3 Women (1977): Altman’s Surreal Tale of Bizarre Female Bond, Starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek

In 1977, Robert Altman directed 3 Women, one of his most experimental and psychoanalytic features, starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek.

Grade: B+

3 Women
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Theatrical release poster

The tale depicts the bizarre, mysterious relationship between a woman (Shelley Duvall) and her roommate and co-worker (Sissy Spacek) in a small, dusty Californian desert town.

Altman said he was inspired by a dream he had, which he adapted into a treatment, but the influence of Bergman’s 1066 Persona is unmistakable, especially in the issue of identity.

Sharply uneven, 3 Women begins like a breakthrough, but then succumbs to florid illusions of poetry and dreams.

Fox financed the project, and a screenplay was completed before filming.

Premiering at the 1977 Cannes Film Fest, 3 Women garnered Shelley Duvall the Best Actress Award.

Upon release, the movie divided critics, with some hailing it as an innovative masterpiece, while others dismissing it as pretentious and too goofy for its own good.

Critical Status:

Shelley Duvall won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Fest and by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), whereas Spacek earned the Best Supporting Actress from the New York Film Critics Circle.


Directed, produced and written by Robert Altman
Music by Gerald Busby
Cinematography Chuck Roscher
Edited by Dennis Hill

Production company: Lion’s Gate Films

Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: April 3, 1977 (New York City); April 29, 1977 (Los Angeles)

Running time: 124 minutes
Budget $1.7 million