Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Talking noir dames with The Nitrate Diva, Part One

EPISODE 220: Noir Dames, Part 1

CLIP Too Late For Tears What do I call you beside stupid…

BETH ACCOMANDO

Dames. None were sassier, sexier or more lethal than the women of film noir. They lied, stole, cheated, murdered and just refused to conform to any standard notions of femininity.

CLIP Murder My Sweet I find men very attractive.. I imagine they meet you halfway.

Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (drums)

BETH ACCOMANDO

Welcome back to listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie I'm Beth Accomando.

Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (Horns)

BETH ACCOMANDO

When most people think of noir dames they think of femme fatales like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or Jane Greer in Out of the Past. And while women like this help define film noir they are only one type of female that you will find wandering the dimly lit streets of noir. To explore the diversity of noir dames I have invited Nora Fiore, the Nitrate Diva to join me. So get ready to meet some femme fatales to die for as well as The Lady Sleuth, The Long Suffering Wife, and the Glamorous Victim as we explore more than just the usual suspects of film noir. (:38)

Music theme bump out.

CLIP Out of the Past Can’t you even feel sorry for me… get out I have to sleep in this room.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Women in film noir sometimes get a bad rap. They can be seen as dangerous ice queens only out to get what they want no matter how many people get killed along the way. But they also represented something exciting in terms of screen representation – they were women with agency and they often operated in a man’s world and on equal footing. They might not have been role models but damn, they were riveting and you couldn’t take your eyes off them. I need to take one quick break and then the Nitrate Diva and I will explain why we love film noir and noir dames. There's been a lot of discussion and scholarship about the types of women in noir so we are not breaking any new ground here but we are adding our own perspective and citing our favorite examples. So hold tight and I’ll be right back with a gallery of unforgettable noir dames.

CLIP Out of the Past You ought to have killed me for what I did…

Break

BETH ACCOMANDO

Welcome back. Hopefully you listened to my previous podcast of going down Noir Alley with TCM host Eddie Muller. That’s where we defined what noir is and what a film needs to have to be defined as noir. Now I am going to focus in on just noir dames and to do that I have Nora Fiore, who is probably better known as the Nitrate Diva, to discuss the topic. We met years ago at the TCM Film Festival because we share a love of classic film. I wanted to have Nora on because we both love the women of film noir and don’t feel that noir deserves the oft-repeated criticism of being misogynistic. Yes, I admit noir does not have a lot of positive female role models but who wants to watch people behaving nicely and only making wise decisions? Not me. The women of noir might not be good but they are never dull. I asked Nora what she thought about noir being labeled as misogynistic and whether she thought the label was accurate or fair.

NORA FIORE

So as a whole, I don't see it that way. I think it's important to recognize that noir allows women to explore the full spectrum of humanity, from the angelic to the demonic, but mostly the shadings in between. And I think it says a lot about our culture that we continue to be so fixated on the femme fatales, on the temptresses when that is not the case in every single noir. There's this tremendous variety of roles that women can play within film noir. And I hope that's part of what we're going to be discussing today because there are good girls. There are bad girls. There are professional women. There are women who are just trying to live off of what they can get from other people in life. There's really so many facets to feminine identity in noir that I wouldn't want to just kind of pigeonhole it as being misogynistic. Are their depictions of women in noir that are clearly very anxious about women's power, women's sexuality. Well, of course, but I think you can find examples of misogyny in noir. Do I think there's probably specific examples of misogyny noir? Yeah. I mean, sure there are, but I was reading a book by a scholar whom I really do respect, but he comes to this conclusion that I can't share that Noir's ideological project was that women belong in the domestic sphere, that women are dangerous when they're outside the home. And I kind of had to chuckle at that because the noir movement is this sprawling, complex thing. I don't see it as having a project short. Classic Hollywood is governed by the production code, which is all about enforcing traditional values and roles. But Noir's project, if anything, was subverting that code and that ideology. So even if the characters are punished in the end, their upheaval and the enjoyment we get from their rebellion, I find that kind of coded. I guess it depends on how you see it. I guess it depends on who's watching what I'm sure some people watch more and say, I see it's proof that women are bad, and I watch it and I go, that was fun. So your minor shake it up once in a while. So I think it always depends. Ideology depends on the eye of the beholder to some extent. But to take the most baseline assumption that noir is supporting classic Hollywood's overall ideological framework of the production code, I mean, when it's subverting it in all these other ways, I think it's under selling what the movement as a whole was doing. Maybe if some films are in different positions in terms of how they portray women.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, I think the thing I loved about it was that women were behaving in ways that usually you only saw men and they were using sexual power. They were having a lot of agency in terms of determining where their story was going. They weren't just passively along for the ride and seeing characters like Barbara Stanwick in Double Indemnity or Jane Greer in Out Of The Past

CLIP Out of the Past Get out I have to sleep in this room…

BETH ACCOMANDO

As evil as they may be, a s a young girl, I was just excited to see women have so much power and exert, so much kind of like direction in terms of where their story was going, even if they were going in completely wrong direction.

NORA FIORE

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's important to recognize the extent to which noir is tied to melodrama, which is such a female centric genre, which is all about giving Betty Davis and Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwick and these incredible actresses of the era front and center the roles to grapple with moral dilemmas and family dilemmas. But noir is taking it a shade darker where they're criminal dilemmas, often in many cases. So someone like Claire Trevor in Born to Kill. She was afraid to play that role. She was kind of worried that the audience was going to hate her because she was playing such a morally compromised, wicked individual.

CLIP Born to Kill It’s painful to die

NORA FIORE

But it's an incredible performance in many ways. It may be her best performance because she dares to go there. So I totally agree with you and that I find something empowering in the way the women are able to drive the drama. And I think Eddie Muller has a great line about this about how women are equally tempted and equally guilty in noir. And there's something empowering about that. They're not in the supporting roles. They're absolutely equal partners in whatever skullduggery is happening.

CLIP Double Indemnity we have gone through with it the tough part is behind us…

BETH ACCOMANDO

And we've touched on this a little bit. But what is it about these noir Dames that is attractive and that is really setting them off as different from what we had been seeing before.

NORA FIORE

Well, in many ways, I would argue that they are not so very different. When you look at the powerful nuanced women of the pre-Code era, we see a lot of the same issues, a lot of the same problems of being dragged into a life of crime, of trying to make ends meet, of having to use your sexual capital in a way that is sometimes not comfortable for you or has unintended consequences. Some of the women bridge both of those eras, Joan Bennett, Joan Crawford, Mary Astor, Barbara Stanwyck.

CLIP Babyface

NORA FIORE

And you do see women involved in crime plot lines. But I think what really does make the noir Danes different is that now we do have the production code that there was this backlash against the moral liberties of the pre-Code era. So it's a little more twisted for darkness. They're not just dealing with these situations in a very mature, open, straightforward way, but it's kind of like they're dealing with these situations with this added layer of constraint that is making it have to be twisted. Now that is making it have to be a little bit of a casting, a slight moral judgment on it, which is perhaps why noir can get a little is perceived by some people as being misogynistic. They have to be punished in the end now for their transgressions, which gives the stories kind of a darker flavor.

CLIP Double Indemnity No I never loved you until I fired that shot…

NORA FIORE

And I think another thing, too, is that you have World War II's influence on the culture. So women had been taking on these roles, keeping the home front going, Rosie, the Riveter, all that stuff. So there's a sense of confidence, of having entered a little bit more of a man's world that you get as a result of World War II. But also they're now racked with doubts. They've kind of been put back in their place after the war. And I think there's also in the noir movement era, there's the psychological interest where you have this element of Freudian theories and just this fascination with neurosis, with probing, disturbed mental state. So there's a little bit more, maybe of a psychological angle of the portrayal of women in noir instead of just looking at their behavior or their role in society like you see in Pre Code, maybe a little bit more of let's probe deep into the mind of what made her do this, what made her so warped, what made her so unhinged, that kind of slant to it. But, I mean, I do think there's a lot in common between the portrayals of women in the pre-Code era and film noir, and that they're kind of outlaws within a culture. Maybe in pre-Code, they're living on the margins of society, whether they're kept women or they're entertainers or whatever. In film noir, they're almost become outlaws within a culture. They're the desperado in an apron in the kitchen. Now that Underground is coming back up into the domestic sphere and into the everyday life that I think is a really kind of fascinating contradiction where the stuff that was maybe front and center before now has to take a little bit more of an oblique angle to get into the films. And I just find those contradictions really fascinating.

CLIP Gun Crazy I want things, a lot of things…

BETH ACCOMANDO

Now we're going to talk about the diversity of women that are in noir. But let's start with kind of the defining one of the defining icons of noir, which is the femme fatale. This can get very stereotyped in people's minds. But this is usually the female character who is alluring seductive but dangerous because she can be deceitful or lethal. But we share a couple of favorite femme fatales. And so let's start with Jane Greer’s Kathy and Out of the Past, which is one of my all time favorite noirs and one of my all time favorite female characters.

CLIP Out of the Past You’re a curious man you never ask any questions…

BETH ACCOMANDO

And why is she one of your favorites?

NORA FIORE

I admire the control of her performance more than anything. Greer was instructed by the director by Jacques Renew to remain impassive, as he said, with no big eyes. And boy, she did it. It is such a subtle performance. It's such an elegant performance. She is never overacting the character. In many ways, she is the perfect counterpart to Mitchum, who is so understated. And I think that's another reason maybe why noir resonates so well today because in many cases, the acting style is this laconic, low key performance style that I think plays very well with the naturalism that modern audiences expect, as opposed to the more presentational styles you might see. And maybe more typical melodrama. Although you do get full tilt performances in noir as well. But I mean, Greer, she's so young. She's in her early 20s, she looks young. And yet she is so frighteningly poised and sure of herself. And the way she navigates these dangerous waters, I think that contradiction is fascinating. That scene where the men are fighting in the cabin, they're having this really brutal fist fight, and she doesn't look scared. She doesn't look worried. She just is watching them for the exact right moment.

CLIP Out of the Past Gun shot… why’d you kill him

NORA FIORE

She has been in this situation before. She knows how to handle situations like this. And I think it's that sense of mastery that she has, even when the tide seems to be turning against her. That is so fascinating. She's also a bit of a Shapeshifter in Acapulco. She's this dream woman, this romantic object.

CLIP Out of the Past Then she would come along like school was out…

NORA FIORE

But then she can turn into this icy killer. She can be the scared mistress. And you wonder, oh, this poor woman. What has she gone through? Is she being victimized in this situation? She goes through so many transformations, and I love her chemistry with Mitchum. I do think a lot of femme fatales are so icy to the point where they maybe become a little unrelatable. You just kind of wonder, is there really anything to you Besides your love of money and your desire to manipulate other people. But Greer really captures this romantic spark with Mitchum that I think is beautiful and really makes this film so appealing that it is a doomed love story. More than anything, it is a twisted love story of these people who kind of can't quit each other.

CLIP Out of the Past if you’re thinking of someone else forget about her

NORA FIORE

At the end of the movie, she could skip off, she could leave town, leave him holding the bag. But no, she waits for him. And ultimately, that proves her undoing. Hopefully, that's not too much of a spoiler. I mean, it is a noir. We know this isn't going anywhere good. So I love that performance. I love her interplay with Mitchum, and I just think it's fantastically, controlled and beautiful and understated performance.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, the other thing about being understated is she doesn't give you anything to read, so you can't tell if she’s telling the truth.

CLIP Out of the Past Won’t you believe me?... Baby I don’t care.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And that's what keeps her I think so interesting through it. And that's why Mitchum has such a hard time dealing with her, too, because was she in love with him? Was she not? Should he trust her this time? And it keeps you going?

NORA FIORE

Yeah. To what extent are her motives determined by what factor in her nature? She really does a great job of keeping you guessing and something that was interesting I read in an old movie magazine somewhere was that she was really incredible at imitating both Mitchell and Kirk Douglas that she had the crew in stitches doing imitations of them, kind of trying to out tough guy each other. I think that speaks a lot to her performance because she is one of the tough guys, right? Her presence, though very feminine and desirable, is in no way less tough, less hard boiled than any of the men in the movie. She is utterly recognizable as part of their breed and their world. So I think just the way she can kind of stand toe to toe with these tremendously macho tough dudes is really impressive, too. Yeah.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And you mentioned the way she transforms, but I remember watching this film in film class when I was in College and seeing it on the big screen. I remember I was struck by how through the course of the film, the quality of the light that she shot in changes.

CLIP Out of the Past She came in out of the sunlight…

BETH ACCOMANDO

And then the next time we see her, it's like moonlight.

CLIP Out of the Past she was there in the headlights…

BETH ACCOMANDO

It's a transformation that she has not just through her character, but just through the visual kind of presentation that she's given in the film.

NORA FIORE

Definitely. Yeah. I read that they even intentionally wanted to make her costumes go always integration from light to dark, but somehow there was a mix up, so it's not a perfect progression, but it's pretty darn close. I mean, definitely by the end, when she's in that none like traveling costume, she's so severe, it could not be more different from the way she looks at the beginning, where she's this breezy, dream woman stepping out of the sun into the Cantina. And I love that one of the final shots of her where for the first time, you really see almost like a mask slip. And it's maybe the only time in the movie where she is not impassive, where her face is contorted and you go, wow, at the last minute, the mask falls and you see the humanity and this scared woman who might have been there all along. Or maybe it's just coming out at the very end because death is the one player in her life she can't seduce her way out of that's, the one who's coming for her and will not be vamped off of the case.

CLIP Out of the Past You dirty double crossing rat…

BETH ACCOMANDO

I need to take one last break and then I’ll be back with Nora Fiore, the Nitrate Diva to continue our discussion of Noir Dames.

Break

BETH ACCOMANDO

Welcome back. I want to wrap up the discussion of femme fatales with Nora Fiore, the Nitrate Diva so we can move on to look at some of the other types of noir dames. But one of the attractions of these femme fatales is their ability to be on very equal footing with men. And part of that is the wonderful exchanges of dialogue you get where they are smart and sassy and hold their own completely with their male counterparts.

CLIP Woman on the Run Drop dead

NORA FIORE

Yes, absolutely. I love all the banter and the chit chat that makes more so appealing. These kind of little meet cute scenes where they're sizing each other up is really very delightful.

CLIP Out of the Past There’s a way to lose more slowly…

NORA FIORE

Although the interesting thing to me about that movie is that there are certainly noirs where you feel like the chatter. The repertoire is a little more sassy and Out of the Past, it almost has the sense of drifting into the current. It's a very different kind of melding together than what you see in, say, Double Indemnity, where they're rattling off this great Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler wisecracks at each other.

CLIP Double Indemnity

NORA FIORE

So it's interesting how many different variations exist within that. Yeah.

NORA FIORE

I guess I'm inclined to disagree with the idea of her being purely a victim. I think there are some women in noir that we are encouraged to see a lot more as a victim of their circumstances as they've been trapped by the situation, or they made a choice based on their emotions that turned out to be really bad for them. I wouldn't say she was forced into the life she was living. I mean, she is a tough, beautiful woman who wants luxury and excitement. She wants the best deal she can get out of this world. She shot Whit and took her 40 grand. Nobody forced her to do that. She could have just run out. I'm sure she could be living a quiet, law abiding life if she wanted to, but that's not the person she is. Like she tells Jeff, we're no good for anybody else. They need that forbidden charge. Although I do think that the film shows the violence that she faces. And while that doesn't excuse or explain her actions entirely, we do understand that a certain milieu has contributed to the way she is. Right where Whit the scene where Whit just slaps her around that's hard to forget. You can see that thought hardening into her eyes of like, I'm really going to kill him this time. And she gets that line at the end about how she wishes she could tell Jeff all the things that she wishes he knew about her. So kind of explaining that there might be some extenuating circumstances that life hasn't been easy for her. But I don't think that the film wants us to see her as oh poor Kathy or anything like that. I think that she has succumbed to temptation. She has embraced the dark side, and I think she can still be sympathetic. We can still accept the fact that maybe there are circumstances that forced her into that without excusing her or flattening her into a victim.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Now, another femme fatale that is a favorite of both of ours is Lizabeth Scott in Too Late For Tears. She plays Jane. And while Kathy is kind of given to us as a woman who is dangerous, I mean, the first piece of information we get about her is that she shot, Whit she stole his money, and Mitchell needs to go after her. So we never see her in any situation other than this very kind of noir, dark, shadowy world. But Jane is presented to us initially as kind of this loving wife. We see her with her husband fate kind of drops this thing in their lap, which is they're driving on a road. Somebody throws money in their car, and it's suddenly that kind of opportunity to have this sudden influx of money makes her either a completely different person or taps into something that's always been lurking there. But she's an interesting femme fatal in that we kind of see her before that transformation. But man, when she turns, she is one fascinating and dangerous character.

NORA FIORE

Yes. Although it's interesting, you say loving wife, though, because the first conversation we hear her having with her husband from the beginning is a very materialistic one, right?

CLIP It’s his diamond encrusted wife…

NORA FIORE

So I think you really, from the very start, get a sense of her pathology. Maybe we are surprised at how confident she is at this whole female thing, given her lack of previous experience. Unlike Kathy, who's kind of a professional at handling these kinds of characters. But the thing I do love about Too Late For Tears. Is it's suggesting that maybe the domestic life can make you just as rotten and just as dangerous as a life on the outskirts of society, living among gangsters and private eyes and gamblers and all these types of people? And I do think in many ways she's a much colder fish than Kathy because Kathy, there's some undeniable something going on between her and Jeff. She feels for him on some level, in a way that may even be kind of her doom. But Jane, no, it's the money. It's the greenbacks that really get her excited. I love how from the very first, you know, the moment that money lands in their car and they're being pursued, like she's suddenly like a stunt driver at the wheel, it awakened this thing that has been lurking in her. And you do get this story about you get some backstory on her about this first marriage that was again, her materialism, pulling her into a situation that it's unclear exactly what happened there but was doomed to another man that she kind of is very representative. Like she's internalized the keeping up with the Joneses thing, but twisted it to its darkest version of it. One thing I really do love about Too Late For Tears is, everybody knows, Double Indemnity, huge hit. They've been making these kinds of films for a long time. It's fascinating to see how quickly noir becomes kind of self aware. And I think I love Too Late For Tears because Roy Huggins, who is just a very clever writer, is kind of taking this character of the Homicidal Housewife, the Barbara Stanwick type and really just pushing it to absolute extremes and saying, like, let's make it. She's not just going to get some Schmo to help her do this. Like she's suddenly a stunt driver. She's suddenly out. She's suddenly tougher than Dan Duryea. She's suddenly poisoning people.

CLIP Too Late For Tears She’ll take poison

NORA FIORE

I love Liz Scott's performance where you just believe that this has been festering inside of her all along. You're never like, Wait, you can't do that. You're like, yeah, you've probably been thinking about killing somebody for a long time, just kind of accept it. So I love that performance. That's another one where I feel like she's kind of humorless, like, it's such a funny film. But she herself is rather humorless. Like, so much of the humor is coming from Dan Duryea character, who's got all these incredible lines about don't ever change Tiger. She says…

CLIP I couldn’t kill my husband… What’d he die of pneumonia?

NORA FIORE

what do you die of pneumonia That has some of the best banter of any noir I just love that film. It's hilarious. And it's just so funny to watch Dan Duryea muscle into her life, doing his thing, slapping her around and thinking the character thinks he's so in control and finding out quite quickly that he's out of his depth here. I just love the way she turns the tables on him. I think that's such a cleverly written film and one that I enjoy watching over and over and over again, and she really comes darn close to getting away with it, and that it's kind of giddy how her run on the border? And, yeah, it's just a very fun film.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, there's also a point at which Dan Duryea muscles his way into her apartment by pretending to be a cop. And then he challenges her and he says, like, hey, look, if you were innocent, you never would have let me come in.

CLIP Too Late For Tears Housewives get bored…

BETH ACCOMANDO

You get the sense that man, is this what she's been thinking about all this time that she's left at home while her husband is out at work, that she's just sitting at home, bored, contemplating, Well, how can I murder people? Well, that poison is good. That would work. Or there's that gun.

NORA FIORE

You definitely get the sense that Jane Palmer has seen Double Indemnity. Right? Like, you get the sense that she has been going to the movies on her occasionally and thinking, I could do that. I can do that better than her. Her technique is terrible. Just again, I feel like Jane Palmer herself. She's kind of a meta femme fatale. You get the sense that she knows what she is and what she's doing has probably been picking up some tips all along from some of the pros she's seen on the movie screen or in hard boiled novels or something. She just seems like the type.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, it's interesting because her husband seems so oblivious to who she is. But I think when I said, she's a loving wife, I think it's more like the vision we see of her is kind of through his eyes initially because he's like, oh, you don't want to do that you want to do the right thing. He seems so completely blind to what her potential is and what lurks inside her heart. If she has one that it's really interesting. She even pulls Dan Duryea, too. I mean, he doesn't even guess the depths to which she can go.

NORA FIORE

One of the moments in the film that always makes me laugh the most is right after the husband has given her one of these Pep talks about you'll forget the money, Jane. We'll be so much happier without it. And he pulled her into this embrace. And as he pulled her in the brace, you see her face and it is like Stone Cold, like, no, it is just like her eyes are wide open, like, I cannot think of the thought of living without this money. Now it's just such a hilarious moment of like, he could not be more clueless about who she is. I feel like that's kind of what that movie is about. It's like, who is your wife? Really? Is it the woman that you see before you hug her, or is it the woman whose face is over your shoulder making this? I want the money face, the dual identity of Jane Palmer. That's such a charming film.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, that is one of my favorites also. So these are kind of fairly classic femme fatales. And these are the kind of characters that I think people think of immediately when they think of the film noir woman. But you pointed out that you feel like there's a greater diversity to this and you've actually thought of some categories. So to kind of prove that diversity, let's start with the character you call the self reliant entertainer and who are the best examples of that?

NORA FIORE

Well, one of the things people see a lot noir is there are so many movies about private eyes. There are so many movies about detectives. But I was trying to think of what is really the equivalent of the professional Detective man in noir, because most of the women who are detecting are more amateurs. I feel like the professional woman that you see a lot in noir is this entertainer type, this nightclub singer or performer who is kind of a transient character. She knows how to take care of herself in a way that is not really threatening. The femme fatale intelligence is often weaponized against somebody. The self reliant entertainer, she's just trying to make a living. She's just trying to live her life. She's tough, but she's tough in a very defensive, self protective way and not in a way that's designed to put off or hurt anybody else. She's kind of a live and let live kind of character. And I think one of the great examples of this is the character Ida Lupino plays in The Man I Love and also in Roadhouse.

CLIP Roadhouse I leave when I want to leave… silly boy…

NORA FIOREVery similar character of this nightclub singer who really has a tremendous mastery of almost any situation she can be in she helps other people where she can. She maybe is a little sassy. Might be a little jealous, might be a little cynical at times, but in the end, we know she has a heart of gold and the man I love I always think of Ida Lupino as being the female equivalent of what Raymond Chandler said about Humphrey Bogart, that he was tough without a gun.

CLIP That’s not bad… but it’s not good.

NORA FIORE

That's Ida Lupino. She's tough without a gun and the man I love she slaps a gun right out of a guy's hand and Roadhouse she's tough without a gun she's also tough with a gun. I won't say too much more about that, but she just has this incredible skill set. She can sing, she can protect herself. She can match any of these guys. But she also has this feminine skill set, too. She can improvise a bathing suit out of two scarves. She can kind of be the therapist friend and the man I love and help everybody understand their lives better. But she also has her secret wounds and trouble. So I think this type of character of a woman who has a job but a job that is outside the pale of, like, middle class respectability. She's not a Secretary, she's not a nurse, she's an entertainer. She's mixing and maybe some seedy company sometimes. But she's a good guy. She's unmistakably a good guy and as perceived by the characters in the film. Another great example of this, I think, is Veronica Lake in this Gun for Hire, who is a magician nightclub performer who has these fabulous routines where she's dressed as a fisherman or she's pulling doves out of the air. But she's such a resourceful, sympathetic character. And she has such a pure reputation in spite of being mixed up with the noir world of nightclub culture that she's even recruited as a spy to vamp the bad guys and get information on them in this complex plot.

CLIP This Gun For Hire Recruited as spy

NORA FIORE

But even Alan Ladd, who's the killer, ultimately can see and hear this decency that kind of redeems him. In the end, another example of this might be Ann Sheridan in Nora Prentiss, where the guy becomes fixated on her. But she's just trying to make a living. She's just trying to live and let live. As this nightclub singer, she might be involved in some places that would seem a little seedy or disrespectable to snotty or kind of conventional people. But she herself is unmistakably, decent, unmistakably. She's kind of navigating the world with her own moral Compass. And so it's nice to see these women who are outside of the traditional, respectable female middle class roles. But the films are really communicating that they have this strong moral compass that guides them as they're navigating these difficult situations.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, you mentioned that these are kind of like the counterpoint to the gumshoe, and in that sense, too, they reflect these characters who convey a certain moral ambiguity because they work in professions that mainstream America probably looks at as kind of maybe not 100% up and up like they do, consort with, like, seedy characters or entering a terrain that's a little bit nebulous. But they both have this very strong kind of personal code like that code will not break. They will stick to that. And I think that's interesting that they share that across these gender roles.

NORA FIORE

Absolutely, yes, that they may mix with crime, that they may have to rub shoulders with gangsters, but they would never do anything wrong. You just kind of trust them morally to be the center of their films a little bit outside of the nightclub singer. Another one like this for me, is Susan Hayward and Deadline at dawn. And she really is overlapping, kind of with the sleuth characters. And she helps unravel the mystery where she's a taxi dancer.

CLIP Deadline at Dawn Do you have to talk?

NORA FIORE

That's another female profession. That's beyond the pale of normal respectability. But her street smarts and her understanding of the city make her able to help a guy who's in need of help. She's kind of cranky. She's tired, she's cynical, she's jaded. But there's a goodness in her that you just can't miss, and it's really very charmingly portrayed. So I love this character of the woman who lived on her own. She can take care of herself. But as you say, you just kind of don't doubt that there's a personal code that's driving her behavior that makes her morally kind of the equal of the private eye, the good privatized. There's plenty of crooked private eyes in Nor, too. But the Philip Marlow who's the Sir Galahad and getting pushed in the alley kind of guy.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, before we leave the self reliant performer, the self reliant entertainer. I just want to point out that Ida Lupino was kind of that in a certain way behind the scenes because she ended up directing being one of the very few women who directed a noir with The Hitchhiker, and she proved to be quite confident in the behind the scenes world of Hollywood in terms of doing things that not a lot of women got to do at that time.

CLIP The Hitch-Hiker

NORA FIORE

Absolutely. The Hitchhiker is such a harrowing film, and it's interesting because it's about men being forced in situations where they have to be kind of passive and just live to fight another day, waiting it out and seeing how little the macho antics are really useful when you're facing a guy with a gun pointed in your face, how you really just have to wait it out and how that really is, adding this tension to them. They feel so powerless and so helpless. Another film, I'm not sure I'd call it straight up noir, but the outrage, what she did about Rape is one of the most devastating films I have ever seen, and it certainly has a noirish flair, especially the scenes where the girl is being pursued by her attacker. Definitely, I think within the no More movement and just really such a talented woman, Ida Lupino. And it's interesting. I was actually doing some research recently on the dissolution of her marriage to Louis Hayward, because we always talk about noir being so influenced by World War II and especially the portrayals of marriages being strained by trauma. They're very rarely directly about that. But that's often kind of the subtext of these very troubled unions. You see, in Warren and Louis Hayward, he came back from being part of the Marine Corps, the photographic court in the Pacific, and just really so traumatized, and that led to the dissolution of their marriage, I think, really kind of broke both of their hearts in a way and was a very hard thing for her. So she was kind of really on the front lines of that experience that I do think was informing a lot of the way marriages are portrayed in war, where suddenly your partner feels like a stranger to you and somebody you just can't get through to. And it's kind of frightening and sad and alarming. So I do think that that's kind of the subtext of a lot of noirs and something she lived through. Sadly.

BETH ACCOMANDO

That was Ida Lupino from her 1958 appearance on This is Your Life. I’m sorry that I need to cut off my discussion with Nora Fiore but this just wraps up part one of our discussion of Noir Dames. We’ll be back to finish our exploration of the diverse array of women in noir by looking to such notable examples as Lucille Ball as the Lady Sleuth and Rita Hayworth as the glamorous victim. I hope this discussion will inspire you to seek out some of the noirs we have discussed and then come back to hear the rest of our discussion of noir dames.

CLIP Too Late for Tears I like that thing you do with your eyes…

Remember to check out Cinema Junkie’s companion videos from the Geeky gourmet because I’ll show you how to make some noir desserts in glorious black and white and how to serve up the perfect crime scene.

You can find the videos and more podcasts at kpbs-dot-org-slash -cinema-junkie.

I’d like to acknowledge the talented team that makes Cinema Junkie happen: podcast coordinator Kinsee Morlan, technical director Rebecca Chacon, and director of sound design Emily Jankowski.

Till our next film fix I’m Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie.

download.jpeg
United Artists
Dan Duryea's crook discovers he's out of his league with Lizabeth Scott's ruthless housewife in "Too Late For Tears."
Looking beyond just the usual suspects of the femme fatale for Noir-vember

Noir dames. None were sassier, sexier or more lethal than the women of film noir. They lied, stole, cheated, murdered and more importantly just refused to conform to any standard notions of femininity. They might not have been positive role models but they were fascinating and they had agency.

Cinema Junkie celebrates Noir-vember by continuing its discussion of film noir with a look to Noir Dames with Nora Fiore, The Nitrate Diva. We explore such favorite femme fatales as Jane Greer in "Out of the Past" and Lizabeth Scott in "Too Late for Tears" but also look past these usual suspects of film noir women to explore the diversity of female characters you can find in these seductive, shadowy tales.

In Part One of Noir Dames, we consider the femme fatale as well as The Self Reliant Performer. Then in Part Two we will continue to point out the wide spectrum of female roles and actresses as we consider The Lady Sleuth, The Long Suffering Wife and The Glamorous Victim.

Geeky Gourmet: Noir Dessert To Die For

Watch the latest Geeky Gourmet video on how to make a black and white noir dessert to die for.