Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Female (1933)

I will start out by saying I loved that they explored gender role reversal in 1933. They put a woman as a top executive in a male dominated field (which most everything was then). Not only did they have her working in a man's role, but they showed her acting like a man in her personal life. What a freakin' awesome statement and progressive movie in 1933!! Of course, there are flaws which we will discuss, but I guess we will take what we can get.

Ruth Chatterton longing for a vodka-hazed man

The general idea of the movie is Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is the owner of an automobile factory. She works hard like a man and plays hard like a man. She uses her attractive male employees as evening entertainment until they profess feelings for her. Then she has the lovelorn transferred far away so as not to annoy her with their insipid feelings and grotesque gestures. Of course, as you might guess, she runs into a newly hired engineer named Jim Thorne (George Brent) who does not come when she gives the come hither look. From that point on it is a battle of wills, but who's will is strongest?

One of my favorite scenes was the seduction of poor old Cooper. After plying him with vodka and being all sweet and feminine, he had no chance. She asks him, "Are you naturally enthusiastic?" followed with a toss of a pillow on the floor, a twinkle in her eye and a wry smile. Oh, she was one saucy minx!

I have to say that I find it fascinating that according to her birth date on imdb.com - she was 40 when she made this movie!! She looked fabulous. We talk about how 40 is the new 30 now, well, apparently it was then too. Not only that, but I think I admire the bravery of the movie even more to show a sexy 40 year old cavorting around with young men.

At one point Alison says, "You know, a long time ago, I decided to travel the same open road that men travel. So I treat men the exact way they've treated women." Mighty bold Miss Alison.

I also love the scene where her she is in misery because her male secretary professes his love. This scene is great for several reasons. The first reason is Pettigrew, her assistant, played by Ferdinand Gottschalk. I noticed him earlier, but his cheekiness won me over here. As her secretary sits there, she tells Pettigrew that the secretary, Briggs, must be transferred to Montreal immediately and to make the arrangements. Pettigrew, knowing exactly why he must be transferred, delights in tormenting him with a sing-song "Ohhhhhhh ... does Mr. Briggs WANT to go to Montreal?" The second reason I loved this scene is for her edict that she will only have a sensible female secretary from then on. She asks Pettigrew to line up interviews with sensible woman and says, "And remember, it takes more than flat heels and glasses to make a sensible woman."

I really enjoyed George Brent in his role as well. Jim Thorpe tried desperately to avoid the vodka trap she laid out for him while being stern and maintaining his dignity. I think I have seen George Brent in two movies now and both times I thought he was a bit stiff in his performance at first. I am not sure if that is by his design or if I am not used to him as an actor yet. It took no time for me to definitely appreciate him. I especially loved when he was working on the automatic transmission and that cute curl of hair fell across his forehead. I am always a goner for that look. :-)

Before I get to the joke they called the ending, I will add that I thought it odd that Ruth Chatterton spent most of her time naked, kinda. I am not talking about the bedroom type scenes. They had that poor woman take two or three showers during this short one hour movie! What exactly was up with that? She must have been the cleanest, dirty girl out there in the 30s :-)

Now, I need to discuss two parts about the ending. So if you haven't seen it and don't want to see the ending, please skip all this.


The part that I was a bit confused about was when Alison broke down in the directors meeting and ran to her office. Pettigrew said to her that he had been expecting that to happen. Basically because, "You are just a woman after all (so you can't run a big business you silly little thing)". I felt betrayed by Pettigrew since he seemed to really support Alison. He seemed to be pretty proud of her and how tough she was. I have to admit, I quickly thought of him as a toadie and got pretty angry with him being supportive one minute and sexist to her the next. Then, after a bit of reflection, I began to think about why he said that to her. I started to think that maybe he was just trying to goad her into bucking up and charging back in there like a strong woman. What does anyone else think about that scene? I thought he was goading her because in the next scene when she ran out to go chase her man, he acted terribly upset. If he really were sexist and wanted to see her out of the comapny, he would have been thrilled to she her chasing a man down. So, that makes me think he wasn't being sexist, just trying to get her back on track. Anyone have thoughts about this?

Lastly, the dreadful end of the movie. I hated it. HATED IT. I definitely support a woman's right to choose to stay at home just like I support a woman's right to choose to have a career. That is what feminism is all about to me - having the right to do what you want for yourself. The reason I **HATED** the ending is because it seemed like such a sexist cop out! It is totally unrealistic to me that she would be happy to just be subservient to her man and play house while he goes off and runs her company. It was such a drastic change that it makes no logical sense. If they had simply left it with her running the company and him doing great engineering work that made the company successful too, it would have been brilliant. What a team they would have been! I am not sure if the censors forced this kind of an ending on them (like in the cut version of "Baby Face" with the bad ending) or if the studio was afraid of public opinion or what exactly motivated this, but it shouldn't have been done that way. End of story.

*******************************END SPOILERS*********************************

Even though I SERIOUSLY hated the ending, I would still say this is a very worthwhile movie. Just watching a woman in a power position in the 1930s makes it worth watching, despite the "bite the big wiener" ending.


kda0121 said...

I also enjoyed Female. At that time, she and George Brent were married in real life.

I agree, the ending was a bit trumped up. I have no defense for my gender other than that's the way women were viewed in those times. Even when I was a kid, it was a bit of an embarrassment to say that your mom "worked", instead of staying home to be a housewife.

Even though it's incredibly patronizing and chauvinistic now, I actually think part of the point of the movie was to say that once a woman found her man, she didn't need all that other nonsense, like a career.

Regardless of the sexist flaws in the ending, I thought Ruth Chatterton gave an excellent performance and the movie was quite enjoyable.

AbbyNormal said...

Karl - You know, I looked at her age on IMDB, but didn't read her bio. I had no idea they were married! Thanks for sharing that info.

I also read on there that she was a licensed pilot who flew her own plane cross-country. Siince that was in the 20s and 30s, pretty impressive!

I do agree Ruth Chatterton was excellent and the movie was enjoyable despite the cop out ending.

Anonymous said...

I like what you said about Pettigrew. I must admit, when I saw that scene where he's telling her "you're just a woman, after all", I felt really betrayed: both on Allison's account and my own account as a female viewer. But what you said actually makes sense! I mean, he compared her to Napoleon and called her a superwoman earlier in the film. This makes it clear that he admires and respects her strength and unconventional lifestyle. So it would make sense that if she were to doubt herself, he would try to help her get back on track. Maybe that wasn't the right way to do it, but it certainly was a good try.

Love your review. I'm planning on doing one of my own and putting it on YouTube as part of a series of pre-Code reviews. My username is EmpressJudge13.