|Hedy Lamarr went out with a bang as the aging movie star obsessed with her young male starlet stud.|
The Female Animal is a 1958 tawdry Tinseltown tale, dreamed up by producer Albert Zugsmith and screenwriter Robert Hill, who seems to have researched his story from the ‘50s scandal rag, Confidential.
No surprise that this was the same Universal team that brought film fans Female on the Beach, starring Joan Crawford as a catty cougar with a beach pad, who falls for a suspect young stud. In The Female Animal, Hedy Lamarr is Vanessa Windsor, a cinema cougar with her eye on a male starlet, (George Nader), and sets him up at her beach pad! Unfortunately, Lamarr’s adopted daughter, Penny (Jane Powell), also wants to sink her claws into Mommie’s latest boy toy. Why Universal just didn’t ask Joan and Christina Crawford to play these roles is beyond me. Why, Penny’s even gotten into trouble at school! And Joan knew a thing or two about ‘50s male starlets.
|Hedy is Vanessa Windsor, aging showbiz star living in the past, with Jane Powell as her bratty adopted daughter. Penny for your thoughts?|
The acidic accusations between the movie star mama and antagonistic offspring certainly would have had more resonance if La Crawford had played the role. Vanessa berates her daughter for acting like a tramp, “rolling in the gutter,” while daughter Penny retorts that she should know, mockingly calling her the perfect mother. When Penny accuses Vanessa of adopting her just to fill out her personal cast, later sending her off to boarding school when she grew older—this seems like Joan Crawford territory! When the star tells her daughter of the sacrifices that she’s made to give her the chances Vanessa’s never had, Penny replies, “What makes you think being your daughter is the easy way?”
|'Hedy who?' |
asks the Female on the Beach!
Instead, we get Hedy Lamarr, lovely but lost, as she tries to rattle off her movie star repartee, sounding zonked instead of zingy. I kept wondering during the coy Lamarr and earnest Nader’s stilted delivery of their “sexy” banter what Joan Crawford and her favorite Universal stud, Tony Curtis, would have made of this—maybe Janet Leigh could have played Penny!
Luckily, there’s Jan Sterling as the hard-boiled, former child star. Did Sterling ever play anything but hard-boiled?! Sterling already tangled with Crawford on Female on the Beach, but with this Female, Jan comes up the winner. Sterling sports a platinum wig that resembles the stiff do that Barbara Stanwyck wore in Double Indemnity. Dripping furs, jewels, makeup, and sarcasm, Sterling steals the spotlight as the real female animal! As Lily Frayne, Sterling beats out her bitchy observations on showbiz stardom and studs like a bongo drum player, making Lamarr and Powell look even more inept. Frenemy Lily advises Vanessa: "Never let them have a career. That's the one thing I've really learned about men in Hollywood. Success goes to their little heads. Keep 'em sharecropping, dear, it's the only way. Tote that barge, lift that bale." And Lily even makes her own bid for Nader’s housesitter skills: "If he's not taking care of your cottage as you like, send him over to me. I have a little property too."
|Jane Sterling plays a former child star who is apparently wearing Barbara Stanwyck's 'Double Indemnity' wig!|
More odd-ball casting is George Nader as the struggling cinema stud. Nader wasn’t the typical Universal pretty boy and he wasn’t exactly a kid, either, at 37. The drama, such as it is, is defused by a too-young Lamarr, and a too-old Powell and Nader, in their respective roles.
|George Nader IS Chris Farley!|
Nader’s straightforward but dull delivery doesn’t help convince as the sizzling man meat that the ladies fight over. His muscular body is on display constantly, in tight clothes and skimpy bathing suits. All this is undercut by his sincere but starchy acting.
The most memorable thing about muscle man George Nader is that his character is named Chris Farley. After you chuckle the first time, Nader is constantly introduced to the other characters. You could play a drinking game and die drunkenly laughing at the same time:
Studio flunky: “This is Chris Farley, Miss Windsor.”
Vanessa Windsor: “What did you say your name is?” “Chris… Chris Farley.”
Mabel Albertson as Nader’s landlady takes a call: “Who? Farley. Yes? Oh, Chris Farley!”
And on it goes, until Chris Farley is introduced to every character in the movie, and you’re envisioning SNL’s Farley in his classic Chippendale’s sketch with Patrick Swayze… who, by the way, would have made a fine Chris Farley, Nader-style, in The Female Animal!
|I kept envisioning this every time some introduced George Nader as Chris Farley!|
What’s head scratching about The Female Animal is why either of the Windsor females would fight over boring hardbody Nader. Yet, they both fall madly in love with him on first sight. Lamarr’s character first sees Nader as a boy toy, but her delivery is equally as flat as Nader’s. The insinuating dialogue for Hedy’s diva is so wanly recited that there’s no conviction, either for her lust or love for Nader’s Chris. As for Jane Powell’s Penny, she plays the part of the party girl so amateurishly that your attention is directed at her awful acting and not her character’s predicament. It doesn’t help that Powell is nearly 30 as the drunken adopted daughter, who Nader asks if she’s even 21 yet!
|One of the dramatic tussles between Nader and Powell!|
Powell is equally inept in her inebriated scenes and coping with the catty, campy dialogue. Her tussles with Nader are laughable, especially given that he towers over petite Powell. What’s really ridiculous is when Chris, not knowing who Penny is, brings her back to Vanessa’s beach house that he’s “caretaking,” and the daughter doesn’t even recognize it!
However, Lamarr and Powell look great, photographed by female-friendly cinematographer Russell Metty, a Ross Hunter favorite. Lamarr was 43when Female was filmed, still slim and quite beautiful, despite the stylized make up meant to recall her glory days. Drawing outside the lines, so to speak, Hedy’s make up looks much like her look-alike Vivien Leigh’s later visual style. Still, in Hedy’s film finale, Lamarr went out looking lovely. Powell, nearly 30, sports her curves in sexy clothes and a polka dot swimsuit, and by now, officially platinum blonde, which brought out her beautiful blue eyes as she got older.
|Hedy Lamarr and Jan Sterling compare their 'color outside the lines' makeup!|
|Look-alikes Hedy Lamarr and Vivien Leigh started sporting make up that became more stylized as they got older.|
Despite the cartoon plotting of The Female Animal, there are some stylish elements here and there. The opening credits take you right into the movie, introducing the main characters on a film set. It’s not until you settle into the first real scene that the opening was really a flash forward, a bit of circular storytelling predating Pulp Fiction.
|'The Female Animal' and its movie within a movie...both of which are pretty bad!|
And when you come back to the movie within a movie opening, the motivation for Windsor’s drunken distress becomes clear. The ending is nobly soapy, with Lamarr’s Vanessa giving up Chris to her daughter, getting all teary-eyed into her hospital pillow.
|Hedy Lamarr as Vanessa Windsor, surveying her latest boy toy, Chris Farley!|
There are a few lines that seem aimed directly at the real life Lamarr. When Chris asks Vanessa when was the last time she was married, multi-married Lamarr looks at him wide-eyed and momentarily speechless. At the end, the outspoken nurse comments that Lamarr’s star was always better than the parts she was given. Fair enough. But the nurse goes on to say that the one thing Hedy’s actress had going for her was “believability.” Talk about pushing credibility.
|Nader's Chris Farley is injured rescuing Lamarr's movie star. Check the outline of his scar!|
Just as unbelievable is the huge gash on Chris’ arm, from when he rescues Vanessa from a falling piece of lighting equipment on the set, prompting their fateful meeting. When he shows the wound, the latex outline around the cut is clearly obvious. Also amusing is the big movie premiere, which Vanessa corrals Chris into going as her escort. The theater façade is festooned with bouquets of balloons, making it look like a children’s birthday party. Let’s just say the budget looked a bit tight.
|30-ish Jane Powell as Penny, the drunken, trampy, college kid who is also nuts for Nader' Chris Farley!|
As clichéd and corny as The Female Animal plays, this movie about movies is still fun to watch, with its asides on a changing Hollywood and its off-camera behavior. Somebody should get the bright idea to run The Female Animal and Female on the Beach as a double feature!
|Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest star of all? Hedy Lamarr still looked lovely in her film farewell.|