The Opposite Sex is MGM’s 1956 misguided musical remake of their ‘39 classic, The Women. The re-told comic tale of a catty circle of women and their marital misadventures, though slightly tweaked, is basically the same. The major differences are that MGM decided to add music and men to the recipe—and the resulting concoction is one flat cinematic cake.
|Yes, these dolls like to get the dish!|
I don’t have a problem with remakes per se. But they are often Hollywood’s way to make a quick buck, and remakes rarely improve upon the original. MGM was on a remake rampage during postwar Hollywood, when studios were devastated after they were forced to divest themselves of their theaters and especially, by the competition of television. The fact that studios were slow to change with post-war audience tastes didn’t help, either. Especially, MGM, who seemed intent on remaking their entire film library—they just added color, widescreen, and zero creativity.
|The big confrontation in 'The Opposite Sex.'|
After leaving MGM in ’53, June Allyson had a good run of playing noble wives to Jimmy Stewart, William Holden, Alan Ladd, Cornell Wilde, etc. Then she came back to MGM in ‘56 to film The Opposite Sex, to play Norma Shearer’s role of the long-suffering wife. June should have heeded fellow former MGM star Joan Crawford’s mistake, in returning to her alma mater to film Torch Song!
|June Allyson as the good wife in this remake of 'The Women.'|
Speaking of remakes, June Allyson herself appeared in three in a row. In 1956, Allyson headlined The Opposite Sex, a musical remake of MGM’s The Women. The same year, June appeared opposite Jack Lemmon in You Can’t Run Away From It, a musical remake of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night. Finally, in ’57, June took over Carole Lombard’s most famous role as the scatterbrained society girl in My Man Godfrey, opposite David Niven. Amazingly, this wasn’t a musical remake! This tepid trio, plus a few ill-advised attempts at heavy drama pretty much demolished Allyson’s film career. June, who was pushing 40 during this time, had already outlasted many contemporaries, and soon got her audience back on television.
Ann Sheridan was already past 40 when she appeared in The Opposite Sex. As the writer who acerbically notes the society women’s shenanigans, the role captures Sheridan’s no-nonsense side. However, “Amanda” doesn’t possess Sheridan’s sassy good humor that made her renowned in the ‘40s as the “Oomph Girl.” And since The Opposite Sex doesn’t play to most of this great cast’s strengths, this movie lacks oomph, as well.
|Joan Blondell as the always pregnant Edith and Dolores Gray's gossip Sylvia.|
Joan Blondell plays Edith Potter, the always pregnant pal with a platoon of kids. Blondell is a bright spot in any movie, but here, she’s 50 and looks it, and not particularly believable as a 30-something society woman.
Ann Miller, who plays the sassy Paulette Goddard role, doesn’t get to sing and dance in this musical—okayyy… Annie’s big scene is the catfight at the Reno divorce ranch, and then she’s on the sidelines for the movie’s remainder. The Opposite Sex and The Great American Pastime, a minor league comedy about Little League baseball, ended Miller’s contract at MGM.
Agnes Moorehead, MGM’s great character actress, plays a surprisingly more straightforward version of the Duchess role, played to the hilt by Mary Boland in ‘39. Though Moorehead’s contract ended with Metro in ’51 after Showboat, she freelanced with the studio for another 15 years. In the ‘60s, Agnes gained a whole new audience on television as Endora, the witchy mother-in-law on Bewitched.
|Delores Gray as Sylvia Fowler.|
|RuPaul as the opposite sex!|
Dolores Gray plays the showy role of Sylvia Fowler, the cattiest of the characters. One of those “big” Broadway personalities who didn’t fare well in Hollywood, Gray gives her all, but comes off preening like RuPaul. The fact that Dolores always looked like she just sucked on a lemon didn’t help her screen image, either. Gray’s short-term contract with MGM ended the next year with Designing Woman, yet another Metro remake, of the fabled Tracy-Hepburn comedy, Woman of the Year.
In a cast of mature actresses, there’s 23-year-old Joan Collins as Crystal Allen. The husband-stealing vixen role had helped Joan Crawford regain her footing at Metro back in ’39. Collins, once called “the poor man’s Elizabeth Taylor,” certainly is dolled up at Taylor’s home studio to look as much like Elizabeth as possible. Yet, as soon as Collins opens her mouth, the effect is ruined. Joan’s attempt at an American accent, to hide her British accent, gives her slightly nasal voice an artificial tone. Joan’s way with brittle bitchy humor is evident even here, but there’s none of the conviction or empathy that is the mark of a great star, like Joan Crawford or Elizabeth Taylor. Though she’s occasionally amusing, there’s no reason to care about Collins’ Crystal. Joan comes off as cartoonish and flat as she previously did in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Fox’s greatest effort to make her a star. Collins never looked better on film, but great movie careers aren’t built on looking like another star, as many ‘50s Marilyn imitators can attest.
Don’t get me wrong. While the cast of The Opposite Sex doesn’t have the pedigree of Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell, they are all stellar stars in their own right. But I can’t help but feeling that this movie must have seemed dated even in 1956, when so many stars in this cast were already considered past their sell by date.
|MGM was selling 'The Opposite Sex' as hot stuff when the cast was actually past their sell by date by 1956.|
|Collins' Alexis and Evans' Krystal faking it on 'Dynasty!'|
Side note to Dynasty fans: Joan Collins hated those Alexis/Krystal “catfight” scenes and stuntmen were routinely used. The Opposite Sex may just be why Joan hates fight scenes. When June’s wife confronts Joan’s homewrecker, the scene culminates in a slap. Apparently, director David Miller told June to not pull her punches and really slap Joan. He then told Collins that Allyson would stop just before connecting. Well, 5’1” June was a powerhouse, because she wallops Joan so hard that Collins’ earring goes flying. Joan was not happy.
|Allyson slaps Joan's Crystal Allen for real in 'The Opposite Sex.' Note that Collin's earring goes flying!|
For a musical, The Opposite Sex’ songs are utterly awful. Except for “The Young Man with a Horn,” a June Allyson hit reprised from Two Girls and a Sailor a dozen years before, the “original songs” feel anything but. They are mostly mock show tunes are right up there with Valley of the Dolls in the cringe-worthy department.
|June's jumpsuit musical number, tastefully color-coordinated!|
|Was Jack June's fashion inspiration here?|
June Allyson as a singer is an acquired taste. If you enjoy her raspy, flat singing, you’re in for a treat. If not, you might puzzle over June Allyson singing about needing sex “Now, Baby, Now,” dressed in a blue jumpsuit that makes her resemble Mrs. Jack LaLanne. Most odd is a teary ballad, sandwiched between her sandpapery-voiced, swingin’ numbers. June lip synchs badly to a Doris Day-type singer named Jo Ann Greer, in a key dramatic moment—so obviously not her. At least it wasn’t India Adams, Joan Crawford’s dramatic dubber from Torch Song!
|Dick Shawn and his dolls putting over the title musical number.|
Dick Shawn, an insufferable Broadway comedian, sings the movie’s title number as a psychiatrist’s patient—which seems especially apt for this film. Shawn’s hung up on beautiful women, yowling about them, and makes like Jerry Lewis in over-aged juvenile mode. The women he dreams about end up on the office’s fire place mantel, gyrating along. And Jim Backus is the shrink, treating us to a few Mr. Magoo mannerisms to emphasize Dick’s horniness.
|Joan Collins' bananas musical number!|
“Yellow Gold (The Banana Song)” features some calypso singing guy, along with Joan Collins and Morticia Addams herself, Carolyn Jones, in dark makeup as tropical island beauties. At least these gals makeup looks closer to the “Light Egyptian” makeup MGM created for Lena Horne than the “Mocha Mommie” look that Joan Crawford sported in her camp classic number “Two-Faced Woman.”
Aside from the mind-numbing musical numbers, there’s other big difference in The Opposite Sex from The Women. The much-talked about men are actually seen and not just talked about. However, when the only two male characters that even register are Leslie Nielson as Allyson’s straying hubby and Jeff Richards as singing cowboy Buck Winston, you wonder why the screenwriters even bothered.
Aside from the “improvements,” the big problem is that this movie feels 100 percent artificial and from a past era. Except for establishing shots in NYC, everything is shot on a sound stage and looks like it.
|Is Leslie Nielsen calling his agent?|
Another pet peeve: Why are most of MGM’s sets in their ‘50s and early ‘60s comedies and dramas seem to be visions of pale pink and blue? Their watercolor-like Metro Color only emphasizes the baby nursery color palette.
The Helen Rose costumes are so over the top that they range from drag queen-friendly to flat out fug-llly. The movie’s color schemes try hard to be “modern” but also suggest the influence of director Vincente Minnelli’s renowned use of unusual color combos. Here, in lesser hands, they just look nausea-inducing, especially in the musical numbers: hot pink costumes surrounded by bananas; June’s powder blue jumpsuit surrounded by purple bass instruments and aqua stage curtains; and the casts’ rainbow connection costumes whenever they come together in a group scene.
|A rainbow connection of MGM fashion...and Buck Winston, too!|
The Opposite Sex is still watchable for star-gazing, but there’s also something sad here, knowing that this cast was on their way out as top Hollywood movie stars. Even young Joan Collins had to wait another 25 years before TV’s Dynasty finally made her a star. The only thing sadder was another remake of The Women in 2008. This version featured the same mixed bag type of stars as The Opposite Sex. Murphy Brown’s Diane English’s attempt to update the original story was even more misguided than the ’56 version, with most of its wit and vitality stripped away.
|Joan Collins getting the Taylor treatment at home girl Liz' studio MGM.|
Here’s a recap for all these women: 1939’s The Women is a must-see; ‘56’s The Opposite Sex is a musty maybe, and ‘08’s The Women is a must-avoid!
|The cast of 'The Opposite Sex' pose on their leaning boards to keep their Helen Rose gowns wrinkle-free!|