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

High School Confidential! (1958)
d. Jack Arnold

Gwen Dulaine (Mamie Van Doren)

Jack Arnold's exploitative juvenile delinquent ("wild youth") cult film featured drug trade in a high school dope-pushing drug ring called the Wheeler-Dealers, lots of 50's slang words, and hep-talk ("Don't flip your lid", and "If you flake around with the weed, you'll end up using the harder stuff"). The film also contained switchblade fights, drag races, and Jerry Lee Lewis singing the title song in its opening from the back of a flatbed truck.

Russ Tamblyn starred as Tony Baker, an undercover cop posing as a new transfer student at Santa Bellow HS.

Platinum blonde sex-pot starlet Mamie Van Doren appeared as Tamblyn's 'bad girl' nympho, cat-in-heat guardian-aunt Gwen Dulaine. She sported a tight-sweatered, pointed 'bullet bra' covering her protuberant breasts, while vamping throughout the film when her husband was absent.

In the film's most memorable scene, bath-robed, sexually-aggressive Gwen confronted nephew Tony in the kitchen and planted a kiss on him: (Gwen: "Stop treating me like a stranger...Relatives should always kiss each other hello and goodbye, polite-like"). In another similar scene, the sex-starved seductress rolled around on the bed while Tony undressed behind his closet door.

Vertigo (1958)
d. Alfred Hitchcock

Madeleine Elster / Judy Barton (Kim Novak)

Hitchcock's late 50s' film was a mesmerizing romantic suspense/thriller about a macabre, doomed romance. Although not technically a film noir, it has often been considered the last true classic film noir before the rise of neo-noirs.

Its theme was desperate love for an illusion. Hitchcock's tale was an intense psychological study of a desperate, insecure man's twisted psyche (necrophilia) and loss of equilibrium. It followed the troubled man's obsessive search to end his vertigo (and deaths that resulted from his 'falling in love' affliction) and became a masterful study of romantic longing, identity, voyeurism, treachery and death. Other themes included female victimization and degrading manipulation, the feminine "ideal," and fatal sexual obsession for a cool-blonde heroine.

San Francisco ex-cop John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart), suffering from a fear of heights (acrophobia), was hired by old college friend - the well-dressed, prosperous, handsome Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), to trail his strange, neurotic, potentially suicidal wife Madeleine (Kim Novak).

Scottie's first view of the beautiful female was incredibly transcendental - she was half-seen in a close-up profile as she deliberately paused behind him in a restaurant. When she nearly drowned in San Francisco Bay, he rescued her and took her to his apartment where he first spoke to her. She was fearful and startled to find herself in a strange man's bed (and presumably naked). With a slight smirk - since he had previously seen her naked as he assisted her, Scottie chivalrously offered his maroon robe for her to wear.

He soon came under her mysterious spell and fell in love with her enigmatic beauty in a scene by the water's edge when they clung to each other and kissed passionately as the turbulent waves crashed melodramatically into the rocks behind them.

He was unable to prevent her 'suicidal' fall from a mission bell tower and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown.

Then when he happened to encounter her look-alike on a San Francisco street - a dark, red-haired woman named Judy Barton (also Novak) who was wearing a tight green sweater dress - he pursued her. And soon, he was remaking her into the woman that he had lost by modifying and transforming her appearance, clothing, and hairstyle, with her reluctant approval ("If, if I let you change it, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?").

While trying to recreate the past, they traveled to the mission where he pulled Judy into the church to recreate the death scene of chasing Madeleine earlier when he had experienced his acrophobia and vertigo. At the top of the tower, Judy confessed to plotting with Elster in the murder of his wife, and then accidentally fell to her own death in the emotionally-shattering climax.

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