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)

Charles Vidor's noirish romantic drama-mystery was suggestive with themes that included implied impotence, misogyny and homosexuality, although camouflaged by euphemisms and innuendo to bypass the Production Code. Its main theme was a strange, tawdry, aberrant romantic triangle (menage a trois) between the three main characters.

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 gorgeous '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 in her inner bedroom suite, Balin's new exuberantly healthy American wife was singing along to a phonograph recording of "Put the Blame on Mame." She was introduced by her mobster-husband Ballin Mundson 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 as she added: "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 as her bodyguard, to watch over her trampy behavior in the casino.

Johnny's Introduction to Gilda (Rita Hayworth)
by Her Husband Ballin Mundson
"Gilda, are you decent?"
"Me? Sure, I'm decent"

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, two-timing Gilda danced and flirted with good-looking Latin male escort Gabe Evans (Robert Scott) - and when dragged from the casino dance floor by Johnny (who had warned her earlier: "Pardon me, but your husband is showing"), 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."

She delivered two renditions of "Put the Blame on Mame" - the lyrics of the song, filled with double entendres, described a dangerous, threatening kind of woman who was often blamed - unfairly and illegitimately - by men:

  • at five o'clock one morning, Johnny was awakened in the upper casino office by the wafting sounds of white-dressed Gilda below seated on a card table, strumming and singing a sad version of Put The Blame on Mame, while accompanying herself with a guitar
  • she performed a memorable, bawdy and sultry glove-striptease dance before a large live casino audience (backed by an orchestra), as she was swathed in a slinky black satin dress displaying bare upper arms and shoulders; in her sexually-empowered performance, she beckoned with extended arms toward the lusting men in the audience and peeled off one of her long, elbow-length black satin gloves as she sang the torchy defiant number - keeping the casino audience (and viewers) in suspense - wondering whether the strapless gown would remain suspended on her frame; to proceed further with undressing after receiving accolades and encore-applause, Gilda flung her second glove toward the hungering audience; as she started to shed her strapless dress, she entreated two gentlemen volunteers for assistance ("I'm not very good at zippers, but maybe if I had some help") before she was dragged off the stage and Johnny struck Gilda across the face

In one scene, Gilda asked expectantly of Johnny: "Got a light?" - he turned and stood there with the lighter flame burning for her. In another, Gilda gave a passionate confession of love for Johnny:

"Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven't you noticed? Very exciting. I hate you too, Johnny. I hate you so much, I think I'm gonna die from it. Darling. (She fell into his arms and they kissed) I think I'm gonna die from it."

In the film's twisting conclusion, when Mundson mysteriously disappeared and was presumed dead (in a suicidal airplane crash, possibly faked), Gilda and Farrell resumed their dangerous affair while Farrell assumed control over the casino business. Johnny replaced Mundson as Gilda's emotionally-abusive husband in a continuing love-hate relationship - he treated Gilda with increasing sadomasochism, vindictiveness and abuse after taking her as his wife.

Police inspector Maurice Obregon (Joseph Calleia), who had been scrutinizing the South American casino's underlying criminal activities and trailing Ballin Mundson and Johnny Farrell throughout the entire film, spoke to Farrell about his assessment of his love-hate relationship with Gilda: "It's the most curious love-hate pattern I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. And as long as you're as sick in the head as you are about her, you're not able to think about anything clearly."

But then Mundson vengefully returned after three months, and when he was just about to gun down both Farrell and Gilda, he was stabbed in the back (with his own cane) by Uncle Pio (Steven Geray), the aging, white-coated washroom attendant of the casino's nightclub - murder charges were dropped when the death was judged to be "justifiable homicide."

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 film's final line of dialogue was spoken by Gilda to Johnny: "Johnny, let's go home. Let's go home."

Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) and Ballin Mundson (George Macready)

Gilda: "If I'd been a ranch, they would've named me the Bar Nothing"

Gilda Strumming "Put the Blame on Mame"

Gilda's Famous Strip-Tease

Gilda to Johnny: "Got a light?"

"I hate you too, Johnny"

"Johnny, let's go home"

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." He calmly sat up in bed when he heard the two cold-blooded gunman-executioners entering his downstairs boarding house door before climbing the stairs, entering his room, and blasting him with multiple gunshots.

The Swede (Burt Lancaster) -
Just Before His Murder by the Killers

The Swede's final words referred 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).

Told in flashback, at a swanky hotel party scene, the Swede met and fell under the spell of gorgeous, alluring and treacherous femme fatale Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) (wearing a sexy black dress and singing "The More I Know of Love"). She was the moll/girlfriend and "hostess" of imprisoned, sleazy racketeering king-pin boss 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. Kitty admitted that she knew of the Swede's obsessive love that she could cleverly manipulate on the eve of the heist:

"I hadn't seen him for a long time, but the minute I laid eyes on him, I knew. He was always looking at me. And it doesn't sound like very much, but he always carried a handkerchief I'd given him...I hated my life, only I wasn't strong enough to get away from it. All I could do was dream of some big payoff that would let me quit the whole racket. The Swede was my chance to make my dream come true. If I could only be alone with him for a few hours. But Colfax was always there. I thought it was hopeless. Then suddenly, my chance came."

Late one night just before the robbery, the unscrupulous Kitty lied to the Swede about the heist, and admitted her poisonous, duplicitous, and lethal nature, while promising the Swede that the money would allow her to get away from her hated boyfriend (another major lie). She told him that he was being set up by the betraying Colfax, and then confessed her love. After deceiving the Swede, she had him promise: ("Promise me one thing. You won't give me away. If Colfax ever found out what I did...You know why Colfax hates you? Because of me. He's no fool. He sees what's happened"). When the Swede asked: "Why did you ever go back to him, Kitty?", she responded with her most famous line:

"Maybe because I hate him. I'm poison, Swede, to myself and everybody around me. I'd be afraid to go with anyone I love for the harm I'd do them. I don't care harming him."

She persuaded him to get revenge on Colfax by stealing the payroll. 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 all along 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):

"Jim! Jim!! Tell 'em I didn't know anything. Jim, listen to me. You can save me. Jim, do ya hear me? Tell them I didn't know those gunmen were coming. Say, 'Kitty is innocent. I swear, Kitty is innocent.' Say it, Jim, say it! It'll save me if you do...'Kitty is innocent. I swear, Kitty is innocent.'...Come back, Jim, tell them. Come back! SAVE ME! Jim! 'Kitty is innocent! I swear! Kitty is innocent! Kitty is innocent! I swear, Kitty is innocent! Kitty is innocent!'"

It would 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 film's final line was uttered by insurance investigator James Reardon (Edmond O'Brien), who wrapped up his own findings about Kitty's smoldering triple-cross: "The double-cross to end all double-crosses!"

Femme Fatale Kitty in Swanky Hotel Party Scene

Kitty Took Advantage of the Swede's Obsessive Love

Lethal Wounding of Kitty's Boyfriend/Husband Colfax in Film's Conclusion

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.

Drifter handyman and mechanic Frank Chambers (John Garfield) was dropped off in front of the rural Twin Oaks Diner, owned by California roadside eatery proprietor Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway). Soon after, he took his first look at hot-blooded, voluptuous Cora -- not knowing she was the cafe boss' wife. Her sexy entrance 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. He set his eyes on the whitish platinum-blonde woman, bent down and picked up her lipstick, and asked: "You dropped this?" She stood with her hand outstretched, waiting for him to bring it over to her. But he held onto her possession in the palm of his own hand and then leaned back on the counter.

The Dramatic Entrance of Cora
Lipstick Case
Nude Slim Legs
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) - His First Glance at Cora
Frank to Cora: "You dropped this?"

She strutted over and took the case out of his hand. She walked back to the doorway, stood sideways, and applied lipstick to her lips before shutting the door.

A little later, she and hired worker Frank officially met and spoke for the first time. She began bossing and sizing him up while he made suggestive advances towards the untouchable yet glamorous woman. Suddenly, Frank grabbed her and planted a kiss on her lips. She reacted with great poise - she pulled out her vanity mirror, cleaned up the smudged lipstick on her lips, and then reapplied the lipstick before leaving - without a word. There was terrific magnetism between the two

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. Cora placed an incriminating note into the cash register: "Nick - I'm going away with Frank - I love him. Cora" - when they planned to run away together. However, they changed their minds and returned in time to retrieve the note.

They hatched a more daring plot to get rid of her good-hearted husband Nick, 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. The evil and conniving Cora convinced Frank to murder her husband, because she was engaged in a loveless marriage with him: (Cora: "There's, there's one thing we could do that would fix everything for us" Frank: "What? Pray for something to happen to Nick?" Cora: "Something like that"). Meanwhile, there were many illicit, moonlit beach swimming scenes between Cora and Frank.

Their second awkwardly-executed attempt to kill Nick was successful. It was a staged accident on the road to Malibu Lake (by getting him drunk, knocking him unconscious, and pushing the car (with him inside) off the side of the road down a cliff). (Their first attempt had failed (a bathtub accident)). As they both decided to climb down to the car: ("We gotta mess ourselves up so we can prove we've been in the accident too"), Frank was the only one who climbed down, and he became trapped in the car as it plummeted further down.

The Plot to Kill Nick (Second Attempt)
Frank Pushing Car Over Cliff (With Drunken, Unconscious Nick Inside)
Frank to Cora: "It's gonna be tough going now. Are you sure you can go through with it?"

The relationship between the two lovers slowly deteriorated, orchestrated when Cora's lawyer had her plead 'guilty' to both counts: murder (against Nick Smith) and the attempted murder (of Frank). Both began to distrust and despise each other, resulting in Cora retaliating by testifying that Frank was implicated in Nick's murder: ("This will be a full and complete confession of how Frank Chambers and I deliberately planned and carried out the murder of my husband Nicholas Smith. Frank Chambers and I are equally guilty, although it was Frank who smashed Nick in the head before the car went over the cliff"). As a result of her lawyer's ploy, Cora plea-bargained, was acquitted and freed. They pledged to restore their love, although they remained tense toward each other.

The efforts of the star-crossed lovers ultimately led to their mutual destruction in unexpected ways. In the finale's tragic accidental car crash scene, the now-reconciled couple drove along the highway and neared their home after mutual recriminations and reconciliation, when Frank asked for a long-awaited kiss. Cora was painting her lips with lipstick. Her last words before warning of an impending crash were:

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

He responded: "I hope I don't wait." She replied lovingly: "Darling," and then they kissed, but she soon cried out frantically: "Look out, Frank!" - (their final kiss was unfortunately a fatal one). 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. With startling imagery - the car door opened after the crash, Cora's lifeless arm fell off the seat, and her tube of lipstick slowly dropped to the floor of the car and onto the ground.

In a subsequent trial, Frank was convicted of murdering Cora (although it was truly an accident). The headlines read: "GRAND JURY INDICTS CHAMBERS AS SLAYER: Killed Wife In Bogus Auto Accident, Charged to Face Murder Trial - Sensational Cora Smith Case Has Aftermath in Action against Husband." Frank was sentenced to death (execution in the gas chamber): "This man, Frank Chambers, and the dead woman, first murdered her husband to get his estate. And then Chambers murdered her so that he would have it all to himself."

In his last words to the priest Father McConnell (Tom Dillon) in his cell before execution, Frank accepted his fate. He would pay with his life for a crime he didn't commit (Cora's death), making up for getting away with the murder of Nick:

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 Twin Oaks Diner

First Real Conversation Between Frank and Cora

Incriminating Note

Conniving to Kill Cora's Husband Nick

Furtive Kisses

Moonlight Swimming

The Fatal Car Crash

Frank Charged With Cora's Murder After Car Crash

Frank's Final Words to the Prison Priest

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

Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck)

This sordid and noirish B/W melodrama from director Lewis Milestone told about three childhood friends who were brought together 18 years later for a climactic denouement regarding a murderous and guilty secret from their 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.

The murder was witnessed by two young male individuals:

  • Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman as a boy) - Martha's young, street-smart boyfriend from the wrong side side of the tracks; Martha had repeatedly been planning to run away with him before the murder; after the incident, Sam fled town (and joined a circus)
  • Walter O'Neil (Mickey Kuhn as a boy), the timid young son of Martha's greedy tutor Mr. O'Neil (Roman Bohnen), who was at Martha's side

Walter was convinced by Martha to keep quiet and lie about the killing, in order to save herself. In exchange for their cooperation and help, Walter's scheming father Mr. O'Neil 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 in the steelworks town of Iverstown:

  • Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) - now a domineering, single-minded, predatory, self-interested, and determined femme fatale
  • Walter O'Neil (Kirk Douglas in his film debut), an alcoholic district attorney who had lovelessly married Martha
  • Sam (Van Heflin as adult) - a decorated wartime soldier and gambler, and Martha's former beau for whom she still had an attraction; he was forced to remain in 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"). However, 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.

Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) with Sam Masterson (Van Heflin)

Threatening Martha Holding a Gun on Sam

The Deadly Embrace Between Martha and Walter O'Neil (Kirk Douglas)

Double Suicide - Witnessed by Sam

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