From The Warner Archive: Thirteen Women, 1932 (dir. George Archainbaud)

Coming from The Warner Archive on Tuesday is George Archainbaud’s deliciously pre-Code thriller Thirteen Women, adapted from the novel by Tiffany Thayer. This film is also notorious because it features the first and only film appearance of  Peg Entwistle, whose body was found at the Hollywood sign, having committed suicide a few weeks before the film’s release.

It’s a shame they didn’t fully go with all the themes explored in Thayer’s novel, which I understand also includes lesbianism. Also, even though this was made during the pre-Code days, the studio edited out fourteen minutes of footage before releasing it. One wonders what racy bits were removed?

Regardless, the film tackles some interesting issues. Loy’s character, Ursula Georgi,  is a Eurasian woman who wanted to “cross the color line,” and pass as white. While attending a posh finishing school (this is all events alluded to, but that take place before the film begins), she is denied membership in an exclusive sorority. Years later she plots the deaths of the thirteen women whom she blames for her lot in life by controlling a clairvoyant swami, who convinces them all to either kill each other, kill other people (and thus land in jail) or go crazy.

Loy is so wonderfully wicked as Ursula. She even goes so far as to try to blow up a young child; never once does she break with her icy cool exterior. The back of the dvd describes the character as being “unalloyed and unapologetic(ly) evil,” but I’m not sure that’s right. I mean, she is unapologetic about her quest to kill everyone, but “evil” suggests she doesn’t have her reasons. As far as I’m concerned she’s got good reasons, I mean as far as villainy goes. Not that I’m condoning murder or anything. I would never. . .

Not all thirteen murders are shown, but the one’s that are, are pretty sweet. While some of the acting is a little stiff (Hollywood was still working out that whole sound thing), there is some artistry in the way the film was made that many films from the era do not have, which is refreshing. Again, the transfer for this Warner Archive edition is as beautiful as ever.

Irene Dunne’s name is first in the credits (Loy’s is actually 4th, which is odd because she is really the lead), and she gives a great performance, though perhaps not her best. It’s fun to see her as a strong-minded woman, who refuses to be irrationally scared like the rest of her friends. The showdown between Loy and Dunne’s Laura at the end of the film is truly chilling.

This film wasn’t much of a box office or critical success when it was first released, but I hope now that it’s available for home viewing it will get a sort of cult-following, it surely deserves it.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on February 18, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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