Sunday, 11 July 2010

Thirteen Women (1932)

"Thirteen Women" is one of those films that should be better known. It's not brilliant, I am the first to acknowledge that. However, it has aspects that hold your attention, it's short, moves at good pace and for the first half has a really interesting story. It has also, and I feel a bit ashamed to say this, a camp side that makes it hard to resist, very much in the same vein of "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (which is much further over the top). As in that film, Myrna Loy plays a Machiavellian exotic type, in this case intent in revenge against her old schoolmates, the thirteen women of the title lead by Irene Dunne. She does this by sending them fake horoscopes that the poor silly things turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. I confess little empathy with people that stupid. But it is an original modus operandi for a killer.

There is a minor point as there aren't really 13 women, as we only see 6 plus Loy and in the yearbook she uses to mark her successes only appear 11 (plus a photo on top which could be a teacher). Maths apart, the concept of the film, that someone can suggest to others that they will do something against themselves without actually doing it is grasping. I know little of Law, but I wonder if this can be considered a crime. Sadly, the second half of the film turns into more traditional methods of eliminating people, and as a result the films suffers as it loses its originality. This is clearly one of those cases where a longer film, with an even longer build-up (i.e. more deaths) would benefit it tremendously. The film also suffers from the card that appears before the end, closing what would be an amazing open ending.

Myrna Loy's character is probably the most interesting of the film. She oozes sex, she's intelligent and mixed-race. Of course she has to be evil. But in the confrontation scene between the two leading ladies, she suddenly reveals her motives and there are far deeper than we thought - and apologies, spoilers coming. When she thought she's leaving her past behind (there's a not so subtle hint of having been rape by sailors) and hopes to be treated as white woman would, she's bullied by this women into leaving the school she sees as her sole opportunity. The sharp commentary of how whites treated others in the late 1910s/early 1920s (when I assume they would be in school) is unexpected. It's even more interesting as this is not that far removed from 1932, and therefore audiences knew the film would be talking about contemporary treatment of foreigners and non-whites. To be honest, I found it hard not to sympathise with her.

Irene Dunne, as our brave heroine, and Ricardo Cortez, as the heroic police officer held no interest to me.

Finally there's a fantastic Hitchcockesque sequence in the film involving Irene Dunne's kid that definitely is worth a look.

PS - The DVD is the French release by Montparnasse. It's much better than I thought, but not exactly brilliant.


* R e N a * said...

This is one of my favorite pre code films and yes you're right when you say that it's not brilliant but it's ahead of its time!!

Irene is my favorite actress so that's a plus to me and you forgot to mention that it's the only movie where Peg Entwistle appears! She commited suicided shortly after and it's known now as the Hollywood suicide girl...what a sad story!

BTW, great blog you have!! I just started mine and I hope to hear from you soon, I'll add your blog to my list of favorites =)

Evangeline Holland said...

I love this film because of Ursula's big speech. But her death/punishment and Laura's (Dunne) happy ending leaves the movie so open-ended and strange. Were 1930s audiences supposed to understand and sympathize with Ursula? To detest her white classmates for their racist bullying? Or were 1930s audiences supposed to sigh with relief that the eevil Eurasian Ursula Gorgi died in the end, and Laura was able to save her son and have Sgt Clive (Cortez) in the end?