"She was worth a stare. She was trouble." That's Bogie on Bacall, in The Big Sleep, but all you need to know is, it's noir. The noir dame is one of the most awesome female archetypes out there. UCLA's doing a noir retrospective right now and the array of broads represented — from tormented Gloria Grahame to feline Lizabeth Scott — just makes today's female roles look even lamer by comparison. The series shows a bunch of lesser-known films made between 1940 and 1956, the heyday of B-Noir, with its dramatic blacks and whites, snappy dialogue, clouds of cigarette smoke and smart, ruthless heroines. Yeah, there's a Bad-Girl type. But even at its most formulaic, the noir Bad Girl is fascinating in a way the modern version just isn't: A guide to their mystique, after the jump.Sure you got the sassy girl Friday or the misguided girlfriend, but the most memorable noir dames are the Bad Girls. Post-war, noir dames bridged the gap between independent working women and the feminine ideal of the 50's. The noir dame is every inch a woman, but she's totally in control of the situation. Here's Fred MacMurray's Double Indemnity dupe: "She liked me. I could feel that. The way you feel when the cards are falling right for you, with a nice little pile of blue and yellow chips in the middle of the table. Only what I didn’t know then was that I wasn’t playing her. She was playing me, with a deck of marked cards and the stakes weren’t any blue and yellow chips. They were dynamite." Or Sterling Hayden to Marie Windsor in The Killing: "I know you like a book, ya little tramp. You’d sell your own mother for a piece of fudge. But you’re smart with it. Smart enough to know when to sell and when to sit tight. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart." They play men, they break hearts, sometimes they kill, and they look glam doing it. Some constants: She's Smart: From Barbara Stanwyck's manipulative husband-killer in Double Indemnity to Lana Turner's, um, manipulative husband-killer in The Postman Always Rings Twice, noir women are in control, organized, playing men off each other in a man's world. She's Savvy: Barbara Stanwyck: Last time I looked, you had a wife. Robert Ryan: Maybe next time you look, I won’t. Barbara Stanwyck: That’s what they all say. -Clash by Night She's Sexy: Her sex appeal comes from her smarts. Yeah, the noir dame is well turned-out (see any of Rhonda Fleming's rad suits in Cry Danger) and she handles a cigarette with knowing assurance. But the sex appeal comes from the confidence. She Has a Way with Words: Barbara Stanwyck to Keith Andes: What do you want, Joe, my life history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results. -Clash by Night In other words, she's the product of difficult times and sharp intelligence. The fact that, like, Faulkner was writing screenplays at the time doesn't hurt. No wonder Hollywood can't replicate that today. The noir woman was operating in a man's world, and twisting it to her own advantage. You could argue that there's something disquieting in the portrayal of so many evil dames; but the actresses played them with such nuance and intelligence that at the end of the day it spelled equality in way that, ironically, we never see now. Thank God for Netflix. Naughty Ladies Of Noirdom Strut Their Stuff [LA Times]
This pinpoints what is sorely missing overall in movies today—MYSTERY. These films come from a time when a steamy love scene involved lots of mashed-lip kissing and hugging while fully dressed. There was something left to the imagination. Now, it's all show us your tetas or you're not a serious actress. Learn something, guys and gals. Mystery. There's money in it. That, and the banana stand. There's always money in the banana stand.