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

Criss Cross (1949)
d. Robert Siodmak

Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo)

This under-rated, fatalistic film noir featured unreliable characters, tenuous relationships, a diabolical and fatal love triangle, and twisting plots. It was told with flashbacks and a self-deluding voice-over narration.

The film opened with a striking aerial panoramic view of nighttime Los Angeles before the camera swooped down to a parking lot where a doomed couple's embrace was revealed by glaring headlights.

It told how love-sick, still-obsessed and infatuated ex-husband Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) returned to his LA family two years after a 7-month marriage to calculating femme fatale Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo). He was again snared into her web in the Round-Up nightclub, when he saw his ex-wife dancing the rhumba (to the tune "Jungle Fantasy") with an unnamed partner (an unbilled Tony Curtis in his screen debut). Steve fatefully brooded:

Anna. What was the use? I knew one way or the other somehow I'd wind up seeing her that night.

Afterwards, they rekindled their love when they took a swim in the early morning at Zuma Beach.

Steve was warned to stay away from the temptress by his mother (Edna Holland). LAPD Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) also pressured Anna to leave town, when Anna suddenly eloped to marry abusive, crooked gangster boyfriend Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Nonetheless, Steve met up with her again and engaged in a clandestine affair.

When caught together alone, Steve tried to deflect attention regarding their relationship. He quickly hatched a plan with Slim for a daytime payroll heist plan - that went horribly wrong. Steve was expecting to double-cross Slim and escape with Anna -- but he was himself double-crossed by Slim and horribly beaten up. Anna also planned to run off with her share of the loot.

In the film's dark and morbid finale, both Anna and Steve were gunned down by Slim at his seaside Palos Verdes rendezvous.

Gun Crazy (1949) (aka Deadly is the Female)
d. Joseph H. Lewis

Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

This was the quintessential, tabloid romantic/crime B-movie melodrama - it was another amour fou 'Bonnie and Clyde' crime spree tale with a dominant femme fatale, and a couple's erotic love and obsession with guns. There was a deadly sexual attraction between the two memorably disturbed and doomed trigger-happy sharp-shooter lovers who substituted gunplay for sex. The couple was:

  • gun-fixated Bart Tare (John Dall)
  • blonde, English sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

Bart first spotted her at Packet's Carnival when she was introduced: "So here she is ladies and gentleman, so appealing, so dangerous, so lovely to look at." Bart leaned forward intently for a closer look at his dream-girl/soul-mate come true, captivated and fixated on her domineering, gun-toting abilities that made her as good as any man. He was even more stimulated when she further demonstrated her dangerous feline talent and prowess by bending over and firing between her legs.

When Bart volunteered for the audience challenge, Laurie circled around behind him like a wild animal, sizing him up and eyeing him from head to toe - he glanced back at her - reciprocating the combative yet attractive gazes. After outshooting her and winning the contest, Bart was easily recruited for the gun act as her erotic partner.

After they were both fired from the carnival, they were married but their impoverished state caused Laurie (naked under her bathrobe) to propose an armed robbery to match her style of living:

I want to do a little living...Bart, I want things, a lot of things, big things. I don't want to be afraid of life or anything else. I want a guy with spirit and guts.

She threatened to walk out on Bart unless they both engaged in a life of crime. The blackmail scene ended with his sexual acquiescence and gratification, his decision to remain, and a close-up of his mouth inching towards hers for a passionate kiss.

The kiss dissolved into the gunshot blast of a gumball bowl - an orgasmic, erotic/violent beginning of their crime rampage as gun-toting 'wild animals.'

The film was noted for one unbroken take filmed from the backseat of the getaway car during a bank robbery scene.

Their crime spree ended with the couple hunted in a marshy and foggy swamp where they were surrounded - Bart shot Laurie after giving her one final kiss. Bart was compelled to shoot his insane, aggressive lover as a mercy killing - the only murder he committed in the entire film, in an act that adopted her own violent modus operandi.

Mistakenly believing that Bart had fired on them, a barrage of police gunfire abruptly cut Bart down and his body fell next to hers.

The Third Man (1949)
d. Carol Reed

Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli)

This film-noirish, visually-stylish thriller was set in a depressed, rotting and crumbling, 20th century occupied Vienna following World War II. Its tale of social, economic, and moral corruption told of a love triangle with nightmarish suspense, treachery, betrayal, guilt and disillusionment.

The three main characters were:

  • a foolishly-romantic, wimpy American writer of pulp westerns named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who tried to understand (and then decipher) the mysterious disappearance (and death?) after a vehicular accident of an old school friend
  • Harry Lime (Orson Welles) - ultimately revealed to be alive - an exploitative, morally corrupt, and chilling black-market drug dealer and racketeer (of diluted penicillin) working out of the Russian zone
  • Harry's grieving, dark-haired, Czech mistress/girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a Russian exile and refugee

Anna exuded a fatalistically-romantic attraction for Harry, partially because he had fixed papers for her to avoid repatriation by the Russians.

In the shadows while mourning Harry's supposed death, she wore Harry's striped pajamas in bed - monogrammed with HL on the left front.

Doltish hack writer Holly hopelessly fell in unrequited love with the melancholy Anna, Harry's mistress, but she was unresponsive to his clumsy advances.

Ultimately, Holly set up Lime in exchange for Anna's freedom from deportation to the Russians, and Lime was cornered and killed in Vienna's underground sewers by a gunshot from Holly's gun.

In the famed ending of Harry's second burial, Holly attempted to say goodbye to Anna. As she walked and approached toward him down the tree-lined, empty cemetery avenue, she stoically ignored him and continued by, passing him without paying any attention.

Too Late For Tears (1949) (aka Killer Bait)
d. Byron Haskin

Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott)

This great noir featured the tagline: "She got what she wanted...with lies...with kisses...with murder!" Popular femme fatale actress Lizabeth Scott starred as Jane, a crafty, manipulative, evil, and vicious pathological woman whose only goal was to get and stay rich.

The film opened with housewife Jane Palmer on a nighttime drive to a Hollywood Hills party with her husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy), when a leather bag of 'dirty money' was suddenly thrown into their open convertible by a passing car, after they inadvertently blinked their headlights. Although Alan wanted to do the right thing and turn in the money ("a bag of dynamite" he called it), Jane requested to keep the illicit $60,000 (it was stashed in a locker at Union Station), and started to lavishly spend the funds.

Due to her lowly upbringing, she was determined to keep the money from its rightful recipient and her husband, by using whatever means possible (including lying and murder).

When hood Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea), identifying himself as a private detective, arrived to acquire the blackmail money due to him ("Where's my dough?"), Jane used her seductive wiles and sexy teasing to keep him at bay (as he slyly told her: "You haven't anything to hide, have you?"), including promising to split the dirty money with him.

Jane's husband Alan ended up dead due to manslaughter (and at the bottom of a lake weighed down with concrete), while Jane preposterously claimed that her husband was missing due to running off with another woman.

To eliminate Danny, Jane poisoned him, and it was also revealed that she killed her first husband Blanchert (whom she married for money). He hadn't committed suicide as originally thought.

She fled to Mexico and when confronted with the truth, died when she fell from a ritzy hotel balcony.

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