Our friends over at the Melodrama Research Group are continuing to explore pre-Code Hollywood cinema this term, starting with a screening of Female this coming Tuesday.
Because of this, we had a look at what the fan magazines had to say about this film and about its central star, Ruth Chatterton.
Three reviews, from Photoplay, Picture Play and Motion Picture, took quite different stances on the movie.
Photoplay was quite positive about the film, which it found amusing, featuring an excellent performance by Chatterton.
Picture Play and Motion Picture were less positive – for entirely different reasons.
Picture Play criticised the film’s plot, finding it seemingly unbelievable that a successful career woman such as Chatterton in Female would give up her professional life for love and marriage. This is actually quite a progressive critique.
Motion Picture liked the film somewhat better – but also commented on the behaviour of Chatterton’s character, calling it a “naive assumption” that “millionairesses don’t tarnish like ordinary women”. In this way, it criticised the sexual freedom exercised by her as inappropriate for respectable women, a much more conservative point to make.
Chatterton was at the time married to costar George Brent, who takes her away from her career in Female, and this marriage was frequently commented upon in the magazines, perhaps to underline the star’s off-screen respectability. An example appeared in February 1934 in Photoplay:
It is perhaps for this reason that Motion Picture…
…highlighted the fact that whereas Barbara Stanwyck (then of Baby Face fame!) was considered for an initially “too hot” version of the film, Chatterton was considered more suitable once the script was toned down.
Chatterton’s own supposed respectability returned in Picture Play – this magazine highlighted the fact that Chatterton herself objected to playing “shady ladies” and hoped to avoid this in the future. This also, perhaps, paralleled the narrative of the film.