Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Female (1933)

I have a thing for old movies. What I love is that despite the era, the roles for women were actually pretty great. Far better in a lot of ways, then the roles today. The roles are three-dimensional, complex, and producers weren't afraid of "women's pictures" like they are today. Women carried films, they were the lead in a large number of them and very successfully. Contrast that to today, where a review of films made in 2009 showed that women only made up 32.8% of speaking roles. And in TV this year, women only constituted 40% of the main characters. That's progress. What I'm not as enamored with in older films, is that a film might have a great complex role of a independent or unusual woman, and often in the end, largely because of the Hayes code, she has to be punished for it in some way. Female, made in 1933, is one of those examples.

The film is about Alison Drake, a CEO of an auto company. She is successful, aggressive, and competent. She's the only woman on the board of directors. Additionally, she enjoys her men without attachments. Alison sees a guy she likes, she brings him home, enjoys his company, and sends him off. If at work he attempts to try for more than that (and all of them become totally enamored with her after their one night of passion, she's magical like that), she has him transferred to another office. It's kind of a refreshing change that there's a lack of slut-shaming over her behavior. I may not agree with the way she treats them, but it's rare even today to find a film like that.
Oh but then she meets the one dude who's immune to her. And of course she has to have him. And gets the advice that men like women to be soft and submissive and weak (she made the terrible mistake of competing against him in a shooting gallery when they first met, and was winning, till she threw it at the very end. Just like Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. Only wait, it didn't happen that way.). So of course, she changes to get him...and it works. He immediately, after one night again, (seriously, the woman's got some skills), runs off and gets marriage license, without talking to her about the subject and they've only known each other a few weeks, and commands her, literally, to marry him. She rejects him, and gets a lecture about how "new" women like her are pathetic and obscene and no man could ever want that, yadda yadda. And then sisters and brothers, she goes into her board of directors meeting where the company is in danger of going under because the bank wants to force her out and get in a new director before they'll grant anymore loans; and she has a complete and utter meltdown. Sobbing about how no woman should ever be in her position and she's tried to be just like the men but it's so hard you guys and she doesn't care what happens she can't do it anymore. And runs out of the room wailing. That's about when I was tempted to break the DVD in two, but since it was a library copy and I had a morbid curiosity to see the end, I refrained. Somehow or other, she collects her last remaining shred of dignity, goes back and tells them she'll stay, and will go to New York and meet with the bankers.
But yet, she decides instead to follow dirtbag, who's left town in a huff. She finally meets up with him at another shooting gallery, declares her love, says that she didn't go to meet the bankers because of him, etc. And he agrees to take her back. Because, you know, purposefully acting in a manner which will cause a company to go bankrupt and thousands of people across the country to go unemployed at the height of the Great Depression is such an admirable and romantic act. But don't fret, because the company is saved when he gives his permission for her to go to the bankers and they head for New York together. And as they drive into the sunset, she declares she never wants to set foot in a factory again, she turns control of the company over to him (because why? what qualifications does the dude have, other than being a jerk and a car engineer? has he ever in all this endless time they've had together expressed one iota of interest in running a company?), and she's going to stay home and have 9 babies. And then, oh then, he says what makes you think I'll only let you have 9? Amid gales of laughter, the film ends.
And that's when I punched the TV.

Perhaps coincidentally, or not, dirtbag is played by George Brent, an actor I dislike, mostly because it seems like he plays the macho sexist type a lot. The main role that really caused me to dislike him was in The Rains Came, a disaster film set in India. (Despite the brownface of whiter than white Tyrone Power playing an Indian doctor, and Myrna Loy, another whiter than white, playing an Anglo-Indian woman who passes as white, the film actually is not bad in addressing issues of race and racial tension.) Brent is maybe in his 40s or so in that one, and his character is in love with a girl less than half his age, I think she's only 16 or 18? And he likes to rough her up and shove her around a lot. And gee, she just can't get enough of it.

Back to Female, two stars out of five, only for the portrayal of Alison and the non-slut-shaming in the first half of the film before dirtbag shows up. Negative a million stars for the ending.

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