Based on the Tiffany Thayer novel of the same name, THIRTEEN WOMEN is a story of revenge, the supernatural, murder, and suicide. The exquisitely beautiful Myrna Loy portrays Ursula Georgi, a half Japanese/half Eurasian woman. Ridiculed and shunned as a school girl because of her mixed race background, Ursula seeks out her old classmates in order to exact her revenge. Using mystic powers of hypnotism, one-by-one she leads them to their “accidental” death.
Released just a few years after FRANKENSTEIN, THIRTEEN WOMEN works in a similar tonal pattern in that it evokes sympathy for the villain. Ursala (the slasher) may be evil and vindictive, but you do feel compassion for her as she kills her classmates. Not to say killing under any circumstance is right, but in a revenge film you can sometimes find yourself saying, “Well, you WERE making out while Jason drowned” or “Your parents DID set fire to Freddy”. In THIRTEEN WOMEN you find yourself saying “You did make fun of her for being of mixed race and then stole her boyfriend, married him, and had a child with him. I get it.”
THIRTEEN WOMEN was one of the many films of the time that were edited for content after the original release due to slowly encroaching decency laws. After its first screening in 1932, THIRTEEN WOMEN didn’t pass Hayes standards and was cut from 73 minutes to 59 minutes. A highly censored and likely less interesting version was then re-released in 1935. The copies that exist now are the post-Hayes codes 59-minute edit. According to Warner Brothers, this is because they have been unable to recover the edited material.
So we are forever cursed with the censored version, but even this cut holds a lot of important historical significance as being a female empowered film, one of the first slashers, and the notorious Peg Entwistle incident. The fact that such taboo subject matter was being portrayed by an all female ensemble was unheard of at this time. Even now we struggle to see female villains on screen, and this was the 30s. And all the women give outstanding performances. But yet, cut to shreds by censors, the film was critically panned and instead became known for being the first and only film to feature Peg Entwistle.
Entwistle’s tragic death became a symbol of Hollywood’s reputation for being the land where dreams come to die. She played the role of Hazel Cousins in the THIRTEEN WOMEN. Originally from Wales, Peg had made a name for herself on the Broadway stage, and in 1932, she moved to Hollywood to fulfill her dreams of becoming a screen actress. She was quickly cast in THIRTEEN WOMEN, but after the film’s horrible reviews and having most of her role cut in editing, Peg began to lose hope in her Hollywood dream. Then on September 18th, 1932, Peg climbed her way to the top of Mount Lee, up to the landmark Hollywood sign. Looking up at the letters, Peg wrote a brief note, removed her shoes and sweater, and then climbed up a workman’s ladder leaning against the gargantuan letter “H”. After taking one final look over the city that claimed her dreams, Peg jumped to her death, becoming the first person but not the last, to use the iconic sign for such a purpose. THIRTEEN WOMEN would be Peg Entwistle’s first and last film.