Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thirteen Women

with Myrna Loy

Release date October 14.  1932

"Stop talking about it, stop thinking about it! Anyone can think themselves in anything!"(Laura)

"What have I done? What have anyone done to make you so inhuman?"
"Do I hear the very human white race ask that question?"

Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy) a Javanese/Indian half-caste who had to endure a lot from her classmates that led to her leaving school searches for revenge. Via clairvoyant Swami Yogadachi (C.Henry Gordon), she sends them terrifying horoscopes using her knowledge about them and believing that the power of suggestion will make the predictions come true. Soon the first women are victims of self-fulfilling prophecies: accidents, murder and suicide seem to be their inescapable fates. Even the Swami can´t get away from what is written for him in the stars and throws himself in front of a train - hypnotized by Ursula though. Alarmed by those premature deaths young widow Laura Stanhope (Irene), the most sensible and poised one of the whole troupe, tries to assemble the last of the sorority sisters trying to "laugh those fool horoscopes right out of our heads". However, before the gathering the next victim is to bemoan...should Laura take seriously her horoscope which predicts the death of her son Bobby? Who has sent those poisoned candies for his birthday? Can police sergeant Barry Clive (Ricardo Cortez) stop Ursula? Who will win the mental battle between Laura and Ursula...

 Laura with Bobby (Wally Albright)

That´s an interesting, odd, disturbing little film which hadn´t the luck of being successful in its time but has got some appreciation in the last years. After poor reviews, "Thirteen Women" was edited from its initial 74´minutes down to 59´minutes, which is the duration of the print we can watch nowadays. Those missing 15 minutes explain some of the discrepancies of the script - to start with the fact that there are only 10 women and not the announced 13. Two characters were deleted completely and as rumors will have it a scene of Myrna chasing Irene through a train - I´d love to watch that! Considering what is packed in the surviving 60 minutes one can only imagine what happened in this missing quarter of an hour. Even the fact that RKO held back the release of  "Thirteen Women" to take advantage of Irene´s great success in "Back Street" didn´t help matters. It seems this story of deleting one victim after the other, which reminds slightly of slasher elements of our modern films was just too brutal for contemporary moviegoers - and I assume that this film was quite a shock for Irene Dunne fans having still the impression of "Back Street" on their minds.  

Ursula (Myrna Loy) gone wild...

The most compelling role is the one of murderess Ursula which is fortunately in Myrna´s very capable hands. Made up almost unrecognizable as an exotic vamp she finds impressive, calm-sinister facial expressions making the hypnotic impact believable. In an intense scene between Ursula and Laura shortly before the climax and end of the film she hurls her accusations into Laura´s face: the rejection of the girls which led to her leaving school had the most horrible consequences for her. It´s not said directly but it seems that she had to prostitute herself. Though Ursula is brutal, sexual-manipulative, and even tries to kill an absolutely innocent child one can´t help to have some kind of understanding for her, especially because all of her former classmates - but Laura - are rather weak characters. All of them have their weak spots like Ursula had hers having to live as a half-breed with all the occurring prejudices against her - it´s implied that with one chance Ursula could have made interesting mixture of crime and action elements with a social background! 

Action, action!

As Myrna is typecast in this period as exotic vamp - still some way to the "Thin Man Myrna" - Irene is typecast as being poised, behaved and sensible - the most interesting aspect being that she is totally defined through motherhood in this film. Irene´s screen persona certainly had a maternal streak through the years; she played 18 times a mother in her 41 films. I can´t imagine that "Thirteen Women" was much of an acting challenge for Irene - not after "Back Street" - but it´s surely once again a consolidating of her screen image.


Although Myrna only gets third billing behind Irene and Ricardo Cortez, her role is the most extensive one. For me this film is more interesting as a Myrna Loy film and an early representative of its genre than as an Irene Dunne film - but of course having two of my favorite actresses at hand playing an impressive scene together is a real treat!
This time the last word is reserved for Miss Loy - she deserves it:
"The only one who escaped me in this picture was Irene Dunne, and I regretted it every time she got the parts I wanted."("Being And Becoming" by Myrna Loy)


  1. Wow! I saw this as a kid(sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night,of course!)and it really spooked me!Dunne and Loy really are the standouts here, and I never knew about the deleted scenes (and characters!). To have the evil Myrna pursuing Irene throughout the train could have been fantastically creepy! This movie has always stayed with me. And Myrna's "Being And Becoming" is such a great book, by such a great woman! I never thought about the parrallels beween the Dunne and Loy, but they both got involoved in the UN, and both had long, useful and interesting lives, above and beyong their Hollywood careers--role models for us all!
    (Love the picture of Myrna as Ursula-she looks like a cheetah about to attack!)

  2. As a kid, in the middle of the night this film must have been quite an experience!A kind soul uploaded it on youtube recently and I just added the link, well if you want to rewatch it,Rob...
    Never thought about parallels between Myrna and Irene too, and I have to say I know a lot more about Irene nowadays as I know about Myrna, but the main common trait - having different political point of views and quite different private lives - seems to be integrity. When it comes to this they are certainly exemplary. Susanne

  3. I liked this movie and you should notice too that it's the only movie where Peg Entwistle appears. She is known now as the girl who commited suicide by jumping from the Hollywood sign in 1932 =)