Female (1933)

Though Michael Curtiz takes sole directorial credit, apparently he only did a few reshoots; most of the film is the uncredited work of William Wellman, who apparently lost the credit thanks to a dispute with Jack Warner. Fortunately any behind-the-scenes intrigue surrounding the film is not the only point of interest, the film stands up beautifully by itself. I knew nothing about the film’s star Ruth Chatterton, though I gather she’d been a Broadway sensation for several years before this and only came to films in her mid-30s. She’s amazing here as the woman left to run her father’s car company who has, over however many years she’s been doing it, kind of turned herself into “one of the boys” and left behind thoughts of romance, marriage, etc, beyond engaging in borderline predatory behaviour and grabbing the occasional one night stand from the younger blood at the factory. Then suddenly the emptiness of it all hits home, and just as suddenly she runs up against someone who won’t be seduced quite so easily. Redoubling of efforts, etc. Alas, the good work of the first 50 minutes in trying to present this strong woman at the top of a man’s profession as being independent and not exactly needing a man’s help to do her job is largely undone by the last ten when Traditional Gender Roles are allowed to reassert themselves; if the ending of The Divorcee was a bit disappointing (though hardly unexpected), it’s a far more serious problem and bigger letdown here. Shame, cos Chatterton really is terrific in this, and she does an amazing job of investing the character with human warmth rather than just making her a shrill hard case. She is, ultimately just good enough to make the ending forgivable. Probably my favourite film of the set.

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