Miller (Gloria Dell), Leslie Nielsen (Steve Hilliard), Jeff Richards (Buck Winston), Agnes Moorehead (Countess Lavaliere), Joan Blondell (Edith Potter).
C-117m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri