Female Trouble

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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 date
  • 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.


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.

Dawn runs away from home in a rage after her parents didn't get her the "cha-cha heels" she wanted for Christmas. She hitches a ride with Earl, and they have sex. Dawn falls pregnant but Earl refuses to support her and she gives birth to Taffy alone. Dawn works various jobs including waitress and stripper to support herself and Taffy, whom she tortures and beats mercilessly through her childhood. Dawn continues to act as a thief and a fence, in league with school friends Chicklet and Concetta.

To raise her spirits, Dawn begins frequenting the Lipstick Beauty Salon to have her hair done by Gator Nelson, who is also her neighbor. The Lipstick Beauty Salon is an exclusive salon run by high fashion freaks Donna and Donald Dasher who believe that "crime and beauty are the same". Dawn marries Gator whose aunt Ida (Edith Massey) badly wishes that her nephew was gay (Gator is generally tolerant of homosexuality but is adamantly straight) and Ida therefore loathes Dawn. When the marriage fails Dawn has Gator fired and the Dashers enlist Dawn to model in their photographic exploration of "crime and beauty".

Gator leaves to work in the auto industry. Ida blames Dawn and exacts revenge by throwing acid in Dawn's face. The thrilled Dashers continue to court the scarred Dawn discouraging her to have corrective cosmetic surgery and continue to use her as a grotesquely made-up model. The Dashers kidnap Ida, keeping her caged in Dawn's home as a gift to Dawn, encourage Dawn to chop off Ida's hand, and get Dawn hooked on the drug Liquid Eyeliner. Taffy is distraught over these events and finally convinces Dawn to reveal the identity of Taffy's father.

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. Having fatally strangled Taffy back stage, Dawn pulls out a gun onstage during her act and begins firing into the crowd.

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 and put on trial for murder.


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.
  • Waters explained in a 2015 interview[1] that Dawn Davenport's look was based on the woman in the famous 1966 Diane Arbus photograph of a young Brooklyn family on a Sunday outing[2]
  • 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. Divine also nailed a difficult outdoor stunt involving sleet and rain, to the point where he did the athletic stunt without his wig being dislodged.
  • The birth scene was saved until the end of shooting, when Dreamlander Susan Lowe gave birth to a son and said yes to Waters' request that they film her son as Dawn's baby. 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.[3]
  • 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 (coincidentally, this was just 24 hours before John Waters had a "special sneak preview" of the film at a state prison where he did volunteer creative writing classes for inmates) 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".[3] He changed it because he didn't want to leave the door open for hostile film critics to refer to his film as "rotten".


The film has a 79% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[4]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3M-t64qkD8
  2. ^ http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/06/diane-arbus-arbuss-box-of-ten-photographs.html
  3. ^ a b c John Waters (2004). FemaleTrouble DVD Special Ed. (DVD). New Line Cinema.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help);
  4. ^ Female Trouble at Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]