Friday, March 07, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Female (1933)

Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) runs an automobile factory with an iron hand. She's also very much in control of her love life, routinely inviting a male employee to her home for a romantic evening and then dispatching him "to the Montreal office" as soon as he wants a more serious relationship. (One of the funniest moments comes when one rejected staffer hisses "See you in Montreal!" to another.)

Enter Jim Thorne (George Brent, Chatterton's real-life husband at the time), a strong, principled man who won't be chased or bossed by the haughty Miss Drake. For the first time in her life, Alison wants a man but can't have him. Suddenly Alison's priorities shift and running the company no longer seems so important. What should she do?

Chatterton is fascinating in the lead role, and Brent is absolutely perfect. I confess I used to think of him, based on his '40s roles, as a bit of a milquetoast, but I've seen a number of his early '30s films in recent weeks and thoroughly enjoyed him in each one. His role in this film is relatively small -- he doesn't even enter the picture until roughly half of the film's 60 minutes have passed -- but he really makes the movie. It's entirely believable that Alison would consider turning her back on her company for a man such as Jim.

The set design in this film is absolutely phenomenal, from Chatterton's floor-to-ceiling office window overlooking the factory, to her home and swimming pool. The organ in her front hall has to be seen to be believed. I haven't been able to confirm it elsewhere yet, but a post at IMDb says that the swimming pool is the same pool used in the legendary "By a Waterfall" sequence in FOOTLIGHT PARADE. (In another nod to FOOTLIGHT PARADE, an instrumental version of "Shanghai Lil" is constantly playing on Chatterton's record player.) The gowns are by Orry-Kelly.

The supporting cast includes Ruth Donnelly, Ferdinand Gottschalk, and Lois Wilson.

According to Robert Osborne's introduction on TCM, the movie was mostly directed by William Wellman, but after Michael Curtiz reshot a couple of scenes with Johnny Mack Brown, Curtiz was given the sole onscreen directing credit for unknown reasons. William Dieterle also worked on the movie.

FEMALE is available on video as well as in the brand-new DVD set Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 2.

This movie can also be seen on TCM. Click here to request the movie be added to the TCM schedule.

The trailer is also available at the TCM site.

FEMALE is fast-paced, fun entertainment. Recommended.

January 2018 Update: I had the chance to see FEMALE at UCLA in 35mm!


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