The Group Blu-ray Review: 1930s Women's Issues - Not So Different from Today

It's hard for most of the women in The Group to realize their full potential. Something that was true for 1933, 1966, and sadly, for many, still today.
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Kino Lorber has released the 1966 film The Group on Blu-ray. Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Murder on the Orient Express, Network), the film explores the post-college lives of eight women for a decade. An adaptation of the Mary McCarthy's bestselling 1963 novel of the same name, The Group follows eight young women as they graduate a Vassar-like college in 1933. They are young and white and privileged - and they are all assured, even convinced, that the world is their oyster. But the world is not that simple, and each woman will face challenges in their careers, lives, and romances.

The book and the film were considered outrageous for their time, dealing with topics such as divorce, abortion, infidelity, sexuality, leftist politics, etc. A trailer included in the bonus items includes the tagline "This picture is recommended for adults." The group of girls in The Group are definitely precursors of Carrie Bradshaw and her crew from Sex and the City, and possibly even HBO's Girls. But they are also descendants of Norma Shearer and her pals from the Hollywood classic The Women.

theGroup.jpgThe Girls of The Group, L-R: Polly (Shirley Knight), Lakey (Candice Bergen), Libby (Jessica Walter), Priss (Elizabeth Hartman), Dottie (Joan Hackett), Helena (Kathleen Widdoes), Pokey (Mary-Robin Redd)

The film starts off slowly, and it was confusing at first trying to figure out which rich gal is which. In the aforementioned trailer for the film, each actress concisely describes her character, and it made me wish I watched that first or that the film started off that way, as it took a while to sort everyone out. But once the drama ramps up, it's definitely absorbing to follows the women's highs and lows. The group is so tight that they show up at each other's weddings and births and see the glamorous Lakey (Candice Bergen in her film debut) off on an extended trip to Europe. But when Hitler starts making headlines Lakey must flee Europe for America. She returns with a "friend," the austere and snobbish "Countess" in tow - the girls aren't above sniping and quizzing each other and feeling left out that they didn't already know that Lakey was a lesbian.

TheGroup2.jpgThe Ladies who lunch (and gossip), L-R: Libby, Kay (Joanna Pettet), and Polly

Other controversial topics include mental illness and psychotherapy, which must have seemed very daring for the 1930s timeframe. When Polly (Shirley Knight) has an affair with Libby's (Jessica Walter) married boss (Hal Holbrook), he confesses to her that he's being psychoanalyzed, in an effort by he and his wife to decide whether to stay married. He goes to see his shrink every day - for $5 an hour! Meanwhile, Polly is dealing with her father and his own mental issues. Originally diagnosed as melancholia, he now cheerfully informs his daughter, that he should be called manic-depressive. Kay (Joanna Pettet) is also battling mental distress - her philandering husband (Larry Hagman) has her committed after he knocks her around and she dares to stand up to him by grabbing and and threatening him with a kitchen knife.

So, lots of entertaining drama. But I couldn't help but wonder, that even though they had known each other for so long during the most pivotal moments of their lives - how close are these women? Libby is described by her friends as, "A big red scar on a face called a mouth." Not exactly flattering. There are shades of Steel Magnolias here, too. It's hard for most of the women in The Group to realize their full potential. Something that was true for 1933, 1966, and sadly, for many, still today.

Specs:

Bonus items on the Blu-ray, apart from the theatrical trailer for this film, include trailers for other Kino Lorber releases: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; Thieves Like Us; The Offence; and Coming Home. Subtitles in English and scene selection is also available.

The film has a running time of 150 minutes. It is not-rated. The film looks good on a large-scale, high-definition television screen, with vivid color and a format of 1920x1080 (1.66:1). The screenplay, adapted from Mary McCarthy's novel, is by Sidney Buchman (Here Comes Mr. JordanMr. Smith Goes to Washington), and the cinematography by Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront).

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