Films on Femme Fatale

A femme fatale is an attractive and seductive but ultimately dangerous woman. Borrowing from French femme fatale (literally “deadly woman”).

Femme Fatale

Thriller 2002 R 114 minutes. Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a master of manipulation and guile, takes part in one last jewel theft and then abruptly leaves behind her life of crime. Reinvented in the guise of a respectable married woman, Laure soon captures the attention of photographer Nicolas (Antonio Banderas). A soulful ex-paparazzo who’s mesmerized by the elusive adventuress, Nicolas shatters her carefully crafted world with one shutter click of his camera.

L.A. Confidential

Drama 1997 R 138 minutes. In 1950s Los Angeles, three wildly different cops form an uneasy alliance to ferret out deep-seated police corruption. But some people will do anything to land their faces in the pages of trashy Hollywood tabloids such as Hush-Hush magazine.

To Die For

Docudrama 1995 R 106 minutes. Vacuous Suzanne Stone is dead-set on making her dream of being on television come true, but there’s a hitch: her hubby, who wants her to stay at home. Ever determined, Suzanne drafts a lovesick teen to help execute a sinister plot — and her spouse. based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, which in turn was based on the Pamela Smart story.

Basic Instinct

Thriller 1992 R 127 minutes. Facing internal inquiry, Det. Curran doggedly pursues a case involving Catherine, a writer and temptress who is suspected in a murder reminiscent of a crime detailed in her book. As the body count rises, so does Curran’s obsession with Catherine.

Fatal Attraction

Thriller 1987 R 119 minutes. Married Dan Gallagher gives in to the tantalizing flirtations of attractive Alex Forrest, and they embark on a steamy weekend fling. But Dan’s passing indiscretion comes back to haunt him as an increasingly unhinged Alex refuses to let go.

Body Heat

Thriller 1981 R 113 minutes. In a sizzling-hot Florida town, attorney Ned Racine (William Hurt) becomes dangerously involved with the sultry Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) — and promptly schemes for a way to get her wealthy, much-older husband out of the picture. Ned’s knowledge of legal matters may enable both conspirators to escape scot-free — and Matty is craftier than anyone ever dreamed. Lawrence Kasdan directs this throwback to the early days of film noir.

The Postman Always Rings Twice  (1981)

Thriller 1981 R 121 minutes. This remake of John Garfield’s classic film noir goes where 1940s Hollywood feared to tread: into the realm of explicit sex. Jack Nicholson is a drifter who falls hard for Cora Papadakis (Jessica Lange), the wife of a café owner in Depression-era California. Their love sizzles, but things head south when murder enters the picture.

The Postman Always Rings Twice  (1946)

Drama 1946 NR 113 minutes The sexual chemistry between Depression-era drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) and sexy, smoldering roadside café waitress Cora (Lana Turner) is so hot that they’ll do anything to keep the fire lit — even if it means killing Cora’s husband. Although the sex scenes were watered down to conform to industry standards, this classic based on an original story by author James M. Cain was still considered shocking for its time.

Chinatown

Thriller 1974 R 2hr 10m. With a suspicious femme fatale bankrolling his snooping, private eye J.J. Gittes uncovers intricate dirty dealings in the Los Angeles waterworks.

Play Misty for Me

Thriller 1971 R 103 minutes. Silver-tongued radio disc jockey Dave (Clint Eastwood) can’t help but notice the persistent calls from a female to “play ‘Misty’ for me.” But a chance meeting with infatuated fan Evelyn leads to a brief and steamy love affair. Dave quickly learns he’s in for more than a little night music, and that Evelyn will stop at nothing — even the return of one of Dave’s old flames — to have him all to herself. The film marks Eastwood’s directorial debut.

Mississippi Mermaid

Thriller 1969 PG 123 minutes. Louis (Jean-Paul Belmondo) owns a cigarette factory on an African island, but it’s lonely work — so he puts an ad in the newspaper looking for a bride. Much to his surprise, the lovely and intoxicating Julie (Catherine Deneuve) answers the ad. But as Louis falls hopelessly for her, he discovers Julie isn’t who she appears to be. He soon finds himself caught up in a whirlpool of dangerous obsession in this classic thriller from Francois Truffaut.

Vertigo

Thriller 1958 PG 129 minutes. One of Alfred Hitchcock’s darkest and most compelling suspense films tells the story of police detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who has a crippling fear of heights — and an all-consuming obsession with a married woman. When an old friend asks him to tail his wife (Kim Novak), Scottie is drawn into a vortex of deceit and murder. But that’s only the beginning as a mesmerizing score draws Scottie to the film’s haunting final shot.

Mildred Pierce

Drama 1945 NR 109 minutes. This potent mixture of melodrama and film noir was nominated for six Oscars and features a standout performance by Joan Crawford. When police interrogate restaurateur Mildred Pierce (Crawford) after finding her second husband dead, will her obsession with her selfish oldest daughter Veda (Ann Blyth), cause Mildred to sacrifice herself to protect her child?

Double Indemnity

Drama 1944 NR 1hr 47m. A smitten insurance man plots the perfect murder with his femme fatale client: staging her husband’s “accidental” death to collect on the insurance.

Scarlet Street

Drama Film Noir 1945 103 min. Masterfully directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street is a bleak film in which an ordinary man succumbs first to vice and then to murder. Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is a lonely man married to a nagging wife. Painting is the only thing that brings him joy. Cross meets Kitty (Joan Bennett) who, believing him to be a famous painter, begins an affair with him. Encouraged by her lover, con man Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea) Kitty persuades Cross to embezzle money from his employer in order to  pay for her lavish apartment. In that apartment, happy for the first time in his life, Cross paints Kitty’s picture. Johnny then pretends that Kitty painted to portrait, which has won great critical acclaim. Finally realizing he has been manipulated, Cross kills Kitty, loses his job, and because his name has been stolen by Kitty, is unable to paint. He suffers a mental breakdown as the film ends, haunted by guilt. Kitty and Johnny are two of the most amoral and casual villains in the history of film noir, both like predatory animals completely without conscience. Milton Krasner’s photography is excellent in its use of stark black-and-white to convey psychological states. Fritz Lang is unparalleled in his ability to convey the desperation of hapless, naïve victims in a cruelly realistic world. Scarlet Street is based on the French novel La Chienne by Georges de La Fouchardière, and previously had been dramatized cinematically as La Chienne by director Jean Renoir.

La Chienne

Drama 1931. French film by director Jean Renoir. The literal English translation of the film’s title is “The Bitch”, although the movie was never released under this title. It is often referred to in English as Isn’t Life a Bitch? Maurice (Michel Simon) is a married cashier who meets Lulu (Janie Marèze), a streetwalker. Their chance meeting results in Maurice falling in love with Lulu. She, however, is in love with her boyfriend-pimp, Dédé (Georges Flamant). Together, Dédé and Lulu plot ways to get Maurice to give cash to Lulu, mostly at the urging of Dédé. It was remade by Fritz Lang in the United States as Scarlet Street in 1945.

(In this film La Chienne, Michel Simon falls in love with Janie Marèse, and he did off-screen as well, while Marèse fell for Georges Flamant, who plays the pimp. Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger had encouraged the relationship between Flamant and Marèse in order to get the fullest conviction into their performances – Flamant was a professional criminal but an amateur actor. After the film had been completed Flamant, who could barely drive, took Marèse for a drive, crashed the car and she was killed. At the funeral Michel Simon fainted and had to be supported as he walked past the grave. He threatened Renoir with a gun, saying that the death of Marèse was all his fault. “Kill me if you like”, responded Renoir, “but I have made the film”.)

Baby Face

Drama 1933 NR 76 minutes. Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) may look innocent, but she’s far from naive. From her lowly beginnings serving drinks in her father’s speakeasy, she uses her looks and charm to hook up with a series of men, dropping each after they’ve helped her advance in the world. Leaving a trail of broken hearts and ruined lives, cynical Lily eventually realizes that she, too, may be vulnerable to love — and the pain that goes with it.

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