The Greatest
Femmes Fatales

in Classic Film Noir

1950 - 1952

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 File on Thelma Jordon (1950) (aka Thelma Jordon)
d. Robert Siodmak

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck)

This film noir has been frequently compared to Double Indemnity (1944).

In the story, mysterious, duplicitous and treacherous femme fatale Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) captured the emotionally dependent heart of unhappily-married assistant District Attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Cory) and had an adulterous and illicit (but genuine) love affair with him, telling him: "Maybe I'm just a dame and didn't know it."

She had even confessed to him that she was lovelessly married to jewel thief Tony Laredo (Richard Rober).

The misguided and self-deluding "fall guy" DA threw aside his family, future, and honor and helped Thelma when her wealthy Aunt Vera Edwards was murdered. DA Cleve helped Thelma to reconstruct an 'untouched' version of the crime scene, so that neither of them would be suspected of foul play for tampering with evidence.

Thelma then claimed to Cleve that Tony committed the murder during the robbery of her aunt's valuable emerald necklace, made to look like an outside job. Although Thelma was charged for the murder (her aunt's recently-rewritten will in her favor was another factor) when she became a prime suspect, she was acquitted when Cleve took up the prosecution on her behalf and manipulated the case to her favor. He circumvented revealed evidence of a dark life of blackmail, gambling, and relationship with partner-in-crime Tony, and she was acquitted.

During a final confrontation, her lies and guilt eventually caught up with her. Tony forced Thelma to admit that Cleve had been set up to help defend her ("You must have known...You didn’t want to know"), and that Thelma had murdered Vera ("I'd like to say I didn't intend to kill her, but when you have a gun, you always intend if you have to").

As Tony and Thelma fled, their car crashed over a cliff when she struggled with Tony and a dashboard cigarette lighter.

Thelma was hospitalized, and in her deathbed scene ("You don't suppose they could just let half of me die?"), she confessed the full truth.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
d. Billy Wilder

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson)

Billy Wilder's classic black comedy/drama remains perhaps the most acclaimed, but darkest film-noir story about "behind the scenes" Hollywood, self-deceit, spiritual and spatial emptiness, and the price of fame, greed, narcissism, and ambition.

It opened with a view of the posthumous narrator, down-on-his-luck B-movie hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), who was sent to his doom and spoke beyond the grave as a dead man floating face-down in a swimming pool in Beverly Hills.

He recounted in flashback with voice-over narration about a six-month period during which he struggled to produce screenplays to meet the demands of the industry and satisfy the thirsty illusions of immortality and comeback of aging, waspish, megalomaniacal silent film queen Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in her decaying Sunset Boulevard mansion.

After being showered with bribes (clothes, money, flattery and other gifts), he was quickly spoiled and ensnared in her web of delusion - and death trap.

When Gillis first met Norma, she indignantly told him about the rise of the talkies and the end of the silent era: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small" and later claimed: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces."

During an aborted New Years' Eve party that she had hosted for him, she attempted to commit suicide by cutting her wrists with a razor when he left, and Joe felt obligated to return to her, thanking her: "You're the only person in this stinking town that has been good to me."

Inevitably, the jealous and delusional Norma retaliated against "kept man" Joe when he again threatened to leave and she cried out madly: "I can't face life without you, and you know I'm not afraid to die" - but then shot him as he packed up and walked away toward the outdoor pool.

When police arrived after the murder, the crazed and deluded woman was persuaded and coaxed to quietly come downstairs to a waiting car through a group of assembled reporters and cameramen - to surrender. She was fooled when made to think that she was experiencing her longed-for return and shooting a film scene for famous movie director Cecil B. De Mille. Disoriented, she spoke the film's final words:

All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close-up.

Angel Face (1952)
d. Otto Preminger

Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons)

Preminger's dark noir of murder, a love/hate relationship and betrayal (similar to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)) starred Jean Simmons as the gorgeous and sensual but insane Diane Tremayne. She was a psychotic 'angel of death' femme fatale, advertised with the film's tagline: "She loved one man ... enough to KILL to get him!"

The disturbed and spoiled heiress became infatuated with working class Beverly Hills ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) after she met him during a call to treat the mysterious gas poisoning of her own stepmother Catherine (Barbara O'Neill) at the Tremayne estate (was it suicide or attempted murder?)

After sabotaging Frank's relationship with his steady blonde girlfriend, hospital receptionist Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman) and hiring him as their family's chauffeur, Diane executed her diabolical scheme. She wanted to decisively murder her wealthy and controlling step-mother, in order to acquire Catherine's inheritance - and her well-respected novelist father Charles (Herbert Marshall) all to herself.

The plan seemed to work when they tampered with the Tremayne car. It was rigged to crash by accelerating in reverse. But the car crash sent both Tremaynes over a nearby cliff and killed both of them, causing Diane to suffer a nervous breakdown.

To exonerate themselves from charges of murder, Diane manipulated a naive Frank to marry her, and they were acquitted with assistance by defense lawyer Fred Barrett (Leon Ames).

Diane remained jealous of Frank's continuing contact with Mary and threats to divorce, and confessed to their lawyer that there was tampering with the car's transmission, but the double jeopardy rule prohibited a re-trial.

Fatefully in the surprise bleak ending, as Frank was packing to permanently leave for Mexico and they drove together to the bus station, Diane accelerated their car in reverse over an embankment and killed them both.

Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
d. Roy Ward Baker

Nell Forbes (Marilyn Monroe)

Three of sex-pot Marilyn Monroe's early roles were in dark and demanding dramas:

  • Clash By Night (1952)
  • Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
  • Niagara (1953) (see below)

In this film (her 12th film, but her first starring role), released shortly after the news of her scandalous nude appearance in a calendar photo-shoot, she starred as a shapely blonde widow named Nell Forbes.

She was hired to be a babysitter for one night in ritzy NYC's McKinley Hotel for guests Peter and Ruth Jones (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle), the parents of an 8 year-old girl named Bunny (Donna Corcoran).

While babysitting in the parents' room, she wore Ruth's lacy negligee (and her cosmetics and jewelry), and also flirted with a hotel guest, an airline pilot named Jed Towers (Richard Widmark), who saw her from a window across the courtyard, telephoned, and met up with her ("Be neighborly. Ask me in"). [Jed had just been dumped by his lounge-singer girlfriend Lyn (Anne Bancroft) in the hotel's bar for "lack(ing) an understanding heart".]

During their conversation (that included kissing, drinking, and flirting - with her boldly telling him: "I belong with you...Every time you looked at me, I wanted to kiss you, like now"), they disturbed and woke up the child. The disruptions led to confusion, and unbalanced and threatening behavior exhibited by Nell towards the young child. Bunny was almost pushed out the window and at one point bound and gagged on her bed.

Nell's dangerous sexuality showed her to be suicidal (with razor scars on her wrists), psychotic, and delusional (she believed Jed was her dead ex-boyfriend/fiancee Phillip).

By the film's conclusion, a painfully-damaged Nell was led away to a hospital for help, as a caring Jed assured Lyn: "She didn't want to hurt the kid. She didn't want to hurt anybody" - thereby setting up their own reconciliation.

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