Cast & Crew
On location for a film, movie star Vanessa Windsor lurches drunkenly into a complex scene that takes place on a suspension bridge, and, after catching sight of her daughter Penny standing with actor Chris Farley, loses her footing and plunges into the water below. Months earlier, Vanessa is walking across a movie stage when a large camera swings off a crane inches from her head. Chris, then an extra in the film, leaps to her rescue by pushing her out of the way, cutting his arm in the process. He is brought to Vanessa's dressing room to be examined by the doctor, where the studio publicity director immediately creates a story about the how handsome young man saved her life. Chris is thrilled when Vanessa then invites him to escort her to a movie premiere the following night. After the film, she drives him to her Malibu beach home and sets a romantic mood with drinks, music and a fire. As soon as Chris kisses her, however, Vanessa's maid calls to inform her that Penny is ill, after which Chris drops Vanessa off at her city house. There, she discovers that Penny is not sick but drunk, and when she chastises the girl, Penny raves that her mother adopted her only for the publicity. After Vanessa warns her about acting like a tramp, Penny accuses her of rolling in the gutter, and Vanessa slaps her. The next day, Vanessa visits Chris and offers him the job of caretaker of her beach house, and although he is concerned about appearing as a kept man, he cannot resist the opportunity. Soon after, Chris is having a drink at Tom Maloney's bar when his friend, independent producer Hank Lopez, offers him the lead role in an exploitation film he is shooting in Mexico. Although Hank cannot guarantee him a salary, Chris promises to read the script. Also there is a drunken Penny, who Chris does not know is Vanessa's daughter, with her date Piggy, a ruffian who asks Tom to pour extra vodka into Penny's drink. AfterTom refuses, Piggy grabs Penny and pulls her outside to his car, and when Chris leaves the bar soon after, he finds Penny attempting to extract herself from Piggy's clutches. When Chris tries to separate the two, Piggy punches him, but Chris knocks him out easily and offers to drive Penny home. Although drunk, she remains lively and flirtatious, and asks him to help her clean up before she goes home. He brings her to the beach house, and, when she starts to pass out on the couch, dunks her under the shower. This both sobers and infuriates her, and although she quarrels with him, she kisses him before leaving. The next day, Vanessa sends Chris six new suits as a gift, but he returns them, offended. She takes him to a restaurant that night to apologize, but there he is further affronted by aging star Lily Frayne and her lover, the young, handsome and very bored Pepe. Lily crassly suggests to Chris that he might benefit more from her tutelage, after which he storms off, prompting Lily to warn Vanessa to keep him dependent on her. Later at the beach house, Chris packs to leave, but Vanessa insists that her love is sincere. Although he tells her he cannot respect himself in their relationship, she begs him to stay, and he capitulates. One day when he comes home, Penny is sunbathing in the yard of the beach house. Hank then visits, and after Chris tells him he cannot travel to Mexico, both Hank and Penny assume that he is too comfortable being a gigolo to work. After Hank's departure, Penny grows more sexually aggressive with Chris, but when he finally gives in and kisses her, she reveals that she has guessed that Vanessa is his "employer," and threatens to reveal that he has kissed her. He spanks her, but when she breaks into tears, describing how she was sent to school when her age threatened Vanessa's vanity, Chris holds her tenderly. Later, Vanessa visits when Chris is asleep, and finding lipstick on a glass, races home in tears. Penny finds her drinking in anguish, and holds her mother as Vanessa sobs about her love for Chris. The next morning, Chris tells Vanessa that he is leaving for Mexico, but she manipulates him into agreeing to marry her. When she drives to the beach to pick him up, however, she finds a note declaring that he could not go through with it. She drives to his bungalow, and when she promises him that she does not mind if he has affairs, he cannot bring himself to turn her down again. Days later, Chris visits her film set, where Penny confesses that she loves him but realizes that Vanessa also truly loves him. Lily sees the two whispering, and deducing their involvement, congratulates Chris on gaining two women through one marriage. Disgusted by her innuendo, Chris finds the strength to break up with Vanessa, declaring that he does not want to be a legalized gigolo. Penny then reveals their affair to her, devastating Vanessa. Hours later, she performs her scene on the bridge and falls into the water, but Chris dives in and rescues her. She recuperates at her home, and when Penny and Chris visit, she declares that she is ashamed of her selfishness and wants them to be happy together. Penny leaves but Chris stays behind to check on Vanessa, and although she insists that she has finally grown up, she turns her head to her pillow and cries after he departs.
Richard H. Cutting
Leslie I. Carey
Russell A. Gausman
Ruby R. Levitt
Hans J. Salter
The Female Animal
Universal's low budget melodrama The Female Animal (1958) was one in a long line of Hollywood backstage films that exploited a business that had much storytelling potential. This 1950s cycle included The Star (1952), Singin' in the Rain (1952), A Star Is Born (1954) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954). However, The Female Animal was strictly on the end of the spectrum as a kitschy B movie. The story centers on a love triangle featuring an aging movie star (Hedy Lamarr), the handsome extra who saves her life (George Nader) and the adopted daughter who shares her mother's penchant for liquor (Jane Powell).
A team of Universal regulars including director Harry Keller, producer Albert Zugsmith and cinematographer Russell Metty had come on to this project after collaborating on Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958). This reliable trio would take on whatever Universal threw their way. Zugsmith, a self-starter and entrepreneur who ran various independent projects before coming to Hollywood, had developed a reputation for producing trashy exploitation pictures. Keller was a low-budget movie director and film editor who worked across genre for both Republic and Universal. Metty, known for his distinctive use of light and shadow and who had worked extensively with director Douglas Sirk, was quite nimble and would be assigned to projects ranging in genre, style, format and budget. Writer Robert Hill's original screenplay was titled Hideaway House, a reference to Lamarr's Malibu beachside cottage featured in the film but was eventually changed to a more suggestive title to play up the sexual nature of the story.
The Female Animal's biggest claim to fame is as the bookend to Hedy Lamarr's movie career. As a teenager, Lamarr made her debut in the controversial Czech film Ecstasy (1933). She eventually made a splash in Hollywood and was billed The Most Beautiful Woman in Films, a moniker that she held near and dear. After her death in 2000, Lamarr's legacy experienced a renaissance of sorts when her contributions to the development of frequency hopping during WWII were later connected to advancements in modern day technologies including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. However, in the late 1950s Lamarr's career was on the decline and the parts offered to her were not worthy of her talents. The Female Animal was her swan song, and the struggles her character Vanessa Windsor goes through closely mirror Lamarr's own real-life insecurities.
Co-star Jane Powell wrote in her memoir The Girl Next Door and How She Grew, "Hedy Lamarr was the only actor I ever had problems with... I don't think she'd ever played a mother before, and she was worried about her age; she thought of herself as perennially young... What a shame she was so insecure, because she was a real star and an incredibly beautiful woman." Powell, who was nearing 30, was only 15 years younger than Lamarr. Although the two play mother and daughter, they don't share a lot of screen time together. Powell wrote "she didn't even want to do any scenes with me, which was a little unreasonable since I was supposed to be her child, and that was the plot of the film." For Powell, The Female Animal was also an indicator that her own movie career would soon be over. By that point, she had left MGM and not only was this her first film for Universal, she was playing against type in her first non-singing role. She made four more feature films before moving on to television work.
Leading man George Nader, known for his rugged physique, was a Universal contract player often cast in beefcake roles. He was a few rungs down the ladder from Rock Hudson, the studio's biggest male star and a close friend of Nader's. In The Female Animal, Nader is clearly the object of desire; a man caught between two enigmatic women. He plays Chris Farley, a bit player who dreams of making it big but lacks the confidence to do so. Nader himself was increasingly frustrated with the decline in quality of the roles Universal threw his way. Like his character Farley, who agrees to a lead role in a friend's independent production in Mexico, Nader decided enough was enough and after this project decided to go freelance.
While the film did not do well at the box office, it deserves more attention than it has received over the years. It's got a fantastic cast of players including Jan Sterling, who plays Lily Frayne, another aging actress holding on to any semblance of her youth, and James Gleason who has a small role as bartender Tom Maloney. Powell delivers by inhabiting quite a sexy performance. According to writer Michael Barrett, who champions this film on the culture site Pop Matters, "it's not a waste of time for film buffs, especially those interested in Hollywood's stealthy attempts to be more frankly sexual."
By Raquel Stecher
The Female Animal
The working title of this film was Hideaway House. Although the Hollywood Reporter review states that the film contains "local location work," a July 1957 Los Angeles Examiner article discusses the special effects used to create the impression of an ocean background. June 1957 Hollywood Reporter news items add Isabel Dwan, Gail Bonney, Gertrude Astor and John Truex to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
Released in United States Spring April 1958
Hedy Lamarr's last film.
Released in United States Spring April 1958