In the Spotlight: Female Trouble
Female Trouble – John Waters, 1974
“Nice girls don’t wear cha cha heels”
Female Trouble is one of my favorite John Waters movies and it didn’t take me as long to watch as Pink Flamingos did.
Female Trouble shows the life of a headline-seeking criminal, Dawn Davenport (Divine), all the way from her hair-hopper teenage delinquent years to mugger, unwed mother, nightclub entertainer, murderess and jailbird to her death in the electric chair. She runs away from her home on Christmas day after her parents get her the wrong Christmas present. All she wanted was a pair of cha cha heels.
Dawn then heads to the big city in search of the fast life and soon becomes pregnant by a man named Earl, who is also played by (Divine). Mink Stole plays her semi-demented daughter Taffy who plays a game where she reenacts fatal car crashes.
When Dawn has the baby in the movie they use one of John Waters’ dreamlanders, Susan Lowes’ newborn baby and prophylactics filled with liver to make it look like there was a real umbilical cord. After Dawn goes from career girl to thief she soon marries Gator (Michael Potter), a macho hairdresser who works at the Lipstick Beauty Salon. Dawn soon meets the owners of the salon, Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce), two fascists beauticians. [Sidenote: Female Trouble is the last movie that David Lochary is in as he passed away before John Waters made another film.]
Dawn is immediately flattered by the elitist attention. She becomes brainwashed and soon falls for their promises of stardom and becomes their guinea pig for their ‘Crime is Beauty’ program. Dawn’s neurotic belief is that the death penalty is the equivalent to the Academy Award in her chosen profession of crime.
The final prison scenes were actually shot in the women’s section of the Baltimore City Jail. The other female prisoner is the now post-operation actress that was in Pink Flamingos. The warden allowed John Waters to film under one circumstance: Divine had to be there too. The warden watched the filming and even his wife came down to watch too.
John Waters got the idea for the “Crime is Beauty” theme, on his way home from visiting Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, a central member of the Manson family, who he had been visiting since the Manson trials. Even though Charles didn’t agree with the theme he sent John a wooden helicopter he made to use in the credits. John Waters was the first visitor that Charles had after he was transferred to the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
The original title for the film was Rotten Face, Rotten Mind but John Waters changed it after he thought critics would use it to make fun of the movie in negative reviews. He got the name from visiting dreamlander Cookie Mueller after she was rushed to the hospital. When he went to see her he asked what had happened and she said, “Oh just female trouble, hon’.” He loved the sound of it. He even wrote the lyrics to the title song which was recently covered by The Melvins on their album Everybody Loves Sausages. Female Trouble is not only an amazing movie but the song is really good too.
The make up in Female Trouble is outrageous and the costumes are even more revealing than Waters’ usual, thanks to Van Smith. Variety magazine said, “The costumes made Fredericks of Hollywood look like Sears Roebuck.”
In Female Trouble we get more of Edith Massey who plays Aunt Ida. She is one of my favorite people I’ll never get to meet. All she wants is for her nephew to be happy and she worries that he’ll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries.
Divine sings the theme song for Female Trouble, plays two characters, and has a trampoline act. She even walked through a freezing river in full drag and made it across and hit her mark. The scene was cut from the 35-mm version but is still in the 16-mm version.
If you’re looking for crime personified, or if you’re a thief or shitkicker or just want to be famous go check out Female Trouble by John Waters, located in our cult section.