In the realm of classic film noir there are certain factors — and actors — you can always count on in any combination: a private eye in a sharp suit; a cop with a New York accent; a good man gone bad; a murder needing to be solved; a sordid affair; a femme fatale, frequently blonde.
The blonde (alias the dame or the skirt) — is the one who either a) commits the murder; b) is covering up the murder; or c) distracts the authorities off the trail of the murderer. Also — and this is vital — her looks are killer (even if she is not).
Cases in point:
Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. One of my favorite movies, certainly my favorite film noir. Fred MacMurray plays the life-insurance salesman who lusts after the wife (Stanwyck) of a new client. She leads him far, far astray, as the two plot and carry out the murder of her husband. But watch out for double crossing, lovers crossing, and train crossings. Stanwyck’s character is so bad she absolutely shimmers. When this blonde bombshell explodes, watch out. (See also: Kathleen Turner in Body Heat for a modern update on this classic.)
Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. Worth watching, if just for the scene where Bacall’s character (“Slim”) seduces both Bogart (“Steve”) and the audience with her feminine wiles and wit. After a kiss that sizzles off the screen, Slim leaves Steve with this legendary lure:
“You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle.You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together … and blow.”
Definitely to have.
Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. The ultimate man-marries-blonde, man-blackmails-someone-to-murder-blonde, man-underestimates-strength-of-blonde film. Ray Milland is absolutely chilling, but it is Grace Kelly, delicate in looks only, who steals the spotlight. (See also: Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas in the remake, A Perfect Murder, which varies a bit from the original but is also a nail biter.)
Of course, not all films in the noir genre include a fair-haired femme fatale. But the impact on the subconscious — of a cool, smart, beautiful blonde in a drama simmering with dark heat — is undeniably brilliant and endlessly unpredictable.
Watch your back.
ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman