powered by AFI
What if a woman were a CEO? Could she turn into as much of a chauvinist pig as a man? That’s the question posed by Female (1933), one of the most daring films made prior to the strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code.
Ruth Chatterton stars as Alison Drake, known to her employees as “Miss D.” Having inherited an automobile factory from her father, she runs it brilliantly. In charge of her secretarial pool, “Pett” Pettigrew (Ferdinand Gottschalk), describes her as “a superwoman. She’s never found a man worthy of her and she never will!”
When it comes to men, she may not buy, but she certainly does a lot of shopping. This was the element of the script that raised a red flag over at the Studio Relations Committee (SRC), the practically toothless enforcers of the Production Code at that time. Mark A. Vieira, in his excellent book Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, reprints a letter sent from the head of the SRC to Warner Brothers objecting to the plot of Female:
“...It is made very plain that she has been in the habit of sustaining her freedom from marriage, and at the same time satisfying a too definitely indicated sex hunger, by frequently inviting any young man who may appeal to her to her home and there bringing about a seduction. After having satisfied her desires with these various males, she pays no further attention to them other than to reward them with bonuses. And in the event that they become importunate, she has them transferred...”
Wingate insisted Warner Brothers eliminate this material from the film. Warner Brothers agreed and then, as most studios did at this time, completely ignored his request. The film was released with all its salaciousness intact. After Joseph Breen instituted a Production Code crackdown in mid-1934, Female was placed on his list of films never to be re-released under any circumstances. The film sat untouched in the vaults until the Breen Office ended in the 1950’s.
In addition to seeing a film 70 years old deal with a sexually-strong female character just this side of Sex and the City, Female has a number of interesting background details. The exterior of Miss D’s home and love nest is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, located in the Hollywood Hills. Chatterton and the man who plays the one guy who says no without a ring, George Brent, were married at the time this film was made. There was a veritable merry-go-round of directors who worked on this film. William Dieterle began the film with cameraman Sid Hickox. When Dieterle fell ill, the film was taken over and completed by William Wellman using cameraman Ernest Haller. At that point Warner Brothers decided the lead “boy toy,” George Blackwood, was not up to the job. They replaced him with Johnny Mack Brown and brought in Michael Curtiz who ended up re-shooting half the movie and gaining the final directorial credit.
Producer: Robert Presnell, Sr.
Director: Michael Curtiz, William Dieterle, William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola
Art Direction: Jack Okey
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Editing: Jack Killifer
Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Ruth Chatterton (Alison Drake), George Brent (Jim Thorne), Philip Faversham (Claybourne), Ruth Donnelly (Miss Frothingham), Johnny Mack Brown (Cooper), Lois Wilson (Harriet), Gavin Gordon (Briggs).
by Brian Cady