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FEMALE (directors: Michael Curtiz/William Wellman/William Dieterle; screenwriter: based on a story by Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola; cinematographer: Sidney Hickox; editor: Jack Killifer; music: Leo F. Forbstein; cast: Ruth Chatterton (Alison Drake), George Brent (Jim Thorne), Philip Faversham (Claybourne), Ruth Donnelly (Miss Frothingham), Johnny Mack Brown (Cooper), Lois Wilson (Harriet), Gavin Gordon (Briggs), Douglas Dumbrille (George Mumford), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Pettigrew), Charley Grapewin (Drunk at Hamburger Stand), Frank Darien (Ed, the Comptroller), Robert Greig (James, Alison’s Main Butler), Huey White (Puggy, Alison’s Chauffeur), Gavin Gordon (Briggs); Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Presnell, Sr.; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1933)
“This slick romantic comedy offers ‘the before its time sophisticated concept’ that a woman can run a large company.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Made just before the Hays Office sprung into action censoring sex from films. Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”/ “Mandalay”/”White Christmas”) received credit as the director of record even though the film was begun by William Dieterle and much of the film was directed by William Wellman when the former got ill. When Wellman got into a spat with Warner Bros. over his contract, his name was removed from the credits by the bosses and he was replaced by Curtiz. Curtiz was used to reshoot the scenes of George Blackwood, who was fired playing the boy toy role by the studio because they weren’t satisfied with his performance and he was replaced by Johnny Mack Brown. The film stars the real-life married couple of Ruth Chatterton and George Brent, who divorced a year later.

Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is the high-powered dictator-like female CEO of the giant Drake automobile company she inherited from her deceased father. She’s a hard-nosed business lady by day who runs the factory as efficiently as any man, but who uses the men employees like boy toys as she invites them at night to come over to her plush love nest house for one-night stands to satisfy her sexual needs (the house was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, located in the Hollywood Hills). On the job, she treats these same men with a steely business-like coldness expecting them to forget about the previous night romp in the hay or else she transfers them. The only man who doesn’t go along with her romantic plans is Jim Thorne (George Brent). He’s the straight-shooter inventor she recently stole from another company, who rebuffs her sexual advances until she cries uncle and goes chasing after him in a cross-country drive (in the primitive time before there was an interstate highway), even willing to lose control of her business to rivals to snag him. When she catches up with Jim, she admits she’s no superwoman and agrees to do the decent thing and marry him. That bit might have taken some of the sting out of the bruised egos of the male viewers, as Brent shows her that work isn’t everything; then we see the independent-woman get her comeuppance as she admits to the independent-minded Brent she needs a man in her life. This slick romantic comedy offers ‘the before its time sophisticated concept’ that a woman can run a large company.

It has been reported in Mark A. Vieira’s book Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood that “after Joseph Breen instituted a Production Code crackdown in mid-1934, Female was placed on his list of films never to be re-released under any circumstances. The film sat untouched in the vaults until the Breen Office ended in the 1950’s.”

Ferdinand Gottschalk has a good turn in a supporting role as the cunning manager of the secretarial pool and Chatterton’s loyal flunky, who offers comic relief as he states with glee she’s “a superwoman. She’s never found a man worthy of her and she never will!”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”