Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thirteen Women is about 11 too many

If you would have told me ten years ago that I'd be giving a bad review to a movie starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne, I would have told you that you were nuts. Loy and Dunne are two of my favorite leading ladies of the thirties and to imagine them in the same movie is almost one of those Dream Team scenarios that film geeks like to imagine from time along the lines of "Wouldn't it have been great if Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart had made more than one movie together?"

So it is almost complete disbelief that I type the words "Thirteen Women (1932) starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne is one of the worst pre-code movies I've seen." Not only is it bad, it's not really bad enough to be quite laughable. Myrna Loy plays a woman who seeks revenge for ill treatment in boarding school by killing her classmates one by one. As was typical for this period in Loy's career she plays the Asian exotic. It's one of those oddities of film history that she beat out an actual Asian actress, Anna May Wong for the part of Ursula Georgi, the killer who uses the power of suggestion to murder her former class mates. This character fits into the vamp type that was slowly fading in this period after being hugely popular in the silent era. Loy at least is a convincing vamp, and the scenes where she is held in the camera's gaze with only her eyes to hold the viewer do have a certain creepiness to them. Also her wardrobe is to freakin' die for. Really, I think she must have used the power of suggestion to get those amazing dresses that she's poured into throughout the film.

Irene Dunne plays the one standout school chum who manages to resist her suggestions and schemes and so Georgi goes after Dunne's little boy. Part of the problem with the film is the script which spends a great deal of time expositing on the other twelve women who after a while all blur together. There are only so many women in short marcelled hair cuts that you can absorb in 90 minutes. Ricardo Cortez is underused as the detective solving the case. He and Dunne have decent chemistry and its too bad the movie didn't focus on those two more. On her own, though, Dunne's character is pretty dull and after a while I started rooting for Ursula, whose grudge at least comes from the fact that she was kept out of a sorority because of her race. If Thirteen Women were just a little campier, it would be fun and if it were a little better made, it could have actually been a decent thriller given the talent involved in the production.


kda0121 said...

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it a little bit. I like the absurdity of Loy as the murderous Asian and thought it was one of those that was so bad it was good.

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