I watched Thirteen Women, a 1932 proto-thriller, because I was inspired by the impressively good You Must Remember This podcast, which has started a new series on “Dead Blondes”. It sounds morbid, but it’s an interesting way to explore how women are sold as sex objects and often end up the worse for it.
The first episode focused on Peg Entwistle, whom you’ve likely never heard of. She’s best known, if at all, for being the woman who committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood sign.
This is her only movie, but it’s available on DVD thanks to the Warner Archive. That’s likely because it stars Myrna Loy, playing an “exotic” woman who’s determined to murder a group of white sorority sisters who were mean to her at school because of her “half-breed” background.
Loy’s character Ursula manipulates an astrologer, using hypnotism, into sending her victims prophecies of madness and death, which then come true thanks to the power of suggestion. And the occasional bomb package.
Although there were supposed to be 13 women involved (as in the source novel), there are only 11 in the hour-long movie, and I only counted 8 as having any real role. Peg’s original sequence was heavily truncated, because the plot had hints of lesbianism with a friend, driving her to stab her husband and go mad. The film was cleaned up before release, with almost 15 minutes cut.
These film cuts may have been one of the factors that made Peg think her career wasn’t going anywhere, although she had previously been successful on Broadway and the stage. She’s the reason Bette Davis became an actress, reportedly, as a young Davis saw Entwistle perform and was inspired. Peg died two days after the film’s release.
I enjoyed watching Thirteen Women as a brief diversion, full of suspense, where it’s hard not to root for the villain.