Hedy Lamarr and Jane Powell compete for George Nader, 21 August 2016
"The Female Animal" (1958) is a behind-the-scenes movie, revealing of Hollywood. Albert Zugsmith, a Hollywood insider, wrote the story and produced the film, so he should know. The screenwriter is Robert Hill, who had written "Female on the Beach" three years earlier, also produced by Zugsmith. This is another Universal-International widescreen film in beautiful black and white, with cinematography by Russell Metty. A highly professional movie-making team was in place at that time.
The story bears a superficial resemblance to "Sunset Boulevard" in that Hedy Lamarr, an aging actress, sets up a handsome movie extra (George Nader) in her Malibu beach house as a kept man. Nader, like William Holden, goes along with the romance only up to a point, which is when Lamarr buys him a wardrobe of expensive suits. By chance Jane Powell, who is Lamarr's daughter, gets involved with Nader too (similar to Holden's taking up with Nancy Olsen). This daring triangle with incestuous overtones spices the melodrama, as does a very sexy Jane Powell. Like mother, like daughter, she comes on to Nader in her bathing suit. To add further interest, we have vintage Jan Sterling as another aging star with an acid-tongue who makes no bones about rounding up Nader too. Sterling has some of the best lines in the film, counseling Lamarr how to hold on to a lover.
Opinion about Lamarr's acting in this movie is sharply divided. Mine is that she does a great job developing her character subtly with a well-written part. She is so used to seducing men that she has her method down pat, and she is genuinely bewildered when Nader doesn't completely cotton to the role of kept man. I'll repeat what I wrote about her 6 weeks ago in "Dishonored Lady": "Lamarr is underrated as an actress, but her performances are holding up very well indeed after many decades, which means they're still fresh, relevant, interesting, conveying pertinent emotion, not dated, not boring and not in some style that's now looked down upon or that looks strange to later tastes." In "The Female Animal", a nurse tells Lamarr: "I've always thought that you were a much better actress than the roles they gave you".
This is not as ambitious or big a movie as "Sunset Boulevard", but it looks great and is fun in its Hollywood references. It has authentic atmosphere throughout in locations and lesser roles.