The Greatest
Femmes Fatales

in Classic Film Noir

Part 2

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

Laura (1944)
d. Otto Preminger

Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney)

Preminger's hard-edged noir romance might be called a psychological study of deviant, kinky obsession, because almost everyone in the cast loved the title character Laura, who was not a classically amoral femme fatale.

While investigating socialite Laura Hunt's (Gene Tierney) murder, obsessed homicide police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) rummaged through Laura's bedroom drawers and lingerie, inhaled her perfume, and peered into her mirrored closets and then stared at her haunting, domineering oil portrait - and fell in love with the dead woman in the portrait. The film contained troubling necrophiliac themes and sexual obsession by the hard-boiled detective for the dead woman.

Celebrated, acidic-witted and homosexual columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) incisively described McPherson's obsession over the murdered bewitching woman ("...It's a wonder you don't come here like a suitor with roses and a box of candy...I don't think I ever had a patient who ever fell in love with a corpse").

Lydecker had also functioned as Laura's Svengali-like mentor and protective confidant in a platonic relationship, when he helped her become a successful advertising executive. Womanizing, effete Southern playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), whose marriage to Laura was recently called off, was also a prime suspect (he confessed later to being present at the murder scene when the off-screen shooting occurred).

Then there was the surprising scene when Laura suddenly walked into her own apartment - a murdered woman who mysteriously appeared over half way into the film - and the stunned look of McPherson who expressed shock when stirred from sleep as the "dead" Laura appeared and at first thought she was a ghost or figment of his imagination. She threatened to call the police: "What are you doing here?" - unaware of the news of her own slaying.

Laura was horrified to realize that she was caught in the middle of a murder case. The murder victim was actually a young model named Diane Redfern in her negligee, in a case of mistaken identity.

After reappearing, Laura herself became a prime suspect in the murder case, since it was possible that Laura killed Diane Redfern out of jealousy for her association with Shelby. Another suspect was Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson), Laura's wealthy, amoral spinster aunt who was neurotically in love with Shelby and decidedly defensive and jealous of the younger Laura, her engagement, and her possible forthcoming marriage to Carpenter.

The Woman in the Window (1944)
d. Fritz Lang

Alice Reed (Joan Bennett)

This tense film noir told about law-abiding, mild-mannered, middle-aged and married Gotham College Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson). He met beautiful, strange painting model and femme fatale Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) - when she emerged as a reflection next to a painting in an art gallery window.

Invited back to her mirrored apartment where she was wearing a diaphanous dress, they sipped champagne. He became embroiled in a crime due to his unintentional self-defense murder (by stabbing his assailant to death in the back with a pair of scissors) when he was attacked by her burly and jealous boyfriend Frank Howard (Arthur Loft) who had accused her of infidelity, and then suddenly found himself on the run and ready to commit suicide.

However, the entire plot was only a dream of his subconscious.


Detour (1945)
d. Edgar Ulmer

Vera (Ann Savage)

Edgar G. Ulmer's gritty, cheaply-made ("Poverty Row"), fatalistic, cultish B-crime film was about the bleak twists of fate ("Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all").

The nightmarish flashback story was cynically narrated with almost non-stop voice-over by a world-weary, fatalistic, self-pitying, down-and-out hitchhiker Al Roberts (Tom Neal). He had been haplessly involved in an ambiguous death during his thumbing trek from NY to Los Angeles.

After picking up a vulturous, nasty and despicable hitchhiker Vera (Ann Savage), she revealed her knowledge of his true identity ("You're a cheap crook and you killed him"). She accused Roberts of 'killing' ex-bookie turned businessman Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) who had earlier picked Roberts up, while he was hitchhiking in Arizona enroute to Hollywood. When Haskell suffered a heart attack, Roberts stole his car and adopted his identity.

Roberts commented upon fate and the blackmailing, castrating, exploitative, sadomasochistic and vindictive femme fatale con: "That's life - whatever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you up."

Vera's plan was to sell the car and also to claim a substantial inheritance from Haskell's dying father, by having them pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Haskell.

To make matters worse, Roberts accidentally strangled Vera with a telephone cord through a closed door during a vicious argument when she threatened to call the police. A second disastrous twist of fate for Roberts was signified by the in-and-out of focus shots from his deranged mental state and POV as he wandered the highways like a hobo. He imagined his arrest in a tawdry diner (to appease the Hays Code censors of the time).

Fallen Angel (1945)
d. Otto Preminger

Stella (Linda Darnell)

Handsome, smooth-talking, amoral drifter and con man Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) became entranced in a small California beach town with sexy diner waitress Stella (Linda Darnell) at Pop's Eats, but she ignored the down-and-out guy.

It was revealed that the manipulative and slutty sexpot was stealing money from the diner's till (stuffing bills in her bra).

To assure her favor, black-hearted Stanton seduced rich, blonde church organist June Mills (Alice Faye), the town's pure-hearted spinster, and married her after one date (and then even spent his wedding night with Stella) to get her inheritance.

He wanted to run off with Stella, but found her murdered and became the major suspect in the case investigated by Mark Judd (Charles Bickford) - who was ultimately found to be the killer.

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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