The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Great Femme Fatales of Film Noir

Gloria Grahame The Big Heat Femme Fatale

Gloria Grahame represents Femme Fatales

Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.

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.

So below is my list of the top femme fatales of classic Film Noir. I look forward to your comments.

RankActress - RoleMovieComment
1Jane Greer - Kathie Moffat
Out of the Past (1947)
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.
2Barbara Stanwyck - Phyllis Dietrichson
Double Indemnity (1944)
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.
3Mary Astor - Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Maltese Falcon (1941)
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.
4Gloria Swanson - Norma Desmond
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
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.
5Audrey Totter - Adrienne FromsettLady in the Lake (1947)
6Jan Sterling - Lorraine Minosa
Ace in the Hole (1952)
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.
7Lana Turner - Cora SmithThe Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
8Rita Hayworth - Elsa BannisterThe 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.
9Ava Gardner - Kitty CollinsThe Killers (1946)
10Joan Bennet - Kitty MarchScarlet Street (1945)Joan Bennet as Kitty March is brutal as she and her boyfriend fleece a lone older man.
11Marilyn Monroe - Rose LoomisNiagara (1953)If you ever think Marilyn Monroe can't act, watch Niagara (1953). She is great and great at being evil.
12Ann Savage - VeraDetour (1945)Ann Savage as Vera has to control everything until it comes to an end for everyone.
13Gene Tierney - Ellen BerentLeave Her to Heaven (1945)
14Barbara Stanwyck - Kathy Doyle

Crime of Passion (1957)
15Lee Remick - Laura ManionAnatomy of a Murder (1959)
16Marie Windsor - Sherry PeattyThe Killing (1956)
17 Lana Carlson - Ida LupinoThey Drive By Night (1940)
18Gloria Grahame - Irene NevesSudden Fear (1952)
19Lauren Bacall - Amy NorthYoung Man with a Horn (1950)
20Gloria Grahame - Debby Marsh

The Big Heat (1953)
21Lizabeth Scott - Jane PalmerToo Late For Tears (1949)
22Marie Windsor - Mrs. Frankie Neall

The Narrow Margin (1952)
23Rita Hayworth - GildaGilda (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.

Great Femme Fatales of Film Noir

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