|Directed by||Robert Altman|
|Produced by||Robert Altman|
|Written by||Robert Altman|
|Music by||Gerald Busby|
|Editing by||Dennis Hill|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||124 minutes|
It depicts the increasingly bizarre, mysterious relationship between a woman (Duvall) and her roommate (Spacek) in a dusty, underpopulated Californian town. The story came directly from a dream Altman had, which he did not fully understand but nonetheless adapted into a treatment, intending to film without a script. 20th Century Fox financed the project on the basis of Altman's reputation. A script was completed before filming, although, as with most Altman films, the script was preliminary for what emerged during production.
Roger Ebert named this best film of 1977.
For 27 years, the film was unavailable on home video. It gained the reputation of a cult film after frequent broadcasts on television in the 1980s and 1990s. The film was finally released on DVD in 2004 by the Criterion Collection, with a feature-length commentary by Altman. In 2011, it was released on Blu-ray, also by Criterion.
Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), a timid and awkward young woman, begins a job at a health spa for the elderly in a small California desert town. There, she becomes enamored of Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a confident and talkative employee. Both natives of Texas, the two begin to develop a friendship and, in spite of their stark personality differences, decide to become roommates. Pinky moves in with Millie at the Purple Sage Apartments, owned by a has-been cowboy, Edgar Hart, and his wife Willie (Janice Rule), a mysterious pregnant woman who paints striking and unsettling murals.
Millie takes Pinky along on her evening visits to Dodge City, a local tavern and shooting range also owned by Willie, where Millie talks incessantly. Tensions begin to rise between Pinky and Millie over their living situation; one night, when Millie prepares a dinner party for friends who fail to show up, she gets into a fight with Pinky and leaves the apartment, only to return with a drunk Edgar, and the two have sex. Pinky, distraught, jumps off the apartment balcony into the swimming pool.
Pinky survives the attempt but goes into a coma. Millie is devastated, and begins to visit Pinkie daily. When Pinky still doesn't wake up, Millie contacts and invites Pinky's parents in Texas to see if their presence will awaken her. She wakes up, but doesn't recognize them and furiously demands that they leave. Once sent home to live with Millie again, Pinky begins to exhibit increasingly uncharacteristic behaviors— she begins drinking and smoking, has an affair with Edgar, and spends her time at the shooting range, just as Millie had.
Millie becomes increasingly frustrated by Pinky's imitative shift in personality, and begins to exhibit Pinky's timid and submissive personality herself. One night after Pinky has a bad dream (represented through an abstract montage of Millie crying and Willie's bizarre murals), a drunk Edgar enters their apartment and awakens them, telling them that Willie is about to give birth. The two drive to Edgar and Willie's farmhouse, where Willie is alone and in labor, and she gives birth to a stillborn.
The film ends with Pinky and Millie, who are now working at Dodge City; a delivery vendor at the tavern references Edgar's "gun accident" to Millie, who seems unaffected by it, and Pinky appears to have reverted to her childlike timidity; she now refers to Millie as her mother. Pinky and Millie leave the tavern and walk to Willie's farmhouse, where the three of them begin to prepare dinner together.
- Shelley Duvall as Mildred "Millie" Lammoreaux
- Sissy Spacek as Mildred "Pinky" Rose
- Janice Rule as Willie Hart
- Robert Fortier as Edgar Hart
- Ruth Nelson as Mrs. Rose
- John Cromwell as Mr. Rose
- Sierra Pecheur as Ms. Bunweil
- Craig Richard Nelson as Dr. Maas
- Maysie Hoy as Doris
- Belita Moreno as Alcira
- Leslie Ann Hudson as Polly
- Patricia Ann Hudson as Peggy
- Beverly Ross as Deidre
The minimal plot involves two women whose personalities are in sharp contrast when they first meet and move in together. The third woman of the titular three is a key supporting character—a mural artist (played by Rule) who owns, with her husband, the same apartment building. The events take place in a small desert community typical of those found east of Los Angeles. For obvious reasons the film has a dream-like quality, focusing more on behavior, mood and mystery than on plot devices.
What the film is about exactly is open to interpretation, and even Altman said he was not sure what the ending means but has a "theory" about what happens. What is clear is that the two principal characters undergo a transformation in which they exchange their relative status to each other. In this way, 3 Women has a kinship with Bergman's Persona (1966).
Duvall plays Mildred "Millie" Lammoreaux, a woman who is very confident of her personal charisma, and her attractiveness to men in particular, despite the fact that the men she hits on openly mock her. In the director's commentary on the Criterion edition, Altman claims that Duvall was responsible for creating her character's diary entries, recipes, and much of her dialog in the film. Spacek plays Pinky Rose, a naive, childlike woman, who refuses to talk about her past and who initially idolizes Duvall's character, but eventually comes to dominate her. They both work at a physical therapy facility and much of the film takes place at their apartment building, where the third woman, Willie Hart, played by Janice Rule, creates striking and somewhat unsettling murals (actually painted by the artist Bodhi Wind).
Shelley Duvall won the award for Best Actress at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival for her performance, and from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Sissy Spacek won the Best Supporting Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle.
For years, the film was not available in home video in any form. This was alleged to be due to music rights; reportedly, the distributors of Altman's films Images, California Split, 3 Women, and Health, had not negotiated music rights for home video release of the films, and, due to their relative obscurity, they were never expected to be released.
3 Women was the first of these films to be released when The Criterion Collection licensed the rights from 20th Century Fox. The DVD includes an anamorphic transfer in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio and a commentary track by Robert Altman.
The film was released on Blu-ray on September 13, 2011.
- A Dream Movie From Altman Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Sep 1976: e10
- "Festival de Cannes: A Child in the Crowd". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
- 3 Women at the Internet Movie Database
- 3 Women at AllMovie
- 3 Women (1977) at Rotten Tomatoes
- Criterion Collection essay by David Sterritt