Female Trouble

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Female Trouble
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Waters
Produced by John Waters
Written by John Waters
Starring Divine
David Lochary
Mary Vivian Pearce
Mink Stole
Edith Massey
Cookie Mueller
Susan Walsh
Michael Potter
Music by John Waters
Bob Harvey
Cinematography John Waters
Edited by John Waters
Charles Roggero
Saliva Films
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • October 4, 1974 (1974-10-04)
Running time
97 minutes (Original)
92 minutes (16mm cut)
89 minutes (Theatrical)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25,000

Female Trouble is a 1974 dark comedy film co-composed, filmed, co-edited, written, produced, and directed by John Waters starring Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, Michael Potter, Cookie Mueller, and Susan Walsh.

The film is dedicated to Manson Family member Charles "Tex" Watson. Waters' prison visits to Watson inspired the "crime is beauty" theme of the film and in the film's opening credits, Waters includes a wooden toy helicopter that Watson made for him.


In 1960 in Baltimore, juvenile delinquent Dawn Davenport, a regular troublemaker at her all-girls school, receives a failing Geography grade and a sentence of writing lines for fighting, lying, cheating, and eating in class. On Christmas morning, Dawn fails to get the cha-cha heel shoes she wants for Christmas. After breaking into a violent rage and pushing her mother into the Christmas tree, Dawn runs away from home and, while hitchhiking, gets picked up by Earl Peterson, a fat man driving an Edsel station wagon. Peterson drives Davenport to a dump, where they have sex on a dirty mattress on the side of the road. When she later finds herself pregnant and demands money from him, he tells her, "Go fuck yourself", which Divine had indeed done by playing both roles.

Dawn gives birth to her daughter Taffy and works as a waitress, go-go dancer, hooker, and petty thief—working the latter two jobs with delinquent friends Chiclet and Concetta through the mid '60s. In 1968, Taffy is now eight years old and driving her mother to violence (beating her with a car antenna). Dawn complains to Chiclet and Concetta about the demands of motherhood, and they suggest she cheer herself up by getting her hair done by a stylist named Gator, who lives with his morbidly obese aunt, Ida, who constantly pleads with him to "turn queer". Dawn becomes a client of Gator's at the Lipstick Beauty Salon, owned by Donald and Donna Dasher. Dawn and Gator marry, but five years later, in 1974, their marriage is complicated by the fact that Taffy, now fourteen years old, hates Gator. When Taffy catches her mother and stepfather having sex, Gator suggests she join them in bed, to which Taffy replies, "I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!"

Fed up with Gator's infidelities and his penchant for reading magazines while penetrating her with tools such as hammers and pliers, Dawn leaves Gator and starts divorce proceedings. She seeks solace at the Lipstick Beauty Salon, where the diabolical Dashers ask her to be a "glamorous guinea pig" for a "beauty experiment": They want to test Jean Genet's theory that "crime equals beauty". At their behest, Dawn performs several crimes including knocking her daughter unconscious with a chair after a fight during which a narcissistic Dawn happily poses for their photographs. Ida then bursts into Dawn's house and disfigures her face with acid when Gator leaves to pursue work in the auto industry in Michigan. Dawn lands in the hospital and, though hideously disfigured, the Dashers and her other friends convince her she's pretty and discourage her from having reconstructive plastic surgery. After leaving the hospital, Dawn returns to find her home redecorated by the Dashers, who've kidnapped and confined Ida to an oversize bird cage. After encouragement from the Dashers, Dawn cuts off Ida's hand. Taffy comes home and, after becoming unhinged at the sight of a grown woman in a bird cage with a bloody stump, pleads with her mother to reveal the identity of her real father, which she reluctantly does.

Taffy finds her father living in a dilapidated house and drinking excessively. She stabs him to death with a butcher knife after he tries to sexually assault her. Taffy returns home and announces she is joining the Hare Krishna movement. Dawn warns her she will kill her if she does. Dawn, now with grotesque hair, make-up, and outfits provided by the Dashers, creates a nightclub act. Backstage on opening night, Taffy appears after freeing Ida from the bird cage. Upon discovering that Taffy is now a Hare Krishna, Dawn strangles her to death while the Dashers and their minions cheer her on. Dawn performs her nightclub act, which includes jumping on a trampoline and wallowing in a playpen filled with dead fish. She revels in the ideal that beauty is an art form born from crime:

She then yells out, "Who wants to be famous? Who wants to die for art?" and shoots into the crowd. Several people are wounded and others are trampled while fleeing the scene. Police allow the Dashers to leave after Donald and Donna claim they are upright citizens caught in a bloody rampage. Dawn flees into a forest but is soon arrested by the police. At Dawn's trial, the Dashers are granted "total immunity" by the judge in exchange for their testimony against her. They claim to be shocked by Dawn's crime spree, although they engineered and encouraged it. Ida testifies against Dawn for kidnapping her and amputating her hand, when actually the Dashers kidnapped Ida and told Dawn to cut off her hand (even providing her with the axe). After Dawn is found guilty and sentenced to die in the electric chair, the Dashers are seen paying Ida for her testimony.

In jail awaiting execution, Dawn has an affair with another prisoner (Elizabeth Coffey). Dawn tells her lover being executed will make her famous, "like winning an Academy Award". Indeed, when a delirious Dawn is strapped to the electric chair, she gives a speech as if she were winning an Oscar:

After receiving a fatal electric shock, Dawn is immortalized as her distorted face is shown in freeze frame with the end credits rolling over it.


Theme song[edit]

The lyrics to the title song of the same name, sung by Divine, were written by Waters and set to a pre-existing piece of music.

Production notes[edit]

  • The unique production design is by Dreamlander Vincent Peranio, who created Dawn's apartment in a condemned suite above a friend's store.
  • Divine chose to perform his own stunts, the most difficult of which involved doing flips on a trampoline during his nightclub act. Waters took Divine to a YMCA, where he took lessons until the act was perfected.
  • The birth scene was saved until the end of shooting, when Dreamlander Susan Lowe gave birth to a son. The umbilical cord was fashioned out of prophylactics filled with liver, while the baby (Ramsey McLean) was doused in fake blood. The scene created quite a scandal for Lowe's mother-in-law, who arrived on the set in a state of confusion.[1]
  • Although Dawn Davenport was executed at the end of the film, US capital punishment was suspended from 1972 to 1976 due to the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Furman v. Georgia. Maryland didn't formally reinstate capital punishment until July 1, 1975 and its constitutionality wasn't passed until 1976. Furthermore, asphyxiation in the gas chamber was the authorized method of execution, not electrocution.
  • On the 2004 DVD Director's Special Comments, Waters states that the original working title of the film was "Rotten Mind, Rotten Face".[1]


The film has a 79% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[2]

Alternate versions[edit]

The initial 16mm release of the film which was shown at colleges ran 92 minutes. However, when the film was blown up to 35mm and shown theatrically, it was cut to 89 minutes. This version was the only version seen in the United States for many years. However, a recent restoration was done of the original cut, which runs 97 minutes; it has played at this 97-minute length in Europe, however, since its initial release.

The 97-minute version was shown only in select theaters and was included in an out-of-print DVD set paired with Pink Flamingos (Female Trouble is still available on DVD as a single disc and as part of a DVD box set, Very Crudely Yours, John Waters). This version also has a soundtrack remixed in stereo surround. The 97-minute version contains some additional scenes, including the chase through the woods, as well as an appearance by Sally Turner, the Elizabeth Taylor look-alike customer in the Lipstick Beauty Salon (Turner served as Divine's double in the junkyard sex scene between Dawn Davenport and Earl Peterson)

The film was shown in the 89-minute cut when re-released in 2002.

The 97-minute version is now available on DVD and includes an audio commentary by Waters.


Baltimore writer/director Erik Kristopher Myers saw Female Trouble as a fourteen year-old. "It completely warped my brain," he said. He became an independent filmmaker because of the movie, and went so far as to cast George Stover (the chaplain who walks Divine to the electric chair) in his 2013 thriller Roulette (film).[3]

Use in song[edit]

Samples from the film were used in the song "I Don't Wanna Be a Homosexual" by Sloppy Seconds, specifically the dialogue where Aunt Ida tries to persuade Gator to offer himself to homosexual men.


  1. ^ a b c John Waters (2004). FemaleTrouble DVD Special Ed. (DVD). New Line Cinema. 
  2. ^ Female Trouble at Rotten Tomatoes
  3. ^ https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0LrTvJ_ilf8

External links[edit]