Notes on “Thirteen Women”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

irene-dunne-and-myrna-loy-in-thirteen-women-1348462112_b

One of the many quasi-horror films released in the wake of Universal’s “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” this RKO production from 1932 offers the intriguing spectacle of Myrna Loy playing an archvillainess. Her character, Ursula Georgi, is a sort of lesbo femme fatale; she’s out to destroy all the girls who ignored her in finishing school. She doesn’t kill them herself. Rather, she persuades others to do it for her. This she accomplishes using her two secret weapons: her Oriental powers of suggestion and lots and lots of eyeliner.

The screenplay assumes Urusula’s behavior is natural because she’s “half Japanese, half Hindu . . . or something.” Whatever she is, Loy is a lot of fun to watch as she slinks around, mewls, and stares at people without blinking. (The performance makes you wish she’d been around to play Cat Woman.) Her Deco-inspired outfits and the architectural way in which she’s shot make her appear to tower over Irene Dunne, who, in the sort of matronly role that Loy would later make her own, has the pathetic uselessness of a prey animal. Less successful is Ricardo Cortez as a tough-talking cop: His lunky brand of flamboyance is over-emphasized, and it distracts from the theme of female-on-female predation.

The picture is thin and rather haphazard (cuts were made to appease the censors), and it ends too abruptly, but its patchiness lends it a sort of dream logic. And its unfussy moodiness, largely a product of Leo Tover’s photography, anticipates the Val Lewton-produced RKO pictures of the 1940s.

Ursula is eventually banished from the bourgie L.A. into which she so malevolently slithered. Like Theda Bara before her, she’s a threat to normalcy, to sanity. Not one to go quietly, she exits with a monologue in which she blames it all on racial discrimination. Today she’d be the heroine. Directed by George Archainbaud. It’s on Warner Archive Instant.

Related

  • Loy was nearly typecast as an evil Asian. Her other horror role of 1932 includes this memorable bit of sadism:

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Movies, Performers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Notes on “Thirteen Women”

  1. agnostic says:

    Unconvincing performance when hot-blooded, open-book Celts try to portray cold, inscrutable Orientals. I’ve wondered why they don’t cast more Slavs in those roles, although they did get Yul Brynner to play the King of Siam.

    Like

  2. Femertilizer says:

    Can’t get enough Myrna Loy, though Julie Newmar IS Catwoman.

    Like

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