noir femme fatale

by Doris Hobbs 

Contributing Writer for Stalletto

 If you’ve ever read a detective novel, or viewed a 1950s film noir picture, the Femme Fatale represents the most deadly woman in cinema today. She refuses to play the role of a devoted wife and loving mother that mainstream society prescribes for women. Instead she uses her sensual charm to hypnotize the opposite sex. The classic femme fatale resorts to murder to free herself from an unbearable relationship with a man who would try to possess and control her. 

Noir films immediately convey the intense sexual presence of the femme fatale by introducing her as a fully established object of the hero’s obsession. Her ability to hold both the hero and the audience spellbound continues throughout the film to the point of one’s death. 

In the majority of noir films, she remains a master of creating mystery and only committed to her independence, seldom allowing herself to be converted by the hero or captured by the police. 

She refuses to be defined by the male hero or submit her sexuality to the male-dominated institution. It is not surprising that the first role of a femme fatale was portrayed by the ravishing Theda Bara, a silent film actress of “A Fool There Was”, in 1915, portraying a role where she seduced and trapped a number of men consuming a dark coercion and charm to no-return. With the words spoken of dark passion, “kiss me, you fool” was the demise of her male prey. 

In the late 1940s, the world was introduced to one of film noir’s most stunning and destructively seductive femmes, Ava Gardner. In the 1946 film, “The Killers”, she skillfully exhibited all characteristics exhibiting a sexual desire as a sultry double crossing Kitty Collin. 

Like a preying cat, Ava’s character knows exactly when to pounce on her victim, corrupting the nicest guy. This femme persona allows her to lure her point of interest into a web of deceit and ultimate betrayal. The beauty of Ava’s glamour is that she actually controls how much you witnessed, casting an enticing spell on you.