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Film / Thirteen Women

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Thirteen Women is a 1932 American pre-Code psychological thriller film, produced by David O. Selznick and directed by George Archainbaud. It stars Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez. The film is based on the 1930 bestselling novel of the same name by Tiffany Thayer.

Thirteen women, who were sorority sisters at the all girl's college St. Alban's, all write to a clairvoyant "swami" (C. Henry Gordon) who by mail sends each a horoscope foreseeing swift doom. However, the clairvoyant is under the sway of Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), a half-Javanese Eurasian woman who was snubbed at school by the other women owing to her mixed-race heritage, eventually forcing Georgi to leave school. She now seeks revenge by manipulating the women into killing themselves or each other. She also goads the clairvoyant into killing himself by falling into the path of a subway train. The victims are set up and killed off one by one until Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne), living in Beverly Hills, is one of the few still alive.

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Thirteen Women contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, May and June Raskob are twin sisters who work in a circus, but in the book they are overweight side show attractions, rather than photogenic trapeze artists as in the film.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the film, Hazel Cousins is a married woman who kills her husband and goes to prison. In the original book, Hazel is a virgin who remains so simply because she is considered too beautiful; men are either too intimidated to approach her, assume she is married or engaged or believe that she will break their heart. Hazel eventually becomes a lesbian after she is seduced by the wife of the doctor treating her for tuberculosis. Hazel starves herself to death in a sanitarium while suffering the heartache of having been abandoned by her lover Martha.
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  • Despair Event Horizon: June Raskob goes mad after being manipulated into killing her twin sister May by dropping her during their trapeze act. Grace later comments that June has been confined to an asylum ever since the accident.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The bullying Ursula suffered was undoubtedly dreadful, but it does not justify a campaign of murder waged ten years later.
  • Disappeared Dad: Bobby's father is never mentioned. The implication is that he is dead and that Laura is a widow, as Jo discusses the possibility of her remarrying.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is based on a bestselling novel that has largely been forgotten nowadays.
  • Gotta Kill Em All: Ursula is determined to kill (or otherwise destroy) the thirteen women she blames for ruining her life.
  • High-Speed Hijack: Sgt. Clive has to jump from the police car on to the running board of Laura's driverless limousine.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Ursula is able to hypnotise people by staring deeply into their eyes.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: While talking with Ursula, Helen casually waves her revolver around; even pointing it at herself at one stage. She then casually tosses it aside without looking where she is tossing it.
  • Sinister Subway: Ursula coerces the swami into throwing himself under a subway train once she has no further use for him.
  • Storybook Opening: Begins with a copy of the novel on which it is based opening to show a page explaining about the power of suggestion, complete with references to a psychology journal. The movie proper then starts.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Ursula attempts to Murder Laura's son Bobby by sending him a box of poisoned chocolates.
  • The Vamp: Ursula keeps the swami and Burns under thumb through a combination of hypnosis and raw sex appeal.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The movie was drastically shortened in editing, so several plot threads are left dangling. Possibly the most significant is: do the police ever catch up with Burns?
  • Who Is Driving?: A non-comedic example. When Burns sees the police car behind him, he bails out of the limousine and leaves Laura trapped in the speeding car. Sgt. Clive has to jump from car to the other to steer the limo off the road.note 
  • Would Harm A Child: Ursula makes multiple attempts to kill Laura's son Bobby.
  • Yellowface: Myrna Loy uses her exotic looks to play the half-caste Ursula.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once the last horoscope has been sent, Ursula has no further use for the swami and coerces him into throwing himself in front of a subway train.


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