When a group of sorority sisters all write to the renowned Swami Yogadachi (C. Henry Gordon) for their horoscopes, nothing good comes of it. First June Raskob (Mary Duncan) gets a letter from him saying that her sister May (Harriet Hagman) will die because of something she does. June and May are trapeze performers and the Swami’s prediction makes June so nervous that she fails to catch May while performing a dangerous stunt. Then there’s Hazel Cousins (Peg Entwistle), who is told she will wind up in prison. Sure enough, soon after, she murders her husband and finds herself in prison.
When Helen Frye’s (Kay Johnson) horoscope predicts that she will kill herself, she calls up her friend Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) for some reassurance. Laura sees all of these untimely deaths as nothing more than coincidence and invites Helen to come visit. While on the train, Helen meets Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), another one of her former classmates. But what Helen doesn’t know is that all those fatal horoscopes are actually from Ursula, not the Swami. Ursula had wanted to be part of their circle of friends, but was rejected because of her mixed-race heritage. Now that she’s working with the Swami, she’s using the horoscopes and her hypnotic powers to exact her revenge.
After Helen kills herself on the train, Laura starts taking the horoscopes more seriously. Her horoscope predicted that her son would die of a terrible accident on his upcoming birthday. When her son is mysteriously sent a box of poisoned candy, Helen turns to Sergeant Clive (Ricardo Cortez), who quickly makes the connection between Ursula and the deaths and comes up with a plan to catch her on a train by using Laura as bait.
I was quite pleasantly surprised by Thirteen Women. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it, but I was impressed by how genuinely tense and scary it was. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Myrna Loy play a villain like that before, but she was quite wonderfully sinister and I loved it. The story is a bit rushed at times. Seriously, this movie features the fastest police investigation I have ever seen. But for a movie that’s only a little over an hour long, it could have been a lot more rushed than it was and it’s strong enough in other ways that I have no problem forgiving the unrealistically fast investigation. This is one movie that deserves to be seen more often.
My biggest complaint about Thirteen Women is that we barely get a chance to see Peg Entwistle. Peg Entwistle is infamous for having committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood Sign in 1932, but she was first and foremost a very promising stage actress. Bette Davis always cited Peg’s performance as Hedvig in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” as being her biggest inspiration to become an actress. Thirteen Women was the one and only film Entwistle made and if you blink, you’ll miss her. It’s too bad that now no one will ever be able to see just how talented she really was. I know I’d love to get a good look at the woman who inspired Bette Davis!