The Greatest
Femmes Fatales

in Classic Film Noir

1954 - 1956

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
Movie Title Screen
Film Title and Director, Femme Fatale and Description

Human Desire (1954) (aka The Human Beast)
d. Fritz Lang

Vicki Buckley (Gloria Grahame)

Fritz Lang's grim, noirish tale of fate, infidelity, blackmail and obsessive passion was based on Emile Zola's 1890 novel La Bete Humaine, This remake was already filmed twice before: the silent film Die Bestie im Menschen (1920, Germ.) and Jean Renoir's French film La Bête Humaine (1938, Fr.) (aka The Human Beast).

Vicki Buckley (Gloria Grahame) was the amoral, brassy, manipulative and sexually-frustrated wife of violence-prone, moody and depressed railway yard worker Carl (Broderick Crawford). The film's tagline described her: "She was born to be be make trouble!"

After Carl was fired from his job, he had his wife Vicki intervene with powerful John Owens (Grandon Hughes), her mother's former boss, to restore his job. When brutish Carl suspected that she had slept with the man for favors, he stalked and then murdered Owens with a knife in a train compartment

Returning Korean War veteran and train engineer Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) became inextricably involved the day of the murder while off-duty, when he witnessed that Vicki was present at the murder scene. During the trial though, he protectively avoided identifying Vicki as the passenger he saw near Owens' compartment.

Soon, Vicki was confessing to Jeff how her abusive marriage was crumbling and they entered into a passionate adulterous affair. His libidinous desire for her (and Vicki's own murderous intentions) led him to nearly kill her violence-prone husband, because Carl was threatening blackmail (if she left him) with an incriminating letter that he made her write.

In the film's conclusion after Carl was fired again, he accused Vicki of infidelity. In turn, she taunted him by admitting her affair with Jeff and that Owens had seduced her to acquire Carl's job. Insanely jealous, Carl then strangled Vicki to death.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
d. Robert Aldrich

Gabrielle/Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers)

Aldrich's Cold War Era masterpiece was a jarring and violent film that was an adaptation of Mickey Spillane's novel of the same name. It was the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time - at the close of the classic noir period.

The independent film featured a cheap and sleazy, contemptible, fascistic, hardened private investigator/vigilante named Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) whose trademarks were brutish violence, the end-justifies-the-means philosophy and speed. The tough PI ruthlessly pursued the white-hot, deadly apocalyptic object in a mysterious 'Pandora's box' ("the great whatzit"), ultimately leading to nuclear catastrophe and annihilation.

In the questing tale, he was driving one night toward Los Angeles when he met up with an hysterical mental asylum escapee named Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) who was hitchhiking in the middle of the road - naked except for her trenchcoat. She claimed that she had been improperly detained at the institution. She claimed she was named after the poet Christina Rossetti - and her last words to Hammer were: "Remember me" (both spoken and mailed in a letter to him after her death). The two were apprehended by thugs and she was quickly tortured and killed (gruesomely with pliers off-screen) by the evil pursuers. One of the villains was later revealed to be Dr. G.E. Soberin (Albert Dekker), a trafficker in atomic material produced during the Manhattan Project (in Los Alamos, NM).

Hammer was aided in his search by his sexy, pimping secretary/lover Velda (Maxine Cooper). In the Jalisco Hotel, he came across Christina's ex-boardinghouse 'roommate' - the real femme fatale of the film. She was 'Lily Carver' (Gaby Rodgers) - a pixieish, waif-like blonde with closely cropped hair wearing a white, terry-cloth bathrobe. She was reclining in bed and had a gun pointed at his crotch, but she was a deceptive fraud. She provided him with her false name (her actual name was Gabrielle) and was revealed to be impersonating Christina's roommate Lily Carver - whom she had killed.

Hammer soon learned that Christina was a scientist who had a 'secret' regarding a radioactive explosive missing or stolen from the Los Alamos, New Mexico Nuclear Test Site. From a morgue, he retrieved a key that Christina had swallowed, leading to a locker at the Hollywood Athletic Club, where the 'great whatzit' was found. It was a leather-bound and strapped case with a searing white-hot light emanating from within.

In the film's climax at a Malibu beach house, Dr. Soberin's betrayed accomplice Gabrielle shot him, and as he died, Soberin sternly warned:

Listen to me, as if I were Cerberus barking with all his heads at the gates of Hell, I will tell you where to take it. But don't, don't open the box.

Gabrielle then wounded Hammer in the stomach after seductively commanding:

Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar's kiss that says 'I love you' means something else. You're good at giving such kisses. Kiss me.

Disobediently, she raised the cover on the box and became a flaring pillar of fire as it consumed and incinerated her. Hammer escaped with a kidnapped Velma, and they watched from the beach as the house was soon engulfed with a wave of flashes, fireballs, and series of mushroom-cloud explosions.

The Killing (1956)
d. Stanley Kubrick

Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor)

Kubrick's classic black and white heist film, told as an overlapping and interweaving jigsaw puzzle of flashbacks, was a story of greed and infidelity.

The crime film starred Sterling Hayden as Johnny Clay, an ex-con who recently served time in Alcatraz and was involved in a doomed-to-fail $2 milllion horse racetrack robbery with a disparate group of other criminals.

The aftermath of the robbery went horribly wrong, due in part to the greedy scheming of inside-man window teller George Peatty's (Elisha Cook, Jr.) two-timing, cynical femme fatale wife Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor), who was in cahoots with her slick gangster boyfriend Val Cannon (Vince Edwards).

The morning of the heist during breakfast, Sherry again nagged George about their poverty-stricken lifestyle: "I can't stand living like this, in this crummy apartment and a hamburger for dinner," although she was encouraged by the fact that she would soon be rich after the robbery when she could run off with Val. Following the heist, Val barged into the pre-arrangement meeting place (an apartment) where the surviving gang members (all but Johnny who had been delayed by traffic) had met to split up the money. Val demanded the stolen loot. A deadly shoot-out occurred when he attempted to steal the money.

After staggering home to his apartment, the sole-surviving, fatally-wounded George confronted his faithless wife Sherry ("Why did you do it?"), and denounced her for conspiring with Val and planning to run away with him. Sherry believed that the money would bring her out of poverty and revitalize her life. George was tipped off when she warned: "You'd better get out of here before he gets here." Before expiring, George shot her in the abdomen, and as she died, she told him:

"It isn't fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punch line."

Sherry The Morning of the Heist

Fatally-Wounded George

The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
d. Raoul Walsh

Mamie Stover (Jane Russell)

Well-stacked Jane Russell starred in this 20th Century Fox Cinemascopic drama as trashy heroine Mamie Stover - a title character adapted from the 1951 novel by William Bradford Huie.

After being escorted out of San Francisco by the police to a steamer bound for Honolulu in 1941, Mamie struck up a shipboard romance on the freighter with science-fiction writer Jim Blair (Richard Egan) (when he saw her as "a shapely Cinderella with a yearning heart").

He was unable to meet her challenge of making a lady out of her when she found employment as a dance-hall hostess (in the 50s, that was a euphemism for 'prostitute') at The Bungalow, led by Madame Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead). She dyed her hair a bright red color - asserting that it was good for business: "They've been calling me flaming Mamie" and that it was familiar for her to hear abusive names: "I'm used to dirty names."

Her relationship with Jim was tarnished by her disreputable occupation ("a number on my back") - and the many prohibitions against prostitutes at the time (hostesses were forbidden to have boyfriends on the "outside," were not permitted to go to Waikiki Beach, and could not possess a bank account).

Mamie's lifestyle conflicted with the standards of Jim's refined, good-girl lady friend Annalee Johnson (Joan Leslie), but he fell in love with Mamie anyway and asked her to marry him, once he had served his time in the Army. She accepted his ring and promised to leave The Bungalow.

However, during the war, her lucrative profession began to pay off when she became a war profiteer and started purchasing cheap real estate: "I'm gonna buy real estate with every dollar I can raise!" Her continuing ambitions as a successful "working girl" (she became a star attraction with half of the profits of the dance-hall) with wealth and social status, ultimately doomed their happiness. Jim summarized their differences: "Anything for a dollar, Mamie? We don't think the same about how life should be lived."

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