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3 Women: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

3 Women (1977) movie poster 3 Women

Theatrical Release: April 3, 1977 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writer/Director: Robert Altman

Cast: Shelley Duvall (Millie Lammoreaux), Sissy Spacek (Pinky Rose), Janice Rule (Willie Hart), Robert Fortier (Edgar Hart), Ruth Nelson (Mrs. Rose), John Cromwell (Mr. Y.R. Rose), Sierra Pecheur (Ms. Bunweill), Craig Richard Nelson (Dr. Graham Maas), Maysie Hoy (Doris), Belita Moreno (Alcira), Leslie Ann Hudson (Polly), Patricia Ann Hudson (Peggy), Beverly Ross (Deidre), John Davey (Dr. Norton)

Buy Robert Altman's 3 Women from Amazon.com: Criterion Collection Blu-ray Criterion Collection DVD Instant Video

While the 1970s gave rise to the modern blockbuster in movies like Jaws, Star Wars, and Superman, the decade's cinema was more populated by something we don't see too much of these days:
quiet adult character dramas. Light on dialogue and heavy on atmosphere, films like Five Easy Pieces, Save the Tiger, and Harry and Tonto were regularly recognized with critical raves and awards. They continue to be celebrated, but are rarely emulated today.

Robert Altman wrote, directed, and produced such a drama in 1977's 3 Women. Altman had earned acclaim and Best Director Academy Award nominations for the dark comedies M*A*S*H (1970) and Nashville (1975). Unlike most respected modern filmmakers, he worked regularly, helming one or two new films every year. 1977 found Altman in between his two most decorated periods; little of his work in between Nashville and 1992's The Player is well-known by name or reputation. His most familiar effort from that era is the uncharacteristic, unprofitable, and largely unloved Popeye. But 3 Women would play at the Cannes Film Festival and win a Best Actress award tie for Shelley Duvall. This was Duvall's sixth theatrical credit and her sixth for Altman, who would cease collaboration after Popeye, in which Duvall was appropriately cast as Olive Oyl.

Young new California spa worker Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) likes what she sees in her fellow Texan. Though the entire world seems to ignore her, Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) maintains a cheerful, social disposition.

Here, Duvall plays Millie Lammoreaux, a young woman from Houston who has moved to California desert. She works at a physical rehabilitation center, walking the infirmed elderly through therapeutic dips in the pool and showers afterward. There, Millie meets and trains Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek, fresh off her Academy Award-nominated breakthrough turn in Carrie), a young woman also from Texas.

Quiet Pinky quickly takes a liking to the chatty and ditsy Millie. She seems to be the only one. Millie is sociable and friendly, but no one else listens to her or wants anything to do with her. Pinky does, though, and develops an obsession for her co-worker. She arranges to become Millie's new roommate in her one-bedroom apartment. Pinky brings almost nothing to the home except some sewing skills. Though considering her new friend oddly reserved, Millie is happy to share her bathrobes and cook dinner for two.

One night, Millie brings a guy home, and asks Pinky to take the roll-out bed. The evening proceeds with Pinky "falling" into the complex's pool and requiring emergency care. The incident leaves Pinky comatose and brings out guilty Millie's caring side, as she visits her in the hospital every day and arranges for Pinky's elderly parents to come see her. When Pinky awakens from her coma, she is a changed woman. She doesn't recognize her elderly, emotionless parents. And she does not step back into her old mousy personality, instead assuming traits from Millie: fraternizing with men, taking target practice outside their one nearby saloon, and entertaining playful, married "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" stunt double Edgar (Robert Fortier).

The third woman of the title is the peripheral, mysterious, and mostly mute Willie (Janice Rule), Edgar's pregnant bartender wife who is often seen creating grotesque, sexual murals in and around swimming pools. Willie goes into labor in the film's gut-wrenching climax, which reveals just how much Pinky and Millie's initial dynamic has changed.

Following her pool fall-induced coma, Pinky (Sissy Spacek) has a less adoring attitude towards her roommate Millie (Shelley Duvall).

3 Women is engrossing and compelling, a fascinating study of two personalities who differ in the way they don't fit in with the world around them. So much is said in what is not said here. Millie's painfully ignored chatter and Pinky's silent infatuation complement each other nicely, lending intrigue to every moment they spend together or apart.
While it's neither needed nor expected here, Altman brings a nice amount of artistry to the production. This is most pronounced in an arresting late dream sequence, when we're admitted into Pinky's guarded, twisted and fearful mind. Other compositions also yield interesting effects, from the opening close-ups of saggy old spa patients (which wrongly lead you to expect the workplace maintaining a bigger role) to a shot where Millie's concerned face divides in reflection.

A movie like this could be made today, but it would be relegated to independent financing and art house obscurity and it wouldn't have the same resonance. Altman was renowned for his naturalistic approach of overlapping dialogue and ordinary circumstances. We see those qualities here and how the director is able to artfully meld them into high human drama. Some moments seem clearly unscripted and even those that aren't have a most believable spontaneity and unpredictability to them.

3 Women made its unpunctual home video debut back in April 2004 in a Criterion Collection DVD bearing the number 230 on its spine. In 2007, it was apparently bundled with Criterion's three other Altman releases in an Amazon.com exclusive box set. A couple of weeks ago, the movie beat those other Altman efforts (Secret Honor, "Tanner '88", and Short Cuts) to Blu-ray Disc, becoming the director's third film released on the hi-def format, following Gosford Park and The Player.

3 Women: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
LCPM Mono 1.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 13, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Clear Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($29.95 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


3 Women appears in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The Blu-ray lives up to Criterion's high restoration standards, looking terrific much of the time. Obviously a lower-budget movie, the visuals don't dazzle in the same way that some of its contemporaries could. But the print offers very good definition and only the rare white speck of intrusion. A few shots are quite grainy without logical intent, whereas others are deliberately hazy and dreamlike, as water rises to metaphorically fill the frame. The soundtrack is uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono and you could definitely say it is "adequite." Most of the natural dialogue is crisp and clear, but some of it may have you consulting the welcome English subtitles track.

Spacek/Duvall: Face Off is one of 175 Stills Gallery images. This TV spot is one of four pieces of original "3 Women" promotion presented on Blu-ray in varying HD quality. Set to score, this shot of dancing water reflections over a pool mural makes for a haunting Blu-ray menu visual.


3 Women is joined by the same modest collection of bonus features that accompanied it on DVD. By far most significant is an audio commentary by Robert Altman. He opens by explaining how the film came to him in a series of dreams -- complete with a title, a setting, and Duvall and Spacek as stars -- which he jotted down on a notepad and promptly sold to Fox.
The rest of the refreshingly grounded track remains engaging. Altman shares many thoughts on the characters, discusses his unsung influences (bad directors), and touches upon his filmmaking philosophies and priorities. Other notable topics include his first meeting with Shelley Duvall (with whom he credits much of the character of Millie), the conception of A Wedding, the notion of geriatric sex, artists ripping each another off, and the changing studio system. This is a must-listen.

A massive HD stills gallery supplies around 175 publicity and behind-the-scenes images, some of which are prefaced by captions. Among the more remarkable are those capturing artist Bodhi Wind creating Willie's pool murals.

The remaining four bonuses share with us items from the film's marketing campaign. They are in high definition but show their age. A teaser trailer (1:28) uses stills and diary voiceovers. The rugged full trailer (3:15) sets additional voiceover bits over clips, several of the diary entries unused in the film. Finally, there are two clear 30-second TV spots, which move faster and more conventionally. A "Play All" listing would have been nice for these, since the disc takes a short while to load and exit each promotion. They're fun to see and it's strange to think that distributor 20th Century Fox put these together while working on advertising the first Star Wars (released the same spring).

The Blu-ray's menu fixates on Willie's pool murals while light in the pool water bandies about and score plays. Free of disclaimers and promos, the disc supports bookmarks on the film and resumes playback even more competently than a DVD. Other studios really ought to ask Criterion how they do this; it makes the Blu-ray experience that much more enjoyable.

3 Women is packaged in a clear keepcase of Blu-ray height and DVD width that forgoes the standard format endorsement. The reverse side of the cover features a chapters list and artwork. Inside is a fold-out pamphlet ranking as one of Criterion's lighter liner booklets. Four of the eight pages provide transfer information, film and disc credits, and a cover. The other four go to the essay "Dream Project" by National Society of Film Critics chairman David Sterritt. It offers a good analysis of 3 Women while placing it in the context of Altman's career and the film industry at large, much like I did here before reading it.

The new and improved Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) takes shooting range target practice with cowboy Edgar (Robert Fortier), much like Millie did before her.


Robert Altman's 3 Women is an interesting drama unlike anything made outside of the 1970s. Good ideas, sharp exchanges, strong performances, and visual ingenuity all add up to an enjoyable and distinctive experience that will stay with you. The movie presently stands as the director's highest-rated film on IMDb and from what I've seen of his work, I would not dispute that.

The movie's Blu-ray debut is a lesser Criterion Collection effort, but that still is better than what most other studios would do for such a small, old movie. The feature presentation is great and the essay, trailers, gallery, and, most of all, Altman commentary add definite value. Selling in the $30 range, this set might be best appreciated waiting for one of Barnes & Noble's 50% Off Criterion sales. Nonetheless, I recommend the movie and this release of it.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Robert Altman: Nashville Popeye The Player
Featuring Shelley Duvall: The Shining The Chipmunks: Rockin' Through the Decades
Featuring Sissy Spacek: The Straight Story Tuck Everlasting Four Christmases
1970s Cinema: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Taxi Driver Chinatown Saturday Night Fever Rocky
Recent Criterion Collection Blu-rays: The Killing Beauty and the Beast (1946) Kiss Me Deadly
Black Swan The Roommate The Women (2008) For Colored Girls

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Reviewed October 2, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1977 Twentieth Century Fox and 2004/2011 The Criterion Collection.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.