The Greatest
Femmes Fatales

in Classic Film Noir

1946 - 2

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

Gilda (1946)
d. Charles Vidor

Gilda Mundson Farrell (Rita Hayworth)

Rita Hayworth was featured in this dark and complex noir (of a love triangle) with her sleek and sophisticated eroticism, lush hair and peaches and cream complexion. The 'love goddess' portrayed the sexy, hedonistic, auburn-haired wife of South American casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), who had recently hired gambling drifter Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) as his casino manager.

In one of filmdom's best-known film entrances, she was introduced as Balin's new exuberantly healthy American wife to Johnny (Mundson: "Gilda, are you decent?" Gilda: "Me?" (she gave a long, sensual look at Johnny, and pulled up one side of her strapless dress) "Sure, I'm decent"). As she spoke, she threw back her head and tossed her thick mane of hair in a blatantly sexual response. She was also the ex-wife of Johnny - who was entrusted with watching over her as her bodyguard.

With her lingering love for Johnny, Gilda served herself up to be the object of a tension-filled, love-hate relationship between the two sexual rivals, as Johnny expressed his obsessive love for her:

I hated her so, I couldn't get her out of my mind for a minute. She was in the air I breathed, the food I ate...

To torture and inflame Johnny's jealous passions, Gilda danced and flirted with another good-looking male escort named Gabe Evans (Robert Scott) - and when dragged from the casino dance floor by Johnny, Gilda delivered her most famous one-liner:

Didn't you hear about me, Gabe? If I'd been a ranch, they would've named me the Bar Nothing.

When Balin mysteriously 'died,' Johnny assumed control over the casino business and treated Gilda with increasing sadomasochism, vindictiveness and abuse after taking her as his wife.

In the film's most famous scene, Gilda - in a strapless black satin gown slit up to her thigh - gave a sultry and bawdy sexually-empowered performance as she stripped off her elbow-length black gloves to the tune of "Put the Blame on Mame."

In the upbeat finale to satisfy the Hays Code censors, Johnny admitted how wrong he was and they reconciled with each other after many months of an explosive relationship.

The Killers (1946)
d. Robert Siodmak

Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner)

This classic, definitive film noir (a tale of robbery, unrequited love, and brutal betrayal in a twisting double-cross) - an adaptation of a 1927 short story by Ernest Hemingway, was told in eleven taut flashbacks after a bravura opening murder sequence.

Two professional hit men cold-bloodedly murdered doomed ex-boxer Ole 'Swede' Andersen (Burt Lancaster, in his film debut) who had been hiding out in a New Jersey town under an alias for six years. He was warned in a nearby boardinghouse to flee, but was indifferent to their deadly approach and passively awaited his death on his bed. The Swede accepted his death stoically because, as he admitted fatefully: "I did something wrong once," referring to the film's complex tale of crime and treacherous betrayal - all revolving around a beautifully-glamorous, mysterious, double-crossing, manipulative, vixenish femme fatale named Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner).

At a swanky hotel party, the Swede first met and fell under the spell of gorgeous Kitty (wearing a sexy black dress and singing "The More I Know of Love") and her sleazy underworld racketeering friends, led by gangster/boyfriend Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker) (who was absent and in jail at the time).

The Swede first took a jail sentence rap in Kitty's place for stolen jewelry, and later, while planning a hat factory heist with Colfax, the Swede again fell under the allure of the treacherous Kitty.

Late one night just before the robbery, she duplicitously told him that he was being set up by the betraying Colfax, confessed her love, and told him:

I'm poison, Swede, to myself and everybody around me.

She then persuaded him to get revenge on Colfax by stealing the payroll. She lied to him, promising the Swede that the money would allow her to get away from her hated boyfriend Colfax.

Trusting blindly in Kitty, the Swede double-crossed the gang and robbed them of the payroll at the farm house, but then Kitty double-crossed him by stealing the money and ditching him.

The noir film ended when she was revealed to be Colfax's wife and partner in crime. She knelt by her husband's body as he was dying and again expressed how heartless and selfish she was. She repeatedly begged her dying husband to lie for her (as the Swede once did) ("Say, 'Kitty is innocent. I swear, Kitty is innocent.' Say it, Jim, say it! It'll save me if you do"), to save herself from serving prison time, and to confirm her innocence about the hired killers.

Colfax, her potential fall guy, expired after asking for a cigarette. His silence criminally implicated Kitty and condemned her.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
d. Tay Garnett

Cora Smith (Lana Turner)

This stylish, sexually-charged, moody and fatalistic film about lust and murder (adapted from James M. Cain's 1934 novel) by director Tay Garnett was best known for one of the hottest portrayals of a sultry and seductive femme fatale - it was one of "sweater girl" Lana Turner's finest performances as a seductress. It was advertised in the tagline with: "Their Love was a Flame that Destroyed!" [Note: Years later, the neo-noir Body Heat (1981) paid homage to it, and it was remade with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981).]

The film was advertised with posters that described the illicit passion between drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) and married, libidinous, restless and unsatisfied platinum-blonde waitress Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in a roadside cafe.

Frank's first look at hot-blooded, voluptuous Cora was prefaced by her lipstick case noisily rolling across the floor of the cafe toward him. The camera tracked back to her nude slim legs in the doorway. Frank looked at all of her - she was provocatively sexy and scantily clad in white shorts, white halter top, and white turban. Immediately smitten, Frank soon proposed to the voluptuous Cora to leave with the promise of adventure to escape her life of boredom and defeat, and her marriage of convenience.

They hatched a plot to get rid of her good-hearted husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway), although Frank knew that Cora's smoldering sexuality was also a trap which pulled him further toward murder. The lovers planned to eliminate the woman's unloved husband - unfaithful and soul-less Cora planted the idea of murder into Frank's head so that they could be together.

Their second awkwardly-executed attempt to kill Nick was successful, but ultimately led to their mutual destruction in unexpected ways. As the star-crossed lovers drove along the highway and neared their home after mutual recriminations and reconciliation, Frank asked for a long-awaited kiss as Cora said:

When we get home, Frank, then there'll be kisses, kisses with dreams in them. Kisses that come from life, not death.

Distracted during 'kisses that come from life' while he was driving, Frank ran off the road, killing Cora ('with a kiss that comes from death') in a fatal auto accident.

Subsequently, Frank was tried and falsely convicted of her murder, and in his last words to the priest in his cell before execution, accepted his fate:

Somehow or other, Cora paid for Nick's life with hers. And now I'm going to. Father, would you send up a prayer for me and Cora, and if you could find it in your heart, make it that we're together, wherever it is?

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
d. Lewis Milestone

Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck)

This sordid and noirish B/W melodrama told about three childhood friends who were brought together 18 years later for a climactic denouement regarding a murderous and guilty secret from the past, in the Pennsylvania town of Iverstown.

The film opened in 1928 with young heiress Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson as a girl) bludgeoning (with a cane) her domineering, tyrannical, mean-spirited, wealthy Aunt Ivers (Judith Anderson) to death (on a flight of stairs where she tumbled to her death) during a raging thunderstorm - revenge for caning to death Martha's beloved cat named Bundles. At the time, Martha had repeatedly been planning to run away with her young, street-smart boyfriend Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman as a boy).

The murder was thought to have been witnessed by both Sam, who fled town (and joined a circus) and by young Walter O'Neil (Mickey Kuhn as boy) who was at Martha's side. Walter was convinced by Martha to lie about the killing to save herself. In exchange for their help, Walter's scheming father Mr. O'Neil (Roman Bohnen), Martha's greedy tutor, blackmailed Martha into marrying Water (so that he could acquire her inherited wealth and influence), while an innocent man was accused, condemned and executed for the murder of Martha's aunt.

The love triangle clashed when they were brought together again almost two decades later in 1946:

  • domineering, single-minded, predatory, self-interested, and determined femme fatale Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) had lovelessly married alcoholic district attorney Walter O'Neil (Kirk Douglas in his film debut) in the steelworks town of Iverstown; she now dominated everything
  • Martha was still attracted to her former beau Sam (Van Heflin as adult), a decorated wartime soldier and gambler, when he was forced to remain in the town after crashing his car
  • Martha (and Walter) feared Sam's knowledge of the awful crime and would try to blackmail them, although at a crucial point in the film, he admitted that he did not witness Aunt Iverson's death ("I left as soon as I saw your Aunt enter the room")

[Note: In the film's major sub-plot, Sam tried to help a new acquaintance in town, pretty Antonia "Toni" Marachek (Lizabeth Scott), who was on parole and innocent of the charge of theft. He appealed to DA Walter to request his influence in her case, after she was arrested for violating parole. Although Toni betrayed Sam and set him up for a beating, she was under pressure by Walter to do so, and was ultimately forgiven by Sam.

Martha, who had never given up her love for Sam, decided to seduce him and then have him heartlessly kill her weak-willed (and unconscious) husband ("Now, Sam. Do it now. Set me free. Set both of us free...Oh, Sam, it can be so easy"), but Sam refused ("I never murdered"). When Sam walked out of the mansion, Martha threatened to shoot Sam as an intruder - in "self defense" - but she couldn't pull the trigger on him and shoot him in the back. As he left, he told them: "I feel sorry for you, both of you."

The shock double-suicide ending included Martha's death when she pulled the trigger on herself as her jealous and drunk husband Walter held a gun to her stomach during a deadly embrace - and then with her draped limply in his arms, Walter shot himself to death. Sam witnessed the two deaths through a window, as he stood outside the mansion, before driving off with Toni.

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