The Femme Fatale archetype has her footprints all over culture, throughout history. From ancient mythology to todays videogames. And the Film Noir version of the Femme Fatale is a specialized, socially relevant and easily identifiable class. The six fatal women I chose to write about belong in a time frame and to a specific genre,…
THE IMPORTANCE OF AN
For the femme fatale distance and intimacy are very potent weapons. When used interchangeably and in nonsensical order it bestows upon her the power to confuse and bewilder her victim. Add on an intoxicating dose of gutsy sex-appeal, and we have a drug so powerful it will floor even the most hardboiled of men.
THE MERCILESS KILL
To watch the leading lady in a Film Noir is to observe a cat stalk its way through the story in which she singles out one victim, and unswervingly goes in for the merciless kill.
Throughout ‘The Killers’ plenty of cute clues are dropped about Kitty’s catlike nature. Her embodiment of a seductive cat is all-round subtle, it’s in the walk, the voice, and in one of the most prominent Femme Fatale signature personality traits: Her self interest.
AN APPLE PIE HOME SCENTED FERTILE FUTURE
Not only is classic Film Noir literally shot in sharp contrasts of black and white, one of a Noir’s most vital characteristics is it’s propensity for playing with polarity.
On top of unexcelled Film Noir cinematography, Out of the Past’s visual language and dialogues are very telling. Little truths about character and destination are disclosed throughout the story. Landscape, signs, mythology and (human) nature are prominent elements that deliver a grandiose parable of light and dark, good and bad, choice and fate. In classic Film Noir style, Out of the Past does not offer a solution, but rather poses the daunting question of man’s fate is escapable.
TOXIC PERFUME, BOURBON AND GUNPOWDER INFUSED GRIMY GLOOM
It is former acquaintance Joe who has found his way into the town where Jeff has been building his new, respectable life. Joe has come on behalf of Whit, a dubious businessman looking to rehire Jeff on a very personal, particular case.
Jeff’s first reaction is reluctant, but then he decides to go. He drives off into the night on his way to a morning meeting at Whit’s house in Lake Tahoe. Along for the ride is Ann, who sits besides Jeff as they drive all night, and he confesses – starting with his real last name – his private detective past to her. He tells her about his last case, the retrieval of a wayward woman to a client. In an honest, no holds barred, anecdotal manner he shares with Ann the story of Kathie.
A DELECTABLE CAT AND MOUSE GAME
When private detective Philip Marlowe first enters the mansion of his new client Mr. Sternwood (an older man hiring him to look into a blackmailing case that might have something to do with one or two of his wanton daughters), he walks into daughter one, Carmen. Who, after coyly inspecting him, greets him teasingly: “you are not very tall, are you?” soon after which she throws herself in his arms and calls him cute. Rather unmoved by Carmen’s childlike coquetry, Marlowe shrugs her off and tells the butler, on the way to the greenhouse where his client awaits him: “you should ween her, she’s old enough.”
YOUR WEAKNESS IS HER STRENGTH
The Femme Fatale is exceptional at making it appear as if she is the one that’s being pursued, meanwhile, it was her plan all along… This fatale creature observes, plots and schemes in order to secure her position. Once she has picked her prey she will determine her strategy based upon their nemesis. Your weakness is her strength.
“I AM BIG, IT’S THE PICTURES THAT GOT SMALL!”
Who has seen Sunset Boulevard will have a hard time forgetting that haunting last staircase scene in which Norma Desmond descends into an abyss of flashing cameras, scorching stage lighting, journalists, policemen and onlookers. She is finally happy now the spotlight is back on her again, even if she had to kill for it.
The role in which Norma declines the staircase is that of Salome, (the biblical Femme Fatale who seduces a King to get what she wants: another man’s head, on a plate). A role that does not come without its cost…
THE DECADENT, SOULLESS LIFESTYLE OF A KEPT MAN.
Norma sets up a grueling cosmetic and dietary regime for herself in order to get “closeup ready”. The house becomes filled with cosmetologists and specialists. The focus on embodying the young and beautiful Salome character she believe she will soon be playing only adds to the obsession.
Meanwhile, Joe has taken an interest in a fellow editor, the lovely ingenuous Betty. While Norma skulks about the house, preoccupied with her rejuvenation treatments and beauty sleeps, Joe sneaks out nights to see Betty, as they work together on a script of their own. But, as if the house has eyes and ears, nothing eludes Norma. When she confronts Joe about his nightly outings, he makes up a lie.
“THE CAMERAS HAVE ARRIVED”
We return to that famous last scene.
Hours after Norma killed Joe, the house is crawling with detectives. Up in her bedroom, we see Norma at her vanity table. Surrounded by detectives, Norma is bombarded with questions. No words hit home, until one mentions the magic word “cameras”. A lightbulb switches on in Norma’s brain. Looking up from her handheld mirror, eyes beaming, she swoons: “cameras…”