Category Archives: Femme Fatales

Femme Fatales | Pam Grier

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatale Pam Grier

Pamela Suzette Grier May 26th 1949- Present (via elizabitchtaylor.tumblr.com)

“I’ve never considered myself to be beautiful, and I still don’t.”

Pam Grier became famous in the early 1970′s after starring in a string of moderately successful “blaxploitation” films. The most famous of these being the iconic Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). The impact she has left on the film noir/neo-noir industry is immeasurable, especially in a genre where the powerful femme fatale archetype had been dominated by white glamour girls from Hollywood.  Pam proved that she had the sexy, sultry, provocative chops of any starlet…and then some.

Pamela Suzette Grier was born on May 26th 1949 in North Carolina. Tragically, at age six she was raped by two boys when she was left unattended at her aunt’s house. She said of the event,  “It took so long to deal with the pain of that. You try to deal with it, but you never really get over it. And not just me; my family endured so much guilt and anger that something like that happened to me.” Her family moved frequently because her father Clarence worked as a mechanic and technical sergeant in the United States Air Force. Pam’s childhood was spent on various military bases, until finally they settled in Denver, Colorado where she attended high school.

Ms. Grier moved to California in 1967 where she was discovered by the director Jack Hill. She was quickly type-cast as powerful female characters, becoming the first black female to headline in an action film. Roger Ebert said of her performance in Coffy (1973) that she had a “beautiful face and astonishing form.” She continued to work in various films throughout the blaxploitation era and beyond.

Her most famous relationships have been with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Richard Pryor.

She was thrust into the spotlight again in 1997 when she starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, a film that partly paid homage to the blaxploitation films of her youth. She received a Golden Globe nomination for the role. Additionally, the film review site RottenTomatoes.com has ranked her as the second Greatest Female Action Heroine in film history. Although she never starred in anything we would consider “film noir” I’m proud to add her to the growing list of femme fatales on noirWhale.com and count her as one of the first black femme fatales.

“Each time you do a film you gain a lot of experience and build a visual resume where people get to know who you are.”

Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier Coffy 1973

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier Jackie Brown 1997

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Femme Fatale Pam Grier Richard Pryor

Pam Grier and Richard Pryor (via rachelstewartjewelry.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatale Pam Grier

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Pam Grier is a breathtaking, beautiful, and powerful femme fatale.

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Femme Fatales | Ava Gardner

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatale Ava Gardner

Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) (via felixinhollywood.blogspot.com)

“Because I was promoted as a sort of a siren and played all those sexy broads, people made the mistake of thinking I was like that off the screen. They couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Ava Gardner was propelled to stardom in 1946 for the femme fatale role she played in The Killers. Because of the resounding success enjoyed by that picture, she became a recognized superstar and arguably the most beautiful woman of her day. Born Ava Lavinia Gardner on Christmas Eve, 1922, she was signed to a contract with MGM studios in 1941 at the age of nineteen. She hailed from the farming community of Grabtown, North Carolina, and was the youngest of seven children. After severe economic trouble, their family moved to Newport News, Virginia where her father tragically died of Bronchitis when she was only fifteen years old. Here is a wonderful anecdote about her early career:

Gardner traveled to New York to be interviewed at MGM’s office by Al Altman, head of MGM’s New York talent department. With cameras rolling, he directed the eighteen-year-old to walk toward the camera, turn and walk away, then rearrange some flowers in a vase. He did not attempt to record her voice because her Southern accent made it almost impossible for him to understand her. Though Al thought Ava the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, he believed the test was a disaster and was completely surprised by what he saw in the screening room. On screen she was magnetic. The camera loved her. He sent the test to Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer, head of that studio, sent a telegram to Al: “She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t talk, She’s terrific!”

After the success of the film noir The Killers, she went on to act in several high profile films: including The Hucksters (1947), Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956), On the Beach (1959), Seven Days in May (1964), The Night of the Iguana (1964), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The Cassandra Crossing (1976).

Romantically, she had many famous relationships. Her first husband was Mickey Rooney, whom she met shortly after her arrival in Los Angeles. Their marriage only lasted a year, and they were divorced by 1943. Mickey reportedly bragged about their sex life, and Ava is famously quoted as saying, “He may have enjoyed the sex, but goodness knows I didn’t.” She then engaged in a longer relationship with the aviator Howard Hughes. They were very ‘off-and-on’ and Ava described him in her autobiography as “painfully shy, completely enigmatic and more eccentric…than anyone [she] had ever met.” Her second marriage was just as short as the first, she married the jazz musician Artie Shaw. Ava’s third and final (and most famous) marriage was to Frank Sinatra (who left his wife Nancy for her). Frank received loads of abuse from the press and fans for leaving his wife for a noted femme fatale, and the downward spiral of his career wasn’t reversed until his Oscar winning role in From Here to Eternity (1953). Gardner became  pregnant twice with Frank, but she aborted both the fetuses. She said of Sinatra, “With him it’s impossible…it’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle. It’s as though he thinks I’ll break, as though I’m a piece of Dresden china and he’s gonna hurt me.” They divorced in 1957. During this period she became friends with Ernest Hemingway.

While staying with Hemingway at his villa in San Francisco de Paula in Havana, Cuba, Gardner once swam alone with no bathing suit in his pool. After watching her, Hemingway ordered his staff: “The water is not to be emptied”.

She received an Academy Award Nomination for her role in Mogambo (1953), but she lost to Audrey Hepburn. Ava continued to act in films up until four years before her death; she died at the age of 67 from pneumonia. The American Institute’s list of the Greatest Female Stars ranks her 25th.

“Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.”

Femme Fatales Ava Gardner

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Femme Fatale Ava Gardner

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Femme Fatales Ava Gardner

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Film Noir The Killers Ava Gardner

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Femme Fatale Ava Gardner

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Femme Fatales Ava Gardner

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Femme Fatale Ava Gardner

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Film Noir Ava Gardner Gregory Peck

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Film Noir Ernest Hemingway Mary Hemingway Ava Gardner

Ernest and Mary Hemingway with Ava Gardner (via interwar.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatale Ava Gardner Frank Sinatra

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Femme Fatales Ava Gardner

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What an incredible femme fatale.

 

 

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Femme Fatales | Lauren Bacall

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall 1924-Present (via nakedmonkey.tumblr.com)

“I wish Frank Sinatra would just shut up and sing.”

Lauren Bacall was born to be a film noir femme fatale actress. Her trademark husky voice and sultry looks ignited the stage and screen of yesteryear, earning her high praise in every circle of film and high art. Born Betty Joan Perske in 1924, she first made a splash in the industry co-starring opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944). She was so well received that she continued in the noir genre for many years, starring in such films as: The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Marilyn Monroe, and Designing Woman (1957) with Gregory Peck. Here is a wonderful anecdote from LaurenBacall.com:

“During screen tests for To Have and Have Not (1944), Bacall was nervous. To minimize her quivering, she pressed her chin against her chest and to face the camera, tilted her eyes upward. This effect became known as “The Look”, Bacall’s trademark.”

It was during the filming of To Have and Have Not that Lauren began her relationship with Bogie, who was then still married to Mayo Methot. (Torrid affairs and femme fatales are inseparable). In the end Humphrey married Lauren at Malabar Farm in Ohio.  She was 20, he was 45. They became bosom friends of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy during the filming of African Queen (1951). Before Bogie died from esophageal cancer in 1957, he and Lauren had two children together: Stephen and Leslie. Shortly after Bogart’s death, Lauren had a relationship with Frank Sinatra (which he ended after a scandal), and Lauren has written two autobiographies: Lauren Bacall By Myself (1978) and Now (1994).

In 1999, Bacall was ranked #20 of the 25 actresses on the 100 Years 100 Stars list by the American Film Institute. In 2009, she was selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”

Lauren Bacall has set the standard in the noir industry for the femme fatale archetype. Its invention is as much credited to her as it is to Dashiell Hammett.

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.” 

Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall Marilyn Monroe

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Film Noir Lauren Bacall Humphrey Bogart

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall The Look

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Femme Fatale Lauren Bacall Smoking

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She’s the priceless centerpiece of the film noir genre, and as of March 10th 2012 she’s still alive.

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Film Noir | The Graduate (1967)

Film Noir The Graduate Film Poster

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First off, The Graduate is NOT film noir. Anne Bancroft’s role as the femme fatale Mrs. Robinson is the sole reason that I am writing this article. Yes, Dustin Hoffman did an amazing job, but Anne leaves the lingering impact. A synopsis to explain my feelings:

Femme Fatale Anne Bancroft The Graduate

Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson

Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college. He’s moved home for the summer before future endeavors to live with proud (yet overbearing) parents. They bestow a beautiful sports car on him, and celebrate his triumphs with their rather large circle of friends. Yet Ben is unhappy. He’s overwhelmed with the amount of attention and simultaneous pressure placed on his future decisions. His moods are fickle and unpredictable. In the midst of this tumult, Mrs. Robinson appears. She’s the beautiful wife of Ben’s father’s business partner.

Femme Fatales Anne Bancroft Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft (via biltonbillz.tumblr.com)

The subtlety of her manipulative behavior is masterful. She begins her seduction by simply intruding on Ben while he hides from his own party in his room. She claims she was merely looking for the bathroom. Ben repeatedly explains that he wants to be alone, but she completely ignores his objections and demands that he give her a ride home. Not wanting to mistreat someone so important to his father, Ben reluctantly agrees.

As they arrive at the house, she asks if Ben will please come inside with her because she “doesn’t like coming home to a dark house.” She feigns fear and vulnerability, and once again Ben cedes her desires. As they enter the home and turn the lights on, Mrs. Robinson asks if Ben will wait with her for her husband to come home. Ben clearly wants to leave, but she’s persistent. She says that she is afraid to wait alone in an empty house. He reluctantly agrees again.

Film Noir The Graduate Mrs. Robinson Seduction

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Femme Fatales Anne Bancroft Dustin Hoffman

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“Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”

She begins to make a drink next, and desires him to have one as well. He refuses initially, but lets her win again. And thus it continues. She makes a demand, he makes an excuse. She overcomes his objection with reasonable justifications, and he does what she wants. She invites him up to her daughter’s old room to look at a portrait, then she asks him to unzip her dress. Then he tries to escape (even making it down the stairs) but she asks him to bring her purse back up to her before he leaves for good. When he goes to leave it on the dresser in the daughter’s room, Mrs. Robinson runs in naked and shuts the door behind her. She then finally reveals that she wants to have sex with him, and that he can have her whenever he desires. They hear her husband’s car door outside and Ben uses this interruption as the final means of retreat.

“Benjamin, I’m not trying to seduce you. I wish you’d–”

“I know that. But please Mrs. Robinson. This is difficult for me.”

“Why is it?”

“Because I am confused about things. I can’t tell what I’m imagining. I can’t tell what’s real. I can’t–”

“Would you like me to seduce you?”

“What?”

“Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

Ben may have escaped the first encounter with Mrs. Robinson, but the seed was planted in his mind. And it ate at him until he finally called her and arranged their first meeting at a motel.

Femme Fatales Anne Bancroft Dustin Hoffman

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This first segment of The Graduate was one of the best scripted femme fatale seductions I’ve ever seen. It was textbook film noir, in a non-noir setting. The classic Joseph and Potiphar’s wife brought to the contemporary age. What a memorable lesson: If you give the devil an inch, SHE’LL take a mile.

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Femme Fatales | Carole Lombard

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatale Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard 1908-1942 (via ponponbunny.tumblr.com)

“Personally, I resent being tagged ‘glamour girl.’ It’s such an absurd, extravagant label. It implies so much that I’m not.”

Carole Lombard may seem an odd choice for our first femme fatale because of her heavy involvement in screwball comedies, a far-cry indeed from the musty darkness of the film noir cinema. Yet, her image has become iconic, and the fiery magnetism of her photos exude the femme fatale vitality. She was born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana on October 6th 1908. She made her film debut in Los Angeles at the age of 12, and rose to become the highest paid star in Hollywood by the late 1930′s (earning nearly $500,000 dollars per year). She is considered the “Queen of the Screwball Comedies” that were so popular during the Great Depression era.

“Platinum blonde, with a heart-shaped face, delicate, impish features and a figure made to be swathed in silver lamé.”

-Grahame Greene

She conducted a notorious affair with Clark Gable (while they were both still married), which eventually led to their own wedding in March of 1939. She died tragically in a plane crash on January 16th 1942. Said biographer Dina-Marie Kulzer in Carole Lombard: Lovable Madcap:

“When the US entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gable’s press agent, Otto Winkler. After raising over $2 million in defense bonds, Lombard addressed her fans, saying: “Before I say goodbye to you all, come on and join me in a big cheer! V for Victory!” Lombard, anxious to return home to husband Clark Gable, wanted to take a plane instead of a train. Her mother and Winkler were both afraid of flying. They begged her to take the train. Lombard said they would flip a coin, heads the train, tails the plane. The coin came up tails.”

Some of her closest friends included: Alfred Hitchcock, Marion Davies, William Haines, Jean Harlow, Fred MacMurray, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, Jorge Negrete, William Powell, and Lucille Ball.

Femme Fatale Carole Lombard

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Femme Fatale Carole Lombard

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Femme Fatale Carole Lombard

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Femme Fatale Carole Lombard

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Femme Fatale Carole Lombard

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Femme Fatale Carole Lombard Shirley Grey Virtue 1932

Carole Lombard and Shirley Grey, Virtue (1932) (via classicfilmheroines.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatale Carole Lombard Clark Gable

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (via sylviascarlett.tumblr.com)

Film Noir Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941 Carole Lombard Alfred Hitchcock

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) (via deforest.tumblr.com)

Her death at age 33 cut short a wonderful career and robbed the world of a beautiful femme fatale.

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