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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.


Peg Entwistle, the woman who later became infamous for jumping to her death from the H in the "HOLLYWOOD" sign, makes her only film appearance as Hazel.

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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  • Artifact Title: Two of the women were cut from the final print of the film, which means that Thirteen Women only portrays eleven women.
  • 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.
  • Dragon Lady: Ursula is a sinister Eurasian beauty who dresses in slinky gowns and has Hypnotic Eyes.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is based on a bestselling novel that has largely been forgotten nowadays.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Laura is a young widow (presumably. Her husband's fate is never mentioned but he is definitely out of the picture) raising her son Booby. However, she lives in a Big Fancy House with servants, and is rich enough not to need to work. And is played by the glamorous Irene Dunne.
  • 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 hypnotize people by staring deeply into their eyes.
  • Motive Rant:
    Laura: What have I done? What has anyone done to make you so inhuman?
    Ursula: Do I hear the very human, white race asking that question? When I was twelve years old, white sailors—
    Laura: You're insane! You're insane!
    Ursula: Maybe I am! But do you know what it means to be a half-breed, a half-caste in a world ruled by whites? If you're a male, you're a coolie. And if you're a female, you're... Well, the white half of me cried for the courtesy and protection that women like you get. The only way I could free myself was by becoming white. And it was almost in my hands, when you—you and your Kappa society stopped me! I spent six year slaving to get money enough to put me through finishing school, to make the world accept me as white. But you and the others wouldn't let me cross the color line.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Several characters were deleted from the film's final version, including those played by Leon Ames, Phyllis Fraser, and Betty Furness (in what would have been Furness's film debut at the age of 16). As a result, the film portrays only eleven women, not thirteen, with Fraser and Furness playing the two characters edited out of the film.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Ursula hypnotizes the Swami and commands him to throw himself under a subway train.
  • 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 Got Murder: Ursula mails Bobby a box of poisoned chocolates for his birthday.
  • 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.