The Greatest
Femmes Fatales

in Classic Film Noir


Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir
(chronological by film title)
Introduction & 1941 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946-1 | 1946-2 | 1947-1 | 1947-2
1948 | 1949 | 1950-1952 | 1953 | 1954-1956 | 1958

Greatest Femmes Fatales in Classic Film Noir
Film Title and Director, Femme Fatale and Description

The Big Heat (1953)
d. Fritz Lang

Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame)

Fritz Lang's bleak, film noir crime classic and violent melodrama featured a bereaving, iron-willed, driven, and unrestrained honest homicide cop named Sergeant Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford). He was on a one-man embittered crusade against corruption in the person of big-time local mob boss confront Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby).

The crusading, vigilante rogue cop/hero was forced to erode his idealistic, law-abiding principles when he resorted to the unlawful tactics of the hoodlums after the tragic car-bomb murder of his young wife Katherine 'Katie' (Jocelyn Brando) by sadistic, viperous gang members.

He was also investigating the alleged suicide of fellow cop Tom Duncan, and suspected Duncan's evil and greedy blackmailing widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) as the murderer. He was also looking into the brutal torture and murder of Duncan's mistress Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green).

Lagana's brutal, sadistic, reflexive, cold-blooded henchman Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) kept his vainly narcissistic, brassy, free-spirited femme fatale girlfriend/moll Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame) in tow in a sado-masochistic, abusive relationship. After jealously-vindictive Stone tossed a pot of scalding hot coffee (off-screen) on one side of her face and disfigured her, Debbie joined forces with the homicide detective for revenge.

Debby went to Bertha Duncan's place, where she noticed that they were wearing similarly expensive mink coats - uniting them as victims of a spreading disease ("We're sisters under the mink"). They were symbolic badges of ugly corruption and signified the 'good-life' that they had both bought with dirty money, although she once said: "I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better."

The scarred femme fatale cold-bloodedly murdered Bertha with three gun shots. She also splashed Vince's face with hot coffee to scald it - but was fatally shot twice in the back in retaliation.

She avenged Bannion's wife's death and tried to change and adopt a decent life, but lost her own life (like Bannion's martyred wife) in bringing the gangsters to justice.

Niagara (1953)
d. Henry Hathaway

Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe)

Hathaway's Techni-colored noir provided the perfect star vehicle for curvy sexpot Marilyn Monroe, who was compared to the famous falls in one of the film's taglines: "A raging torrent of emotion that even nature can't control!"

At a cabin near the famed vacation spot, tension quickly developed between unstable, shell-shocked WWII veteran George Loomis (Joseph Cotten), married to a beautiful and voluptuous younger blonde named Rose (Marilyn Monroe). She was a sinfully-wayward, unhappily married woman and trashy femme fatale.

She ignited the screen when she sang the song "Kiss" in a tight-fitting, low-cut pinkish-red dress.

She was cheating on her husband and plotting his death with secret young lover Ted Patrick (Richard Allan) to collect on George's life insurance policy.

When George suspected her of the plot, he killed Patrick in self-defense and then decided to "stay dead" to start his life over.

In a suspenseful revenge scene, George pursued Rose and strangled her to death in a shadowy bell tower, and then told her corpse:

I loved you, Rose. You know that.

In the climactic conclusion, a desperate George went over the falls to his death.

One Girl's Confession (1953)
d. Hugo Haas

Mary Adams (Cleo Moore)

Hugo Haas, this low-budget B-film's director, also served as the film's writer, producer, and actor. The crime drama's three taglines characterized the film's femme fatale:

  • "I confess I'm the kind of girl every man wants - but shouldn't marry!"
  • "Men and Money and Me... Go Together!"
  • "Maybe I'm bad - BUT WHAT MAKES YOU SO GOOD!"

The main character was bad girl/femme fatale Mary Adams (voluptuous blonde Cleo Moore), a waterfront restaurant worker who stole $25,000 from her abusive, crooked boss Gregory Stark (Leonid Snegoff), her aging father's ex-business associate. She then hid the money (buried in a tin box), turned herself in and served time, with a plan to retrieve the money afterwards.

Once released from jail on parole, she returned to her job in the waterfront restaurant, now run by Dragomie Damitrof (Hugo Haas) - and considered offering him the stolen funds when he lost heavily at gambling.

When she believed that he had swindled her out of her money, she confronted him in his swanky apartment, and struck him over the head with an empty champagne bottle - believing that she had accidentally killed him. She then became distraught when she learned that he hadn't used her funds at all, but had experienced a lucky gambling streak instead.

Mary confirmed that the money was still buried in the garden, and took the money in the tin box, to donate it to the Sacred Heart Orphanage. She then turned herself into the police for the crime of murdering Damitrof.

In another of the film's twisting plot developments, the police discovered that Damitrof was alive. He apologetically offered to rehire her to work in the restaurant.


Pickup on South Street (1953)
d. Sam Fuller

Candy (Jean Peters)

Fuller's action-packed, raw thriller-noir opened with a scene on a crowded New York subway during rush-hour, where tough-minded ex-con pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) edged flirtatiously close to femme fatale prostitute Candy (Jean Peters) to make her his latest petty-theft robbery victim.

McCoy stole/fingered (symbolically filmed like a violating rape) sensitive government microfilm in an envelope (bound for Communist spies with her as the unsuspecting courier) from her purse as two other FBI agents conducting surveillance looked on helplessly.

With this chance encounter, McCoy became embroiled in the plot involving distrust, violence, and a fateful sexual attraction between the two.

Mistreated Candy's ex-lover and exploitative courier-contact Joey (Richard Kiley), had falsely told her he was selling chemical formulas to a rival firm. He was upset about the theft and convinced her, with her seedy connections, to locate the pickpocket and retrieve the microfilm.

When McCoy realized he had stolen microfilm, he hid it (knowing it would be worth alot in exchange) and then professed his innocence to the authorities who pressured him with patriotic appeals: "If you refuse to cooperate, you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A-bomb." He retorted: "Are you wavin' the flag at me?"

Candy located him at his run-down waterfront shack hideout, where he found her searching his possessions. He punched her unconscious and then stole her money before reviving her. A sweaty, rough and tumble, sado-masochistic love relationship ultimately developed between the two as she offered herself for the prized microfilm. He described his first kiss with her:

You look for oil, sometimes you hit a gusher.

He then riskily demanded that the "Commie" syndicate pay him $25,000 to return the film. To clear his name and involvement, Candy knocked McCoy unconscious and returned the film (with a frame missing) to Joey, although she was brutally beaten up and wounded and subsequently hospitalized.

He saw that Candy really loved him because she wouldn't tell Joey where he lived, and she also admitted:

I'm sorry I spoiled your big score. I know it sounds corny to you, but I'd rather have a live pickpocket than a dead traitor.

In retaliation, McCoy went after Joey and beat him mercilessly in the subway and then turned him over to authorities. He then resumed his relationship with Candy.

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