This movie came to me by way of Marya over at Cinema Fanatic. While in line for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, we began to talk about Myrna Loy and it came out that I had never seen Thirteen Women. Marya had just gotten a copy from the Warner Archives, and brought it the next day for me to watch. I did so enthusiastically, and I will profile the movie here, along with some interesting facts and pieces of trivia.
Thirteen Women, a chilling tale of horoscopes and fate, is a very interesting film in a number of ways. First, it is one of the first female ensemble films to come out of Hollywood–7 years before the ultimate female ensemble film, The Women, Thirteen Women concerns itself with a woman by the name of Ursula Georgi, the assistant of a prominent “swami” (horoscope reader), who is bent on revenge against the women who bullied her throughout her school years due to her mixed-race heritage. As Ursula sends simple letters to these women predicting their deaths, their lives unravel, and they almost invariably meet the same grisly end predicted in the letters. It is unclear whether the effect is physical (does Ursula really have magical powers?) or psychological (her letters use the “power of suggestion” to make things happen), but whatever it is, every look that Ursula gives–through Myrna Loy’s mysterious and ethereal eyes–is deadly.
Unlike The Women, there are plenty of men IN this picture, but the focus, similarly, is all on the women and their interactions with each other. A bit of trivia on this movie–one of the lead women in the ensemble is Peg Entwistle, in her only film appearance before her much-sensationalized suicide, jumping off the Hollywoodland sign at the age of 24 in 1932, weeks before this film’s release.
When you watch this movie, keep a good eye on Myrna Loy (as though I need to be saying that, it’s an effort to look at anybody ELSE when she is onscreen!) At the beginning of Myrna Loy’s career, she was most often cast as Asian stereotypes or other exotic characters, and as her career began to take off in the early-mid 1930’s with the Thin Man series, she all too readily abandoned those roles (Myrna was known for loathing prejudice of any kind, and she often looked back at her early roles with regret and disappointment for having played them) and developed a new typecast–that of the loyal but witty and independent housewife, as popularized in The Thin Man. She hardly needed to display her flair for drama, the public was in love with her no matter what. However, in this role, take a good look at just how skilled she is. Watch her cold expression as she signs the letter in this clip:
For those of us who are used to her as Nora Charles, this character comes as quite a shock.
I enjoyed this movie immensely. As a Myrna Loy devotee, it was a movie I needed to see, and I’m glad I did.
Thanks for reading!