What are Femme Fatales?
Femme Fatales are easy to spot in a Film Noir but they are not that easy to define. They are much more complex than an attractive woman that leads men who love them to doom. It is easy to spot their traits like Roger Ebert did in the quote below, but it doesn’t capture it all. Are they woman the rebel against the norms of their era and seek a life free from the chains of traditional marriage or are they simply bad girls. These characters are what makes Film Noir great and they deserve much more credit. I have listed a dozen of the top Femme Fatales roles in the table below. Many more Femme Fatales deserve to be on the list. Roles played by Gloria Grahame, Lizabeth Scott, Marie Windsor, Carolyn Jones, and Anna May Wong deserve mention and will eventually have to expand the list.
Femme Fatale Traits – Low necklines, floppy hats, mascara, lipstick, boudoirs, calling the doorman by his first name, high heels, red dresses, having gangsters as boyfriends, having soft spots for alcoholic private eyes, and sprawling dead on the floor with every limb meticulously arranged and every hair in place.
Roger Ebert – A Guide to Film Noir Genre
Femme Fatale – an attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her.
|Rank||Actress - Role||Image||Movie||Comment|
|1||Jane Greer - Kathie Moffat||Out of the Past (1947)||Jane Greer playing Kathie Moffat is the pure embodyment of evil as she cheats, murders, bribes, and double- and triple-crosses her lovers.|
|2||Barbara Stanwyck - Phyllis Dietrichson||Double Indemnity (1944)||Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson has ice water in her veins. She is determined to murder her husband and pin the crime on her lover, while working every other angle.|
|3||Jan Sterling - Lorraine Minosa||Ace in the Hole (1952)||Jan Sterling as Lorraine Minosa plots, cheats, and schemes to make money as her husband lies trapped in a cave. She needs enough money to get away while he is trapped.|
|4||Audrey Totter - Adrienne Fromsett||Lady in the Lake (1947)|
|5||Mary Astor - Brigid O’Shaughnessy||The Maltese Falcon (1941)||I think a lot more of the character Brigid O’Shaughnessy than I do of the actress Mary Astor. O’Shaughnessy would murder, love, bretray, or set-up. Whatever it took to get her prize.|
|6||Rita Hayworth - Elsa Bannister||The Lady from Shanghai (1947)||With Rita Hayworth as Elsa Bannister, it is hard to tell who she is playing and how far she will go to get what she wants. Adultery and murder are fine with her.|
|7||Gloria Swanson - Norma Desmond||Sunset Boulevard (1950)||Gloria Swanson was amazing as aging film star Norma Desmond. She did not start out to harm Joe Gilis but when things didn't go her way she took him for a swim.|
|8||Gene Tierney - Ellen Berent||Leave Her to Heaven (1945)|
|9||Rita Hayworth - Gilda||Gilda (1946)||Rita Hayworth as Gilda played a lonely confused woman stuck between two men and maybe a lot more. She wasn't a killer, just a schemer.|
|10||Ann Savage - Vera||Detour (1945)||Ann Savage as Vera has to control everything until it comes to an end for everyone.|
|11||Lana Turner - Cora Smith||The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)|
|12||Ava Gardner - Kitty Collins||The Killers (1946)|
|13||Joan Bennet - Kitty March||Scarlet Street (1945)||Joan Bennet as Kitty March is brutal as she and her boyfriend fleece a lone older man.|
|14||Marilyn Monroe - Rose Loomis||Niagara (1953)||If you ever think Marilyn Monroe can't act, watch Niagara (1953). She is great and great at being evil.|