WOMAN’S WORLD was 20th Century-Fox’s 1954 answer to MGM’s Executive Suite, which beat it into theaters by five months. Both were looks into the power-making, personality-breaking upper echelons of the corporate entities that were remaking the nation in their image during the Ike Age, priming prosperity while impairing individualism. All those toys came with a second price tag.
The owner of ‘Gifford Motors’, patrician empire inheritor ‘Ernest Gifford’ (Clifton Webb, bring forth the waspiest WASP) invites three couples to New York City. He’s picking a new General Manager, but key to his choice is the ‘woman behind the man’: does she have the right stuff? Though the rival MGM film had a slightly higher-powered cast, was done in stark black & white with a stronger director and writer and ultimately earned several Oscar nominations, this Fox affair, while not providing any dramatic fireworks, let alone depth, was a bit more fun, thanks to the bitchy chatter that was gaggle-written by Claude Binyon, Mary Loos, Richard Sale, Russell Crouse and Howard Lindsey, and the addition of Cinemascope and Technicolor to show off the production values.
Costing either $2,010,000 or $3,250,000, it out-earned Executive Suite to the ka-ching of nine hundred grand, the gross of $8,600,000 pegging it #32 for ’54. Director Jean Negulesco had a bigger hit that year with Three Coins In The Fountain (also with Webb) and had previously gotten, for my money, Webb’s best-ever performance, in Titanic.
Besides Webb, he has a can’t lose cast to work with as the competing couples: June Allyson, Van Heflin, Lauren Bacall, Fred MacMurray, Cornel Wilde and Arlene Dahl. Allyson (who’d also been in Executive Suite) is the comic relief, as a sweet but gauche klutz happily married to forthright Wilde: they represent “average” Middle America types. Bacall is the sharp-tongued sophisticate, saddled and about done with workaholic MacMurray. Heflin is the level-headed practical choice, but his wife, bod-flaunting Dahl, is on-the-make for status, and if musical beds get in the way, that’s the just business.
The cars Webb makes (it’s pretty hard to envision Clifton Webb as an automobile bigshot), the “Giffords”, are represented by some Ford creations, including a cool-looking spaceage cruiser. This “Gifford” is the “Ford of Tomorrow”, built by the company at a cost of $180,000: the forthcoming Thunderbirds that we all worshipped are clearly patterned after the prototype shown off here. An early example of product placement on the sly.
Things launch soft-sold by a truly sappy title song (maybe Sammy Cahn’s worst) rendered by The Four Aces, and that which follows is garnished by one of those “isn’t it all elegant and sophisticated?” scores, this time by Cyril J. Mockridge.
With Margalo Gillmore, Elliott Reid (a bit much as Webb’s effete nephew), Alan Reed (ditto, as a hearty Italian restaurant owner), Elinor Donahue, Carleton Young. 94 entertaining minutes of nostalgic frivolity.