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

Criss Cross (1949)
d. Robert Siodmak

Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo)

This under-rated, fatalistic film noir featured unreliable characters, tenuous relationships, a diabolical and fatal love triangle, and twisting plots. It was told with flashbacks and a self-deluding voice-over narration.

The film opened with a striking aerial panoramic view of nighttime Los Angeles before the camera swooped down to a parking lot where a doomed couple's embrace was revealed by glaring headlights.

It told how love-sick, still-obsessed and infatuated ex-husband Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) returned to his LA family two years after a 7-month marriage to calculating femme fatale Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo). He was again snared into her web in the Round-Up nightclub, when he saw his ex-wife dancing the rhumba (to the tune "Jungle Fantasy") with an unnamed partner (an unbilled Tony Curtis in his screen debut). Steve fatefully brooded:

Anna. What was the use? I knew one way or the other somehow I'd wind up seeing her that night.

Afterwards, they rekindled their love when they took a swim in the early morning at Zuma Beach.

Steve was warned to stay away from the temptress by his mother (Edna Holland). LAPD Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) also pressured Anna to leave town, when Anna suddenly eloped to marry abusive, crooked gangster boyfriend Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Nonetheless, Steve met up with her again and engaged in a clandestine affair.

When caught together alone, Steve tried to deflect attention regarding their relationship. He quickly hatched a plan with Slim for a daytime payroll heist plan - that went horribly wrong. Steve was expecting to double-cross Slim and escape with Anna -- but he was himself double-crossed by Slim and horribly beaten up. Anna also planned to run off with her share of the loot.

In the film's dark and morbid finale, both Anna and Steve were gunned down by Slim at his seaside Palos Verdes rendezvous.

Gun Crazy (1949/1950) (aka Deadly is the Female)
d. Joseph H. Lewis

Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

This was the quintessential, tabloid romantic/crime B-movie melodrama - it was another amour fou 'Bonnie and Clyde' crime spree tale with a dominant femme fatale, and a couple's erotic love and obsession with guns. There was a deadly sexual attraction between the two memorably disturbed and doomed trigger-happy sharp-shooter lovers who substituted gunplay for sex. The couple was:

  • Bart Tare (John Dall), gun-fixated
  • Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), blonde, English sharpshooter

Bart first spotted her at Packet's Carnival when she was introduced: "So here she is ladies and gentleman, so appealing, so dangerous, so lovely to look at." Bart leaned forward intently for a closer look at his dream-girl/soul-mate come true, captivated and fixated on her domineering, gun-toting abilities that made her as good as any man. He was even more stimulated when she further demonstrated her dangerous feline talent and prowess by bending over and firing between her legs.

When Bart volunteered for the audience challenge, Laurie circled around behind him like a wild animal, sizing him up and eyeing him from head to toe - he glanced back at her - reciprocating the combative yet attractive gazes. After outshooting her and winning the contest, Bart was easily recruited for the gun act as her erotic partner.

After they were both fired from the carnival, they were married but their impoverished state caused Laurie (naked under her bathrobe) to propose an armed robbery to match her style of living:

I want to do a little living...Bart, I want things, a lot of things, big things. I don't want to be afraid of life or anything else. I want a guy with spirit and guts.

She threatened to walk out on Bart unless they both engaged in a life of crime. The blackmail scene ended with his sexual acquiescence and gratification, his decision to remain, and a close-up of his mouth inching towards hers for a passionate kiss.

The kiss dissolved into the gunshot blast of a gumball bowl - an orgasmic, erotic/violent beginning of their crime rampage as gun-toting 'wild animals.'

The film was noted for one unbroken take filmed from the backseat of the getaway car during a bank robbery scene.

Their crime spree ended with the couple hunted in a marshy and foggy swamp where they were surrounded - Bart shot Laurie after giving her one final kiss. Bart was compelled to shoot his insane, aggressive lover as a mercy killing - the only murder he committed in the entire film, in an act that adopted her own violent modus operandi.

Mistakenly believing that Bart had fired on them, a barrage of police gunfire abruptly cut Bart down and his body fell next to hers.

The Third Man (1949)
d. Carol Reed

Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli)

This film-noirish, visually-stylish thriller was set in a depressed, rotting and crumbling, 20th century occupied Vienna following World War II. Its tale of social, economic, and moral corruption told of a love triangle with nightmarish suspense, treachery, betrayal, guilt and disillusionment.

The three main characters were:

  • a foolishly-romantic, wimpy American writer of pulp westerns named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who tried to understand (and then decipher) the mysterious disappearance (and death?) after a vehicular accident of an old school friend
  • Harry Lime (Orson Welles) - ultimately revealed to be alive - an exploitative, morally corrupt, and chilling black-market drug dealer and racketeer (of diluted penicillin) working out of the Russian zone
  • Harry's grieving, dark-haired, Czech mistress/girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a Russian exile and refugee

Anna exuded a fatalistically-romantic attraction for Harry, partially because he had fixed papers for her to avoid repatriation by the Russians.

In the shadows while mourning Harry's supposed death, she wore Harry's striped pajamas in bed - monogrammed with HL on the left front.

Doltish hack writer Holly hopelessly fell in unrequited love with the melancholy Anna, Harry's mistress, but she was unresponsive to his clumsy advances.

Ultimately, Holly set up Lime in exchange for Anna's freedom from deportation to the Russians, and Lime was cornered and killed in Vienna's underground sewers by a gunshot from Holly's gun.

In the famed ending of Harry's second burial, Holly attempted to say goodbye to Anna. As she walked and approached toward him down the tree-lined, empty cemetery avenue, she stoically ignored him and continued by, passing him without paying any attention.

Too Late For Tears (1949) (aka Killer Bait)
d. Byron Haskin

Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott)

This great noir featured the tagline: "She got what she wanted...with lies...with kisses...with murder!" Popular, husky-voiced femme fatale actress Lizabeth Scott starred as Jane, a crafty, manipulative, evil, and vicious pathological woman whose only goal was to get and stay rich.

The film opened with housewife Jane Palmer on a nighttime drive to a Hollywood Hills party with her husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy). She complained that the guests would only be stuffy and obnoxious, and begged Alan to turn around and return home. As he did so, a leather bag of 'dirty money' was suddenly thrown into their open convertible by a passing car, after they inadvertently blinked their headlights. Alan wanted to do the right thing and turn in the "poison" money to the police ("a bag of dynamite" he called it), as he urged her: "If we don't report this, it's a felony, the same as stealing it. It's a blind alley with a big barred gate at the end!" However, Jane felt this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She was bitter about continuing to be poor and told Alan: "You've given me a dozen down payments and installments for the rest of our lives."

Jane desired to keep the illicit $60,000 and go on a shopping binge. She started to lavishly spend the funds on furs and run up their bills. Due to her lowly upbringing, she was determined to keep the money from its rightful recipient and her husband, by using whatever means possible (including lying and murder). Alan wanted to keep it for a week, and stashed the leather bag in the Parcel Check at Union Station, and retained the claim check stub.

Sneering, unlikeable hood Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea), insinuating that he was a private detective from the bureau, arrived at the Palmer's place (an upper middle class apartment in Hollywood) to acquire the blackmail payoff money (from an insurance racket-scam that collected unpaid premiums) due to him ("Where's my dough?"). With her husband at work, Jane lied and claimed that they had already turned it over to the police. He searched her place, after slyly telling her: "You haven't anything to hide, have you?" Danny vowed to return if he didn't read about the case in the day's newspaper. Before leaving, he slapped her across the face a few times to rough her up.

When he returned to again taunt and harrass her ("Just where did you stash my cash?"), Jane used her seductive wiles and sexy teasing to keep him at bay, including promising to evenly split the dirty money with him, if he would meet up with her at 9 pm in a neutral place - next to a palm tree by the lake in Westlake Park (near downtown LA). As he left, he pushed her chin and added: "That's just to remind you honey, You're in a tough racket now." In preparation for the evening, she packed her husband's gun in her purse.

During a boat ride on the lake in Westlake Park with her husband that same evening, they squabbled in the boat, and Alan was accidentally shot and killed. Knowing that she faced manslaughter charges, she then met Danny, as planned, next to the lake - and threatened him at gunpoint into helping her: "If you move, I'll shoot you and tell them you killed my husband." She had him switch his coat and hat with the corpse, and had Danny help her weigh down Alan's body with an anchor and sink it to the bottom of the lake. Then, to make it look like she had returned from the boat ride with Alan, she had him impersonate her husband.

With her husband missing, Jane preposterously claimed that Alan, with whom she said she had often fought, had run off with another woman ("Alan doesn't love me anymore"). Danny was realizing that Jane was more cold and heartless than he was: "You know, Tiger, I didn't know they made 'em as beautiful as you are, and as smart. Or as hard."

She also kept stringing Danny along, and attempting to find other ways to eliminate him. She drove up into Coldwater Canyon with him, claiming she had buried the cash there, but her plan was botched when he fled from the car: "Not this time, Tiger. You didn't bury that dough, and I know it. I'll see ya sometime in the daylight with a million people around." And then her car was stolen when she parked it by the ocean, and was later located 12 miles south of San Diego near the Mexican-US border - lending credence to Jane's fabricated story that Alan was cheating on her and had fled to Mexico.

Into the mix came Don Blake (Don DeFore), mysteriously claiming that he was an old war buddy of Alan's, and on vacation in Hollywood. He conferred with Alan's pretty sister Kathy Palmer (Kristine Miller) who lived across the hall and had already become suspicious of Jane. (Using a pass key, Kathy found the claim ticket for the briefcase in Alan's apartment, and took it.) Don and Kathy began to work together - and also showed a romantic interest in each other. Then, Jane begged Danny to help her to get rid of Kathy, who was snooping around and becoming a threat. Danny reluctantly agreed to buy poison for Jane so that she could kill Kathy, and claim that her sister-in-law was despondent.

Forever scheming and after proving that Don was an imposter, Jane knocked him out, took the claim ticket from him, and retrieved the case of money from Union Station's Parcel Check. To eliminate Danny, Jane poisoned him (with the poison he had acquired for Jane to kill Kathy!), and then fled with the unmarked cash to Mexico City, to lead a life of luxury in a ritzy hotel penthouse.

Don trailed Jane to Mexico, and confronted her with the truth. She discovered that he was the brother of Jane's earlier, first husband Bob Blanchard, who was involved in an "unhappy" marriage to Jane (she admitted that she had married him for money) - like Alan, he also died under mysterious circumstances. According to Jane, she said that when Bob found out that she didn't love him, he committed suicide (Don surmised: "There are many ways of killing a man, Jane. And now that I know you, I can believe Bob probably did kill himself").

When Jane offered to split the money with Don/Blanchard, he only took a small portion (to pay for dragging the small lake at Westlake Park to locate Jane's missing husband) as part of his "vendetta" to repay his brother. When the Mexican police authorities arrived in the room, Jane backed up, tripped, and fatefully fell from the second floor balcony to her death on the stone driveway below - with some of the loot next to her outstretched hand.

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