The vamp and the femme fatale are two of the most intriguing figures to emerge from classic cinema. Both are strong female characters who openly live out their desire for money, sex and independence. It’s time to celebrate the ultimate screen seductresses.

Conventionally the femme fatale is thought to be the expression of male anxiety about changing post-war gender roles, but the role that female film makers had in creating the screen vixen is often ignored.

Watching some of the most beautiful and intensely sexual women ever to grace our cinema screens seduce man after man with both their good looks and brilliant wit, only to discard them like unwanted play-things, is utterly fascinating and still surprisingly controversial.

So get your DVD players ready, has picked three classic screen sirens who are not afraid to take what they want.

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953)

Marilyn Monroe plays Rose Loomis whose holiday by Niagara Falls ends in tragedy. Her flirtatiousness and intense sexuality mixed with her husband’s jealous and volatile behaviour cause a dangerous atmosphere. Throw in a secret lover, the gushing waterfall and a sinister carillon for a very Hitchcockian thriller.

Best femme fatale moment: When Rose wears a revealing pink dress to a party held at their motel, she is the centre of all male attention. To take it one step further, she puts on a record which just happens to be the special song she shares with her lover. We love her smug smile as her husband explodes in a fit of jealousy.

Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) is a high-class prostitute whose charm and carefree spirit attracts male and female lovers alike. When she marries the wealthy and established media mogul Dr Schön, her dreams of money and social standing seem to have come true. However her greed for adoration and attention ends in tragedy not just for herself but for those who love her as well.

Best vamp moment: Lulu is about to go on stage as the star of a cabaret show when she spots her lover Dr Schön and his fiancee. Jealous and outraged, she refuses to carry on with the show. As Dr Schön takes her aside to calm her down, Lulu pretends to be in floods of tears as she seductively shows off her naked back until her lover kisses her passionately. When his fiancee walks in on their embrace, exposing their affair, Lulu smiles triumphantly.

Ava Gardner in The Killers (1956)

This classic film noir begins with the assassination of gas station attendant ‘Swede’ Anderson. As the life insurance inspector Jin Reardon tries to piece back together what has lead to the Swede’s death, he again and again comes across the beautiful Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). Needless to say she is anything but innocent.

Best femme fatale moment: When the Swede attends a party with his girlfriend he meets Kitty for the first time. Like a moth attracted to light, he is so completely drawn to her that he leaves his girlfriend there and then, not suspecting that he is being recruited for a heist.

7 Responses

  1. Lena

    Gilda is one of my favoutrite films ever. I love it when she sings ‘Put the Blame on Mame’!

  2. Margaret Perry

    This is a great post – a very scintillating list of femmes fatales! I was reminded of Joan Crawford in THE WOMEN (1939). Does she count? She was simply awful!

  3. Katie

    Joan Crawford isn’t a femme fatale in THE WOMEN because she doesn’t lead anybody/any *man* down the path of death and destruction. Femme fatales are fatal to men and themselves.

    Ann Savage as Vera in DETOUR (1945) is the best femme fatale performance I have ever seen! It’s a little B-film that’s just over an hour long, but her acting is astounding. Vera is pure evil.
    Here is the link to the full film if anyone is interested in it:

  4. kSto

    Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. In her best roles she had a very un-Hayes Code kinky streak running just below the surface.