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Year: 1946

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Eve Arden

Odd that Stanwyck’s character in this 1946 weeper is named exactly the same as she was in Forty Guns. When I first read the synopsis of this film, I rolled my eyes. Soap opera city. Imagine my surprise when by the denouement of the picture, I was moved to tears. That’s how effective Babs is in conveying her pain @ being split between the love for her boys and personal happiness. I have friends who grew up in the North Shore area and their anecdotal stuff about the blue bloods and their snobbish behavior combined w/ gossip is plentiful. So the Chicago stuff for that decade is spot on. Jessica Drummond is in the untenable position of being a widow who is expected by her mother to honor a dead husband’s memory by not pursuing any other relationships. Brutal expectations and Stanwyck shows us that they are inhuman standards.

My Reputation is an excellent movie w/ one of my favorite performances from “Missy.”

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Year: 1943

Director: Vincent Sherman

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, Gig Young, John Loder

Another women’s weeper pairing two combustible participants: Bette Davis (Kit Marlowe) and Hopkins (Millie). These women are friends but rivals. When Kit publishes a big Broadway hit of a play, she becomes famous in Manhattan circles. Not to be outdone, Millie begins to write trashy romances and they ironically are gobbled up by the reading public. Despite being a hack, Millie has a great deal more financial success than her “friend” who is a respected artist. Hopkin’s character’s obsession with writing alienates her husband Preston — played by John Loder — and he sours on their union. When he confesses to Kit that he really loves her, she rejects him. However, Preston divorces Millie anyway.

MH portrays a female type that I am very familiar with having dated several of them over the years. Bergman calls them pathological narcissists and numerous pictures he’s completed cast this kind of woman in prominent roles. Millie’s focus on life is so myopic that she selfishly concocts plans that are indifferent to the people around her. She expects everyone to incorporate her life design as their own. To not get onboard is to carve a miserable existense for yourself, at least if you don’t break free from such a woman. Needless to say, by the picture’s end the romance novelist has alienated everyone around her. Except oddly, not Kit. Though she has been the picture of propriety throughout this story, Kit has somehow managed to push away any amorous entanglements that might be permanent. When a handsome man 10 years younger proposes marriage to Kit, she rebuffs him.

In the famous Davis/Hopkins moment Kit becomes irate that Millie is oblivious to how good her life has been, culminating in the former shaking the snot out of the latter. Art imitating life? Still, we see them toasting to a New Year in the final shot implying that the two writers are all they have. Sorority sisters if you will. Old Acquaintance is a good film and I really responded to the female archetype played by Hopkins. She’s such a nasty person on the screen that I can’t help but love MH’s performance.

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Year: 1933

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Ruth Chatterton, George Brent, and Ferdinand Gottschalk

Female is a Pre-Code effort that is unlike any other from the early 1930s. Unlike Barbara Stanwyck’s character in Baby Face — who sleeps her way to the top of the corporate ladder — Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is already the CEO of her own automobile manufacturing concern. She is a sexual predator that is the equal of any male you’ve seen in film. A tough no nonsense businesswoman by day, Alison treats her company like a carnal candy store. This female captain of industry surveys her office space daily for potential boy toys amongst her employees. Her modus operandi is to pick a potential lover, invite them to her palatial digs on the premise of important shop talk, and then interrupt any professional discussion with sexual seduction. These young men are intoxicated by her lustful wares and they are left hopelessly under Ms. Drake’s spell. Of course she discards them immediately, even brazenly transferring them elsewhere in the firm if they give her any difficulties the next day.

Our protagonist gets the tables turned on her when she steals a top design engineer from a rival company. Jim Thorne (George Brent) rebuffs her advances which infuriates his new boss. He’s not impressed by her come ons. The female CEO is suddenly without the power of her sex appeal. Not used to losing, Alison pursues Thorne relentlessly until she ultimately wins him over. They fall in and out of love quickly. The engineer wants a conventional woman who will maintain a home and take care of his needs. When he leaves the company, Chatterton’s character is useless on the job. All she can think about is the one that got away.

What ensues is a crazy cross-country search until Ms. Drake is able to find her man at a carnival shooting at targets. How fitting when you consider that hanging out in an amusement park is what they did on their first successful date. Then the bottom sort of falls out of the picture as this tough CEO proclaims that she’s no superwoman and agrees to do the decent thing and marry him. What?! I can only imagine that this was thrown in as a salve to the fragile egos of the male audience. If the filmmakers had not emasculated Alison in the third act, this might have gone down as the best Pre-Code film out there.

There are some excellent production values starting with the Drake mansion. This is a real Frank Lloyd Wright creation in the Hollywood Hills known as the Ennis House. For 1933, its Grecian touches and art deco flavor are quite stirring. Our lead even has an ornate live organ halfway up one of her walls. The swimming pool is a sight to see and provides the setting for one of the funnier moments when the lady of the house rejects one boy because he’s too “poetic” (read: homosexual). Michael Curtiz received the director’s credit even though he was the third helmsman on the picture. William Dieterle got sick and William Wellman came aboard only to get in a dispute with the studio over money. Warner Bros. booted him off the set and brought in Curtiz to finish the project. Another interesting thing to note is that Brent and Chatterton were married in real life during Female. This probably didn’t hurt their onscreen performances which were seamless.

Despite the flawed and jarring reversal in this movie, I’m inclined to recommend it highly. I just love the idea of a strong woman getting away with the same boorish workplace behavior that was second nature to several male managers forever. I’ve really only seen this dynamic in one other film called Disclosure starring Demi Moore and Michael Douglas. But for 1930s America, Chatterton’s in-your-face sexuality must have seemed shocking. Oh, and I actually learned something by watching Female. I now know what it means when I’m with a woman and she casually tosses a pillow on the livingroom floor.

By James White