Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pulp Education #3 -- No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir -- The Femme Fatale

by John Blaser

Of the three types of noir women, the femme fatale represents the most direct attack on traditional womanhood and the nuclear family. She refuses to play the role of devoted wife and loving mother that mainstream society prescribes for women. She finds marriage to be confining, loveless, sexless, and dull, and she uses all of her cunning and sexual attractiveness to gain her independence. As Janey Place points out, "She is not often won over and pacified by love for the hero, as is the strong heroine of the forties who is significantly less sexual than the film noir woman." 26 She remains fiercely independent even when faced with her own destruction. And in spite of her inevitable death, she leaves behind the image of a strong, exciting, and unrepentant woman who defies the control of men and rejects the institution of the family.

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, as if she were a piece of property or a pet. According to Sylvia Harvey, the women of film noir are "[p]resented as prizes, desirable objects" 27 for the men of these films, and men's treatment of women as mere possessions is a recurring theme in film noir. In a telling scene from an early noir thriller, I Wake Up Screaming (1941), three men sit in a bar lamenting their unsuccessful attempts to seduce the femme fatale, clearly resenting her inexplicable refusal to be possessed. When one man complains that "Women are all alike," another responds simply, "Well, you've got to have them around — they're standard equipment."

Read the full article: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/noir/np05ff.html