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FEMME FATALE MEETS FILM NOIR

VERONICA LAKE & ALAN LADD


This Gun for Hire, 1942

Femme Fatale, 2014: Ava Lord (Eva Green) in Latest Sin City

FEMME FATALES & FILM NOIRS by Alan L. Chrisman
Theres a long tradition of Femmes Fatales in history and culture. In the Bible, there was the
first, perhaps, Eve, and Delilah and Sampson. During WW1, Mata Hari was a supposed spy for
the Germans. The dictionary defines femme fatale as an alluring woman who causes men
distress.

But it was really in the 1940s, with hard-boiled detective books and films, that it came into its
own in popular culture. Writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James Cain saw
their novels and characters turned into Hollywood films, which became known as Film Noir.

My parents had actually named me after Alan Ladd, a 40s film noir star, who was in several of
these. I was, as well, named after the lead character from the old radio show, The Shadow,
so naturally Ive always been fascinated by this genre and Femme Fatales. Probably the
ultimate Femme Fatale of this era was played by Veronica Lake. She appeared alongside Alan
Ladd in three films now considered classics, This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key (42), and The
Blue Dahlia in 1946. She was especially known for her blonde, hair over her eye, peek-a-boo
hairstyle and sultry presence. Actually, she was originally chosen for her first role opposite
Ladd because she was one of the few Hollywood actresses shorter than him, who played the
tough, but sensitive guy on screen. She became a very popular pin-up girl for the soldiers of
WW 2 and women copied her hair. Shes also was in one of my favorite films, Preston Sturges
Sullivans Travels, where all-American actor, Joel McCrea, playing a big Hollywood director
meets her down on her luck character in a diner and buys her breakfast. He later becomes,
through a mistaken identity, trapped on a southern chain gang, and learns that what the poor
prisoners like, rather than big social-statement films, are ones that make them laugh. Woody
Allen was later to be reminded of this too in his Stardust Memories (1980), when the aliens
advise him to make funny films.

There were many other femme fatales portrayed on the big screen in the 40s and 50s, often
based on the books or screen plays by the three master authors above. Famously in Dashiell
Hammetts The Maltese Falcon (41), Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) finally tells Mary Astor,
Im not taking the fall for you. And of, course, Bogart is Chandlers Phillip Marlowe in
The Big Sleep with the look, Lauren Bacall. He had met the much younger Bacall in
Hemmingways To Have and to Hold and they soon became Bogart and Baby in real life. There
was also Rita Hayworth singing up a sexy storm for Glenn Ford in Glida. In James Cains Double
Indemnity, Barbra Stanwyck tries to get insurance man, Fred MacMurray, and Lana Turner in
The Postman Always Rings Twice, try to get their lovers to get rid of their husbands.

Alfred Hitchcock always chose cool, blondes, like Ingrid Bergman (Notorious), Grace Kelly (To
Catch a Thief), Janet Leigh (Psycho), Tippi Hedron (Marnie, The Birds) and North By Northwest (
Eva Marie Saint) as his heros opposite. In Vertigo even veteran cop, Jimmy Stewart, is fooled
by deceptive Kim Novak. Interestingly, these often tough, street-wise male characters were
looked down upon at one time as just pulp fiction creations, but today they are considered
classics. And they and even the sophisticated characters, such as Cary Grant played, equally
couldnt resist these ladies charms.

In the James Bond films, ladies-man Bond always had to watch his step around the latest Bond
girl. The early ones were especially seductive Ursula Andress (Dr. No) and Goldfinger (64)
with Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore. In these politically-correct times its doubtful they
could get away with that name today! The genre and its femme fatales would continue on in
Hollywood: China Town with Jack Nicholson (74) and in a remake of Postman Always Rings
Twice in 81. Kathleen Turner was in Body Heat the same year. Sean Young was in Blade
Runner (82) and of course, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (92).

Woody Allen even got in some laughs about it in three of his early films with Diane Keaton:
Play It Again, Sam where he envisions Bogarts ghost for meeting women; in Love and Death
(75), Keaton tries to get Allen to assassinate Napoleon and in Sleeper, set in the future, he has
to deal with a still-spoiled Keaton character. Even on TV, there was a funny take-off of the
femme fatale character on the popular U.S. 60s series, Dobie Gillis. Love-struck high school
boy, Dobie, would chase after the blonde, but stuck-up Thalia (beautiful Tuesday Weld), and
each episode she would lead him on, but drop him because he wasnt rich like his handsome
rival (originally Warren Beatty). Dobbies quirky beatnik side-kick, Maynard G. Krebs was
played by Bob Denver who later starred on Gilligans Island. This was at the time, a light
comedy , but looking at some DVDs of the shows recently, I realized underneath, it was
perhaps, saying some things about a certain kind of woman, that men might fall for.
Now some feminists might argue with this view of women as seductresses and dismiss it as just
mans fantasy, but as I say, it has been around in history (some say Cleopatra manipulated both
Caesar and Mark Anthony) and in popular culture. On the other hand, some women have
always been attracted to bad boys from rock stars to bikers. Remember Marlon Brando
playing a motorcycle gang member, being asked what hes rebelling against by a small town
waitress in The Wild One ( 53) and Brando replies, Whatd Got?. In the new film, Sin City, the
femme fatale is played by the dark-eyed beauty, Eva Green (who was also a Bond girl in Casino
Royale, 2006), so some things never seem to change. And maybe its a question of who really
does hold the seductive powers and charm in the relationship between the sexes.

FEMME FATALE song lyrics by Alan Chrisman

<Intro> c. 2012

Saw her across the aisle
out the corner of my eye
She knew she had me
even if, I didn't know why

She could have been a fashion queen
She put Audrey Hepburn to shame
in her cool blue jeans
I just had to know her name

CHORUS:
But she's a Femme Fatale
She took my breath away
With her killer smile
even though, I know I'm gonna pay

<interlude - instrumental>

So I gave her a ride
in my car
She said fine
but I may take you too far

What's this power, they can have over us
even though, it seems to make our day
It's better sometimes, just to take the bus
and have a clean getaway

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