(photo credit to Criterion.com)

David Thomson

“…. Shelley Duvall in 3 Women is a conception and a performance that take one's breath away as we forget Hollywood figureheads and face a daft, pretty girl whose personality is as unstable and grating as a marble on a hard floor, rolling this way and that.”

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film
Second Edition (1980), 7
(Get Spacek)

Andrew Sarris

“I happened to interview Altman shortly after 3 Women had been conceived as a dream project…. I was impressed with Altman's resilience even though I was not overwhelmed by the casting of Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek as two of the three women. This was before Bernice Bobs Her Hair and Carrie, and both actresses struck me as too quirky in tandem to represent a reasonable range of womankind….

“…. The film inspired by that dream has since taken on an existence of its own. For one thing, Shelley Duvall wrote about 80 per cent of her dialogue, and thus can be said to have collaborated on her characterization with Altman. It is curious that Shelley Duvall's Millie Lammoreaux as a True Confessions type bears a striking resemblance to the gun-happy adolescent Sissy Spacek played in Terence Malick's Badlands. That the two actresses are virtually interchangeable [?], and the two characters virtually inseparable, gives 3 Women a passing resemblance to Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Of course, the extraordinarily vivid sensuality of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann provides a visual subtext of erotic entanglement at odds with the self-deprecating eccentricities of Duvall and Spacek. Consequently, Bergman's famous superimposition of one face on another verges on vampirish possession, whereas Altman distances himself from his characters and keeps them distinct from each other.

“There are other differences as well… Ever since Monika Bergman has dealt almost exclusively with articulate, attractive, accomplished protagonists with the capacity to serve as spokespersons for the director. Altman's characters, with the possible exception of the doomed McCabe, are down and away from the director's gaze, which mixes irony and compassion in about equal amounts. Perhaps the reason that Altman can allow his players so much freedom to improvise is that they are so completely confined in a formal box that all they actually improvise is the degree and dexterity of their wriggling. From an Aristotelian standpoint Shelley Duvall's Millie Lammoreaux and Sissy Spacek's Pinky Rose are such hopeless nitwits that they are not worthy of all the attention lavished on them. The last time that Bergman even took a stab at such a low-life character was with the Bibi Andersson unwed mother in Brink of Life, but one could never have imagined Bergman’s Bibi cast as either Millie or Pinky. Bergman's characters, regardless of class or sensibility, are afflicted with memory. The past is palpable in their personas. Altman's characters fashion their lives from moment to moment in a perpetual present with no roots in the past, and no regrets for lost innocence….

“…. [In the opening shots,] the sustained lyricism of Altman's (and Chuck Rosher's) contemplative and ever moving camera, the curiously affecting meticulousness of Shelley Duvall's motions and expressions counterpoised with the enchantingly childlike unabashedness of Sissy Spacek's mimickry and emotions, the moody sobriety of Gerald Busby's meditative score, and a spell cast by images that precede and transcend plot and character, all combine to transform potentially profane grotesquerie into sacred ritual….

“Once Millie Lammoreaux and Pinky Rose begin interacting as psychological basketcases desperately in search of love and identity, the film shifts for long stretches into a kooky comedy of manners. At times Spacek and Duvall become the Laurel and Hardy of the spaced-out age as they turn every trivial detail of everyday living into a monumental challenge to their ingenuity. Millie takes Pinky under her wing and into her apartment, and there are low-grade Texas-twangy echoes of All About Eve when Pinky filches Millie's precious diary for a quick look-see. There is a subsequent suggestion of Pinky's taking over Millie's life, but again, the stakes seem ridiculously low. How much like has Millie to lose? [I sensed a strong spirit.] If Pinky is first introduced to us as a sexual cipher, Millie is exposed again and again as a social leper. All her dates have ended in degradation, all her one-night stands have ended in oblivion, all her parties have ended in ridicule. It is not that Millie is surrounded by monsters. The people who mock her are shown doing so quietly and subtly and unostentatiously. They simply want to be rid of her, but she refuses to be rebuffed. Millie could be written off as a nerd were it not for something magical in Shelley Duvall's performance. Not since Katharine Hepburn's Alice Adams has a female character displayed as much wrong-headed generosity and courage as does Shelley Duvall's Millie. As I write these words I become aware that I am describing Millie as if she were a character on a printed page. But if I want to convey what 3 Women really is as opposed to what it merely means, I could do worse than try to evoke Shelley Duvall's stride as she walks from one social Clavary to another. There is so much spiritual grace in that stride, and so much wisdom in Altman's decision to follow that stride to the ends of his scenario, that one is ennobled simply by witnessing the bonds of compassion between the director and his actress. Nothing else in 3 Women is quite so overwhelming as the cumulative gallantry under stress of Shelley Duvall's Millie. It makes everything Fellini ever did with Giulietta Masina seem patronizing by comparison.

“Most people I have talked to cannot buy the last part of 3 Women…. What they don't say is that they secretly yearn for some humanist affirmation in a realistic framework…. Altman dares to 3 Women with an idea rather than with a feeling. It is not entirely clear how he got to that idea; but I do not mind the ellipsis since its effect is to make Millie and Pinky and … [Willie] larger than life. I cannot even pretend to know at this point what Altman feels he has to atone for, but I am awed by his eventual elevation of Millie and Pinky from groundlings to goddesses….”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, April 11, 1977
(Get Spacek)

David Denby

“…. Robert Altman, with 3 Women, continued his experiments in form and elicited--from Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek--the most accomplished acting we've yet seen in his films…. Altman's spooky meditation on female identity and the death of male domination was a box-office flop but it should become a staple in revival houses. This American Gothic Persona reverberates with the skills of two young actresses every bit as good as Liv and Bibi: Shelley Duvall as the pathetically deluded Millie and Sissy Spacek as the initially adoring and eventually vicious Pinky. Unfortunately, Altman's failure with the third woman--Janice Rule's Willie--sends the film drifting off into vagueness.”

David Denby
Boston Phoenix, January 3, 1978
(year-end review)

Stephen Schiff

“…. Robert Altman rather pointedly let it be known that 3 Women emerged from a dream he had, one so detailed that it eliminated casting problems by featuring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek….

“…. Then there are the performances, all wonderfully communicative -- especially by Shelley Duvall, who wrote most of her own exquisitely banal dialogue, and Sissy Spacek, who here, as in Carrie, transforms herself from wallflower to Fury with extraordinary conviction. Duvall is at once graceful and gawky, radiant and pathetic. Her Millie Lammoreaux, self-proclaimed queen bee of the spa, is a tall resilient creature who fancies herself life's tour guide, a beacon for those benighted souls who haven't discovered the recipes, household hints, and medical fads she's culled from sundry oracles of consumerism….

“…. Altman senses that women searching for identity have their own way of molding each other. He subscribes to a male fantasy of femininity more common in European literature and film than American: that, whereas men separate themselves through competition and striving, women share a "twin-ness"; an unaccountable current passes between them….”

Stephen Schiff
Boston Phoenix, date ?
[some may be left out-(Get Spacek)]

Stephen Farber

“3 Women has a brilliantly realized sense of place. It also has a compelling dramatic premise and two sharply drawn characters--Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a frivolous Cosmo girl, and Pinky Rose (beautifully played by Sissy Spacek), a small-town hick who comes under her spell. As Millie, Shelley Duvall gives a sublime performance and creates the most memorable character in any movie of recent months. To say that she creates the character is not in this case an overstatement; she reportedly wrote much of her own dialogue and based the character on her own observations and experiences growing up in Texas.

“Shelley Duvall has previously been most effective as the frail country waif in Thieves Like Us and as the frighteningly sophisticated L.A. groupie in Nashville. In 3 Women she combines those two characters. Obsessed with color schemes and recipes, dates and swimming parties, Millie embraces all the shallow values of the American suburban high school; her dreams have been formed by TV commercials and women's magazines. Ironically, Millie is a horrendous failure in the tacky world she reverses [sic]; while she struts and preens and flirts like Lady Clairol, her "friends" either ignore her or mock her right within earshot. One might see Millie as a sad, deluded figure, except that she is too indefatigable to be pathetic. Since she has absolutely no self-pity, it would be presumptuous to pity her. In her stubborn adherence to her own distorted view of the world, she's as comically single-minded as a character from Dickens, and she's so totally oblivious to other people's rejections that one cannot help marveling at her resilience….”

Stephen Farber
New West, May 9, 1977
(Get Spacek)

Pauline Kael

“…. 3 Women might have been a success if it had been 2 Girls, because almost everything to do with Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in the first hour had affection and humor. You could feel his love of these actresses (and the assurance they drew from it), and he showed his feeling for the comic beauty in pop and trash and kitsch (a feeling he shares with Godard); it was lovely, fresh sociological comedy about two working girls from Texas. But the paintings under the titles and the electronic score gave intimations of aesthetic howlers to come… The film was stunted by the archetypal female mysticism of the second hour; it was an act of devotion to sit through it….”

Pauline Kael
New Yorker, October 2, 1978
When the Lights Go Down, 442
(review of A Wedding)
[see comments on Duvall from Popeye]

David Ansen

“…. Millie--a tall, skinny Texan with antelope eyes, a Cleopatra hairdo, and a numbing enthusiasm for inane chatter--is a terrible loser. [So why don't you kill her? (I hate that word.)]

“…. Like it or not (and I like it a lot) there can be no denying the extraordinary grace of Altman's camera, his uncanny evocation of atmosphere, or the way that he can simultaneously show us--through the brilliant performances of Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duvall--the stature behind the vapidity of his characters….”

David Ansen
The Real Paper, May 7, 1977
[left out “just a tad”- (Get Spacek)]

Stanley Kauffmann

“…. (Altman makes many stale jokes about their sorry ideas of interior decoration and gourmet cooking.)….

“Reviewing [Welcome to L.A.] recently…, I said that Spacek was supplying the oyster-eyed gauntness that usually comes from Duvall in Altman productions. I'd forgotten, if I ever knew, that 3 Women was en route with both of them. Duvall to me is a skeletal figure with just enough acting gift to show how much she lacks. Spacek … is marginally better-looking and more gifted….”

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic, April 30, 1977
Before My Eyes, 42
(Get Spacek)

Jack Kroll

“Millie Lammoreaux, as her name indicates, is the amorous one, looking for love…. And with her airs and graces she's a joke--"thoroughly modern Millie"--to fellow tenants at the garish singles apartment complex she calls home. Her guestless dinner parties are orgies of ersatz consumerism …. Getting daintily into her precious little car, she always leaves part of her skirt outside the door. For Pinky, Millie is the height of sophistication, everything she wants to be. When she moves in with Millie, they form a bizarre ménage--two heartbreaking phantoms smiling across a pastel void.

“In "Images," Altman didn't succeed in getting into the chambered nautilus of a woman's mind. Here he succeeds with three women….

“Altman's dream of three women expresses his sense that human beings have become more vulnerable than ever to pain, loss, betrayal, cruelty, and shame. He's right, but his film has an originality and beauty of form that moves you beyond the force of its insight. He has savage compassion…. Like Ingmar Bergman, Altman can evoke acting at its deepest expressive level. He does that here, with the haunted, prophetic beauty of Rule, the twisted innocence of Spacek, and especially from the astonishing performance of Shelley Duvall, who becomes a major American actress as the girl whose sweetness turns grotesque under the sun of the American desert.”

Jack Kroll
Newsweek, date ?
(Get Spacek)

John Simon

“…. And what impressive performances!

“Sissy Spacek has already demonstrated her ability to to shuttle between utter innoncence and troubled quirkiness with the utmost ease, or to grow from ugly duckling into radiant maturity. As Pinky, she reconfirms it stunningly. Even more remarkable is Shelley Duvall, who improvised some 80 percent of Millie’s dialogue, and deserves scriptwriter’s credit. With gentle yet harrowing accuracy she embodies a submediocrity with delusions of mediocrity. And she creates an amiably aggressive gooniness that expertly allows charm and pathos to shine through—idiotic charm, but charm still.

Altman belabors his points hammers and tongs. Thus the girls whose nicknames are Pinky and Millie are, he tells us, both called Mildred; and Willie is only Millie with the initial upside down. But when Duvall learns that Spacek became Pinky to escape from a hateful name, she asks Spacek what she imagines Millie to stand for. As Spacek becomes aware of her gaffe, Spacek gives her a look—a short, quick look, yet brimful of amusement, exasperation, condescension, and complicity. That is art.”

John Simon
National Review, April 25, 1977

draft

Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek
3 Women 1977



Get Canby