The Greatest
Femmes Fatales

in Classic Film Noir

Introduction


Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir: Classic film noir developed during and after World War II, taking advantage of the post-war ambience of anxiety, pessimism, and suspicion, and possibly reflecting male fears of female liberation and independence during the war years. Film noirs first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic "Golden Age" period until about 1960. A film noir story was often developed around a cynical, hard-hearted, disillusioned male character [e.g., Robert Mitchum, Fred MacMurray, or Humphrey Bogart] who encountered a beautiful but promiscuous, amoral, double-dealing and seductive femme fatale [e.g., Mary Astor, Veronica Lake, Jane Greer, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett or Lana Turner were the most prominent]. Femme fatale literally means "killer (or deadly) woman."

The character type of femme fatale was derived from the anti-heroine vamps of early cinema, such as Theda Bara in A Fool There Was (1915). She was first introduced as an evil temptress with her character name of Vampire, and she spoke her most-famous line of all: "Kiss me, my Fool!" The full-bosomed Bara, dubbed the "Vamp," was the screen's first femme fatale, predatory vamp and first movie sex goddess. She was a Hollywood creation who mixed ruthlessness and dark erotic sexiness into her numerous roles. Flappers in the Roaring Twenties, helped along with the popularity of "It" Girl Clara Bow, and the German film Pandora's Box (1929) with Louise Brooks as the iconographic and erotic femme fatale, also contributed to the archetypal development of the character.

The females in film noir were either of two types (or archetypes) - dutiful, reliable, trustworthy and loving women; or femmes fatales - mysterious, duplicitous, subversive, double-crossing, gorgeous, unloving, predatory, tough-sweet, unreliable, irresponsible, manipulative and desperate women. Usually, the male protagonist in film noir wished to elude his mysterious past, and had to choose what path to take (or have the fateful choice made for him).

Invariably, the choice would be an overly ambitious one, to follow the dangerous but desirable wishes of these dames. It would be to follow the goadings of the traitorous, self-destructive femme fatale who would lead the struggling, disillusioned, and doomed hero into committing murder or some other crime of passion coupled with twisted love. When the major character was a detective or private eye, he would become embroiled and trapped in an increasingly-complex, convoluted case that would lead to fatalistic, suffocating evidences of corruption, irresistible love and death. The femme fatale, who had also transgressed societal norms with her independent and smart, menacing actions, would bring both of them to a downfall.

A few of the greatest film noirs ever made didn't have a specific or major femme fatale role, such as: Kiss of Death (1947), Cry of the City (1948), The Naked City (1948), Raw Deal (1948), They Live By Night (1949), The Third Man (1949), D.O.A. (1950), In a Lonely Place (1950), Night and the City (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1951), Touch of Evil (1958) and The Big Combo (1955). See genre description of film noir.

Note:
The films that are marked with a yellow star are the films that Greatest Films has selected as the "100 Greatest Films".

Key to Icon Symbol: - The best (or greatest - worst - of all) femmes fatales

Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir
(chronological by film title)

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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