Being a Femme Fatale is easy. Really – all you need are semi-presentable hair and wardrobe, along with an imperial ego.
It’s when things start to slide off the rails that a gal needs a little help. Fortunately, a Femme Fatale troubleshooting guide exists in the 1946 film noir The Locket.
The Locket is the kind of film that doesn’t follow the rules. For example, it embeds flashbacks within flashbacks, and presents so many plot twists that a person ought to wear a seatbelt when viewing it. (At one point, we nearly jumped from our chair and involuntary exclaimed, “GET OUT!”)
The plot, briefly: On the day of his wedding, a wealthy young man is visited by a stranger (Brian Aherne) who claims to be the ex-husband of the bride-to-be (Laraine Day). The stranger relates a troubling story about this woman, one that involves yet another man from her past (Robert Mitchum).
The film revolves around the wholesome-looking Day, who gives an incredible performance as a woman who knows how to play all the angles. This makes her one of the great Femme Fatale figures, because she has Technique. She is able to remove herself from sticky situations by ducking behind innocent bystanders.
Let’s examine Day’s technique. Are your pencils sharpened? Let us begin.
1. Always deflect blame. This is easier if you have a man who can absorb it for you. Remember, nothing is ever your fault.
2. Don’t flinch if an unwanted old flame suddenly reappears. Glue a big happy smile on your face and say how thrilled you are to see him. Ask him to stay for a drink. Show everyone that you are the Bigger Person.
3. If a man from your past commits suicide, be sad and patronizing. Shake your head and wonder aloud about his emotional state. Be careful to not overdo it, though, or people might get the wrong idea about your history with the deceased.
4. If a man accuses you of a crime, act as though he’s gone soft in the head. Ask him if he’s feeling tired or stressed. If he persists with his story, put him in a mental hospital. Here you can be the Brave Woman who tearfully asks doctors if there’s Any Hope.
5. If your man tells you that an old beau has been to see him with wild stories of your past, admit to only innocuous facts. When you tell the story to your man, smile innocently, kiss him and place your head on his shoulder. “You don’t suppose he’s still jealous?” you might ask, as though you hardly dare entertain the notion.
Bonus Point: If your man paints a less-than-flattering portrait of you (see above), pretend there’s no weird subtext. Refer to it as Art and boast about your boyfriend’s talent to every rich person you meet. You never know who you might meet while you’re networking.
Even if you’re not interested in becoming a Femme Fatale, The Locket is required viewing. Not only does it have a clever script and inspired casting, it features a stunning performance by an underrated actress.
The Locket: starring Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum. Directed by John Brahm. Screenplay by Sheridan Gibney. RKO Pictures Inc., 1946, B&W, 85 mins.