Why is Judge Daryl Loomis pouting? Because his mama won't let him climb the apple tree, that's why.
Each one doomed!
In the years before she became Nora Charles and the Perfect Wife, Myrna Loy (When Ladies Meet) was a sultry, Theda Bara-esque siren of the screen playing exotica roles in the final days of the silent and the nascent sound era. Though her early career saw her pigeon-holed into these kind of roles for some reason, she did throw herself into them with gusto, making the most out of tawdry characters like we see in Thirteen Women. This may be a second-tier RKO production, but it's filled with some first-rate scene chewing from just before her career took a more "respectable" turn.
Twelve former sorority sisters scattered across the country all receive a personal horoscope from the noted psychic, Swami Yogadachi (C. Gordon Henry, Man of Conquest), all predicting horrible and violent futures for each of them. They can laugh it off until a couple of them go down exactly how the swami foresaw. Now, the survivors aren't so sure and are wondering if something in the stars is sending them to their graves. The answer doesn't lie in the stars, though, it lies in their past, when their shabby treatment of the half-Indian Ursula Georgi (Loy) during their college days sent her on the road to revenge and her next target is the son of Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth), whose horoscope has promised the boy's death before his birthday that comes in just a couple of days.
It's interesting how much the plot of Thirteen Women resembles something from a more modern horror film. A group of wealthy sorority girls, a shunned prospective member seething with years of vengeful thoughts, a bloody trail of letters that leads to the killer, this stuff is way more prevalent in an '80s slasher than a '30s drama. The movie follows down that path for a while, too, and it gives the story an element of interest that it couldn't have had in its own time. It doesn't actually play out anything like horror, but it's an awfully nasty story for its time, especially for something with an almost exclusively female cast, which was rare enough then, anyway.
Myrna Loy, though oddly low on the cast list, is a riot as the villain and, by far, the most compelling thing about the film. Her "half-caste" makeup is pretty ridiculous and she had been stuck in these roles far too long, but this was a Montana girl who knew how to milk the exotic out of them and play it up like few others could. Irene Dunne was never that powerful an actress and delivers a fairly bland performance here. As one of a number of high society women, she fits just fine for what she has to do, but it's not much to write home about. Loy is who makes the picture, though, and is the one really good reason to watch.
For the record, there aren't thirteen women in this film, there are eight, and a couple of them basically have no character. Maybe calling the movie "Six Women" isn't as catchy and, certainly, part of it is due to the running time on the disc, twenty minutes shorter than its theatrical length, which stunts the story as well as the title. The omissions totally kill the suspense going toward the end of the film and make the finale hard to follow. There is enough fun to be had here in spite of this, with some good plot points and a lurid sensibility that director George Archainbaud (Alias French Gertie) brings from his silent film days. Thirteen Women is most definitely B-level fare, but it's an enjoyable way to spend an hour.
The disc of Thirteen Women from Warner Archive is pretty much what I've come to expect from the manufactured-on-demand label. It's a bare bones disc that is completely average. With no restoration done to the print, the image suffers from a fair bit of damage and debris. There's nothing there that makes it unwatchable, but it's far from as good as it could look. The sound is pretty much at the same level. There's a little bit of noise, but the dialog and music are both perfectly audible without too much trouble. There are no extras on the disc, which was expected.
If you're already prone to watch pre-code cinema or are a fan of the performers, then Thirteen Women will hit all the right notes. With so much footage shorn from the film and a fairly preposterous story as it stands, though, the film is far from the best of its era. It's not what I would use to turn somebody on to the early sound years, but any time a movie gives me Myrna Loy versus Irene Dunne on a train, it gets my vote.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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