Bad Girls (1994): Femme-Driven Western with All-Star Cast

At first glance, a Western about women sounds like a great idea; after all, this time-honored genre has been dominated by male roles and male stars for too long.

The poster that Twentieth Century Fox made for Bad Girls promises excitement and fun, based on a cast that includes four of our most gifted and glamorous actresses: Madeleine Stowe, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, and Mary Elizabeth Masterson.

But upon seeing the film you realize that these beautiful women are totally wasted on an inept script that is also poorly directed by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused, Love Field).

In the production notes, Kaplan says, “I’m a huge fan of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, and I always wanted to see what it would like to work in the genre.” There’s nothing wrong in aspiring high, but in this case the gap between Kaplan’s ambition and end result, as evidenced on screen, is almost as big as the Grand Canyon. I don’t know if Kaplan had a chance to work on the script with its two writers, Ken Friedman and Yolande Finch, for he took over a troubled production after Tamra Davis, its original director, was fired.

The film is meant to be revisionist, that is to put a new spin on life in the Old West, which by now is so much saturated in myth and clichs that it could certainly use some new perspective. On the surface–and only superficially–Bad Girls is a feminist tale about four girls whose limited opportunities in the late nineteenth century forced them to work as prostitutes.

Unjustly accused of murder, the headstrong and defiant Cody (Stowe) is saved from the gallows by her three daring friends. As could be expected, the three women represent recognizable types: Anita (Masterson) is a recent widow about to lose her land because of laws that favor men; Eileen (MacDowell) is a beautiful New Orleans belle; and Lilly (Barrymore) is a spirited daredevil rider. Reaffirming the value of female camaraderie and bonding, the four Bad Girls (who are actually Good Girls) learn that they are stronger and more powerful collectively rather than individually.

Designer Susie DeSanto claims to have created the costumes after conducting a careful research of the actual period apparel. This may well be the case, though the way the women are photographed, you could mistake the picture for fashion show with all the posing and posturing that go around.

Disappointing as an agenda film, Bad Girls also doesn’t work as high camp, because there is almost no humor in it. Still, for producer Lynda Obst the fact that the men in this Western serve to complement the women is “exciting.” “Putting women in classically mythic heroic images which we traditionally only see associated with men thrills me.” I am curious to know if Obst made this statement before or after seeing the final cut.