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Some might dismiss The Group as another women's melodrama but they do so at their own peril - because this is fantastic Hollywood filmmaking. Sidney Buchman's tight-as-a-drum script pares the famous Mary McCarthy novel down to a colorful, densely-plotted narrative that moves along at breakneck speed. The dialogue snaps with electricity and the characterizations reveal themselves with subtlety, with each of the lead characters flowering into their adult selves in ways that are often surprising. All the female leads do strong work but the standouts are Joanna Pettet as the toughie who succumbs to neurosis, Jessica Walters as the bitchy man-eater who is secretly afraid of intimacy and Shirley Knight, who is unexpectedly sexy as the mousy nurse who flowers into a woman when she takes up an affair with a married man. Elizabeth Hartman is also quite affecting as the "baby" of the group, showing a touching vulnerability in her handful of scenes. In terms of the men, Larry Hagman is the big scene-stealer as Pettet's self-absorbed cad of a husband but Hal Holbrook also does effective work as a pleasantly neurotic publisher and Richard Mulligan is charismatic in a bit role as a bohemian pick-up artist. However, the glue that holds The Group together is Sidney Lumet's dazzling direction: he brings a wonderfully kinetic touch to the material, an approach aided with skill by Boris Kaufman's sharp lensing and Ralph Rosenblum's punchy editing techniques. In short, The Group is a stunning, surprisingly substantial example of the women's melodrama - and a must for anyone interested in this genre.

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