In a dusty, under-populated California resort town, Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), a naive and impressionable Southern waif begins her life as a nursing home attendant. There, Pinky finds her role model in fellow nurse "Thorou... more »ghly Modern" Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a misguided would-be sophisticate and hopeless devotee of Cosmopolitan and Woman's Day magazines. When Millie accepts Pinky into her home at the Purple Sage singles' complex, Pinky's hero-worship evolves into something far stranger and more sinister than either could have anticipated. Featuring brilliant performances from Spacek and Duvall, Robert Altman's dreamlike masterpiece, 3 Women, careens from the humorous to the chilling to the surreal, resulting in one of the most unusual and compelling films of the 1970s.« less
"I first encounterd '3 Women' while flipping through the cable channels on a lazy summer day in 1997. I tuned into the movie right at the scene where Sissy Spacek was screaming at Shelley Duvall from a hospital bed, "DON'T CALL ME PINKY -- GET OUT OF HERE!" It was from this moment on that I became fascinated with Robert Altman's dreamlike masterpiece, '3 Women.' I made sure to tape it during a repeat screening, and for years hoped that it would make it to DVD, for it was never even released on VHS! So when I heard about Criterion giving it the deluxe treatment, I was very excited.'3 Women' is not a conventional film by any means. Every person I invite over to watch it, either loathes it or is so utterly puzzled that they need to have a stiff drink afterwards. It is not a film that all audiences will appreciate. However, those with an interest in unusual characters or artsy cinema should find it a rewarding experience, especially with repeated viewings. It's not so much a matter the film being ahead of it's time -- '3 Women' is in a timespace all of it's own! The strongest attraction of '3 Women' for me, is the remarkable performances by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. Duvall brings a sense of pathos and false reassurance to Millie. Can't we all think of some Millie-types who we know that try so hard to fit in with society but just fail miserably? Spacek, on the other hand, gives Pinky an other-worldliness that at times borders on a personality disorder right out of the DSM-IV manual. Like '2001: A Space Odyssey,' '3 Women' leaves several mysteries unanswered and leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks. For instance, why was Pinky was warned about the twins early on in the film? Why did Pinky give Ms. Bunwell Millie's social security number instead of her own? And of course, what was the inexplicable final scene all about? Criterion's DVD presention is acceptable. Robert Altman provides a commentary track which is more than welcome. There's also some interesting period photos, a teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer and two TV spots. I would have loved a documentary or some interviews with the cast, but I am quite satisfied with what is presented.Intriguing but never overbearing, '3 Women' is one of the most interesting and brilliant films of all time. Watch it with an open mind, and some wine -- perferably Lemon Satin or Tickled Pink, of course."
A True Cinematic Masterpiece
Don Pinkston | Lexington, Kentucky | 09/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Dreamlike. Hypnotic. Surreal. Creepy. Yes, Robert Altman's Three Women is all of those things. It's also a true cinematic masterpiece. Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek give two of the best performances ever put on film as Millie and Pinky, two assistants at a convalescent home in Desert Springs, California. Who is the most pathetic? Millie, who fancies herself a hip social butterfly when, in reality, she is either ignored by or made fun of by those she considers her confidants and admirers? Or Pinky, the childlike woman who idolizes her? It's a toss up, but these two women become roommates in a swinging singles apartment complex(The Purple Sage)and it isn't long before things start getting really weird. Shelley Duvall's performance here is mesmerizing in it's detail. In improvised monologues she rambles on and on about her (non-existant) beaus, her fab recipe for Chocolate Pudding Tarts, and her chance at becoming the new Brett Girl! It's hysterical! Sissy Spacek is just as hilarious in her wide eyed infatuation with Millie. But if you're thinking this movie is a comedy you are dead wrong. After a bump on the head during an attempted suicide, Pinky begins to think she IS Millie. Is she? Observing at a distance is Willie, the third woman, the pregnant wife of a former cowboy who paints bizarre portraits of a rape and murder among reptilian aliens. Once this theft of personality gets underway, the movie really starts to sink it's hooks in you. Based on a dream, writer/producer/director Altman has created a visually stunning (three-wheelers racing across the desert), provacotive, enthralling character study of three fascinating people. Forget the ambiguous ending--the real question is why hasn't this movie ever been released on video or dvd? I taped it off cable almost 15 years ago and wouldn't sell my copy for anything. For any serious Altman fan--this film is a must own."
Shelley Duvall RULES
Don Pinkston | 08/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Director John Ford once said that directors preside over accidents. Altman, who encourages his actors to contribute to the creative process by contributing dialogue, costumes, etc., has engineered some of the happiest accidents of all. His best pictures, like this one, Nashville, and The Long Goodbye, have a spontaneity that can't be faked. Shelley Duvall's character is a complete original. Her prattle--about recipes, tips for picking up men, and interior decoration--is fascinating because it's so precisely observed. Her relationship with Sissy Spacek is similarly unique. The first hour of the film, which is about the unfolding of this relationship, is so minutely rendered, so unusually paced and designed that it seems to belong to its own genre. But the last third IS like Persona, and is slightly less interesting. (Persona didn't need a re-make; it was perfect.) The ending has a slightly hokey feminist film-theory aura about it. But I'd still call this one of my favorite movies, if not my favorite. The costumes and color schemes remind me of how dull most movies look today. People say the picture is "dream-like" as if that were a liability. To me, the greatest movies ARE dreams, and in this one, the dream is so good that I'd almost rather not wake up. (Serious Altman devotees probably know just what sort of dreams he specializes in.) I would absolutely buy it if it appeared on DVD."
Altman's Obscurely Quiet Masterpiece
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 07/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"3 Women is one of the most compelling films I've seen in a long while. In some ways it features all of the familiar Altman traits (the quirky characters, the bizarre locations, the off-beat music, and the staggering this way and that storyline that, at times, threatens to dissolve into incoherence) but it also offers something that only a few of Altman's other classics have: moral depth.
I've tried to view all of Altman's seventies films but a few of them remain hard to track down. After many years I finally located California Split (recently released on DVD) and Thieves Like Us (still only available on VHS) but my favorite two Altman films are McCabe and Mrs. Miller (DVD) and The Long Goodbye (DVD). At least these two were my favorites before I viewed the most difficult to track down of all Altman films, 3 Women. Now its availbale on DVD but for years the only way you could see it was on late-night cable or in a New York art house revival of old Altman films. Nothing against 80's and 90's Altman but 70's Altman is where cinema begins and ends for anyone who grew up in that decade because Altman puts his finger right on something that no one even seems to see: that characters are always mysteriously disconnected from their surroundings, and that pop culture leaves its inhabitants curiously marooned in an artificial world and starved for connection to something real.
Altman has an uncanny knack for picking remote locations that simply re-inforce the feeling that each character is alone and buttressed by nothing but their own ingenuity. Whether its the beach house in Long Goodbye (which was Altmans own home at the time) or the rural suburbia of 3 Women these locations seem like utopian California dreamscapes that can with the bat of an eye turn into frightfully arid zones of psychic disintegration.
Altman was a painter for a time and though I am not aware of which painters he preferred I imagine he was influenced by the Bay Area figuritive artists like Diebenkorn whose Ocean Park series captures at once the lustre and menace of living in an enternally sunny oasis.
3 Women is frightening. Sissy Spacek is perhaps the most effective actress in recent cinema to make vacuity and emptiness seem so frightening. Shelly Duvall is equally good at conveying vacuity and emptiness but she fills her character "Millie's" void with an endless flow of words that at least provide her with the illusion that she is a coherent and functioning whole, thus rendering herself less vulnerable to the dissolution that Spacek's "Pinky" is powerless to ward off.
3 Women is best viewed with little foreknowledge of the story so I will not elaborate beyond that as to the psychic unraveling of these two. Suffice it to say that these two work in a kind of spa for the elderly. Its a location as bleak as the desert that surrounds it and equally void of emotion and character; the spa is run by the book and there is no room for anyone to show any individuality or to connect with others in any way but through professional roles and channels. Therefore Shelly Duvall's chattering is a constant earsore to her superiors, though to Sissy Spacek her chattering is like the one bit of proof that the spa does in fact have a pulse and that life does in fact exist.
The other two locations that figure prominently are the apartment complex (replete with seventies singles parties)and the desert bar where Millie and Pinky meet Willie, a highly eccentric artist-barkeep who expresses herself only visually. Her mosaics that decorate strangely unseen places like the unvisited and unseen oasis of a private pool bottom in the middle of nowhere are of haunting vengeful figures; the figures look Etruscan or Greek and they seem to forewarn of terrible things like the things in Greek tragedies.
The psyches in this film are each like unseen and unvisted oasis. We know next to nothing about the talkative Millie, the reticent wallflower Pinky, and the decidedly silent but intense and resentful Willie. All three do share one thing: they are women.
I urge Altman fans to view this, but also fans of Bergman's Persona, and DePalma's Sisters, and Polanski's Repulsion and fans of French directors like Claude Chabrol. This is an artsy (though in no way pretensious) film and not one you will ever fully cognitively master because it works at a level that defies rational, linear description.
Nashville is undoubtedly Altman's big budget masterpiece, but I think this one (now that people are able to finally view it) is becoming known as Altman's low-budget seventies masterpiece.
A film you will watch more than once, but I envy those of you who haven't seen it because the first viewing is the strangest. An absolutely singular experience."
Arguably Altman's greatest film?
Matthew Brewer | rural hell hole | 11/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is a real shame that Three Women has never been made available on any format but if it is going to be released on DVD this is a cause for celebration. Unconventional, unpredictable and original, Three Women defies description. It is devoid of any tradiational narrative devices and the film plunges you into a world you have never seen before. Three Women is strange, surreal,creepy and unlike anything you have ever experienced, uniquely Altman. Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek are unforgettable in their roles and Altman's skillful direction is nothing short of amazing. Highly recommended."