Femme fatale, which literally translates from French as fatal woman. In the film world she is a character who tends to be beautiful, seductive and mysterious. She uses her feminine wiles to charm her lover (or mark) into compromising situations. They are by type, villainous or morally ambiguous, and they tend to show up in the film-noir genre.
Check out these femme fatales films to watch at least once.
Double Indemnity 1944
Adapted from James M. Cain’s novel of the same title, and in turn, inspired by the story of the Ruth Snyder court case in 1927. Fred MacMurray stars as insurance salesman Walter Neff who meets Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a provocative housewife who is intent on killing her husband. Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keyes, a claims adjuster whose job is to find phoney claims and comes across one that piques his interest.
L.A. Confidential 1997
L.A. Confidential is based on James Ellroy’s 1990 novel of the same name. The film tells the story of a group of LAPD officers in 1953, and the intersection of police corruption and Hollywood celebrity. The title refers to the 1950s scandal magazine Confidential, portrayed in the film as Hush-Hush. Why is it on my list? I’m glad that you wondered! Kim Basinger’s character Lynn Bracken is why. The funny thing is she doesn’t manipulate any of the detectives that she meets, yet her beauty and sensuality sends them nuts. An underrated film in my opinion.
Fatal Attraction 1987
Fatal Attraction follows Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), a married man who has a weekend affair with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), a woman who isn’t ready for it to end and becomes obsessed with him. Anne Archer as Beth Rogerson Gallagher is the long suffering wife that will do anything to protect her family. The term “bunny boiler” is used to describe an obsessive, spurned woman, deriving from the scene where it is discovered that Alex has boiled the pet rabbit. Be warned, this scene alone is upsetting.
The Maltese Falcon 1941
Directed by John Huston in his directorial debut and based on the 1930 novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. It stars Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade and Mary Astor as his femme fatale client, Ruth Wonderly. The story follows a San Francisco private detective and his dealings with three disreputable adventurers, all of whom are competing to obtain a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette. A classic from the Golden age of Hollywood.
The film stars James Stewart as former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson. Scottie is forced into early retirement due to an incident in the line of duty that has caused him to develop acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) and vertigo (a false sense of rotational movement). Scottie is hired by an old acquaintance, Gavin Elster, as a private investigator to follow Gavin’s wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is behaving strangely.
Basic Instinct 1992
San Francisco police detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), is investigating the brutal murder of a wealthy rock star. During the investigation, Curran becomes involved in an intense relationship with the prime suspect, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), an enigmatic writer. This film follows the film noir trope, however when it was released it was controversial to its erotic content.
To Die For 1995
Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) has always been obsessed with being on television, and enthusiastic to become a world-famous broadcast journalist. She marries Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon), whose family restaurant business keeps her financially stable. She takes a job as an assistant at a local cable station, in hopes of climbing the network ladder. Through her relentless persistence, she is eventually promoted to hosting the station’s evening weather report. Larry wants her to give up her dream and start a family, and so the plotting begins.
Mildred Pierce 1945
Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), the second husband of Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford), is murdered. The police tell Mildred that her first husband, Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett), has confessed to the killing. Mildred protests that he couldn’t possibly have committed the murder and reveals her story to the officer in flashback. This film makes the list because the femme fatale presents herself in all shapes and guises. Another Hollywood classic.
After suspecting his wife of having an affair, Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) engages in a one-night stand, while on a business trip in Las Vegas. He soon finds himself entangled in Detective Val Quinlan’s (Hilary Swank) latest investigation, oh and she happens to have been his lover in Las Vegas. With a few twists and turns, we find that Val is very flawed.
Yes I know, you’re going to say “but this is about a dream heist”! And I agree, but what about Mal (Marion Cotillard)? She was Cobb’s (Leonardo Di Caprio) femme fatale, his wife. She was almost successful in destroying him completely while he was working on the inception. I mean he did experiment with her first to realise that inception could be achieved, and he stole her totem!
So here are my films of femme fatales that you should watch at least once.
As usual, I will call you to action and ask if you have seen any of these films? Would you watch any of my recommended titles? Drop me a comment and let me know!