Film Noir

The Femme Fatale Troubleshooting Guide

Robert Mitchum (left) blah blah Image:
Robert Mitchum believes everything Laraine Day says, the poor slob. Image: ciakhollywood.com

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. Apply your prettiest smile to 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.

blah blah Image: mubi.com
Tip: Don’t take offence to portraits like this. Image: mubi.com

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.

 

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38 thoughts on “The Femme Fatale Troubleshooting Guide

  1. The bit about the less-than-flattering portraits will surely come in handy. Happens to me all the time. Oh no… Does that mean I might be a femme fatale? On another note, I sometimes wonder if these dames know they’re femme fatales. Like perhaps someone should do a series of pointers for figuring out whether you are that or the plucky gal Friday or love interest. Like maybe you think you’re the love interest but then BOOM! You’re accidentally the femme fatale! I feel like that happened to Cora in The Postman Always Rings Twice.
    And next week on The World’s Longest Blog Comment… 😉

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  2. I really like how you did this and I like The Locket a lot, you’re right to recommend it so highly, Laraine Day gave a master course in femme, which I find fascinating given her usual persona was that of such a nice lady. In the Locket she was kind of scary, even, using all those poor saps as human shields, ha 🙂 great post

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    1. “A master course in femme” = I LOVE THAT!

      I found Day really disturbing in this because, as you say, she’s always the Nice Lady. But in this one, when she acts nicely, she’s downright creepy.

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    1. Ha ha! That is quite a creepy portrait, isn’t it? It gives me the chills.

      As for Robert Mitchum, he is wonderful in this movie, isn’t he? He’s tough and sensitive and that scene where he visits the psychiatrist’s office has a shocking finish. I couldn’t believe he did that! Did NOT see it coming!!

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  3. Ruth,my friend, your smart and snappy review of THE LOCKET has become one of my favorite SILVER SCREENINGS posts to date! I especially sympathized with Robert Mitchum’s character; the poor slob never had a chance. THE LOCKET is definitely one of Laraine Day’s best films to date, showing she could be so much more than good-girl roles (not that there’s anything wrong with that :-)). I love the ending, too, but I won’t spoil it. BRAVA on a swell post, and be careful of paintings sans eyeballs! 😀

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    1. I love the ending, too! It’s quite a twist in a movie full of twists. And isn’t Laraine Day fantastic here? She’s wonderful in the “good-girl” roles but, for my money, this is her best role.

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  4. Where is my guide on how to deal with these girls?! It’s not fair if you teach everyone to act like Day, and then leave the rest of us helpless on the sidelines.

    I haven’t seen “The Locket” yet, but as a big Day fan I will be tracking this one down soon.

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    1. Ha ha! That’s a good point about having a guide to deal with these kinds of gals. They do leave a lot of destruction in their wake.

      I hope you get a chance to see this. It does show up on the TCM schedule from time to time.

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  5. Sounds like a must see! You had me at plot twists, and it sounds like there are plenty to be had. I loved your list of Day’s techniques – so funny! Can’t wait to see this one!

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    1. There are INCREDIBLE plot twists in this film, including one at the end that I DID NOT see coming. I think there were two major twists in the first 15 minutes alone!

      Well worth viewing if you get the chance. The casting is soooo good.

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  6. I’ve not seen this film but I think this is my all-time favorite review that you’ve shared. I like them all — you’re a talented critic — but this one really sings, especially Day’s 5 points plus 1 bonus, techniques. Love No. 4: If a man accuses you of a crime, stick him in a mental hospital. Only a true femme fatale could pull that one off. 🙂

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  7. Excellent advice for life, thank you. I’m thinking I’ll print this post out and carry it around in my pocket as a quick reference guide for when I’m unsure of how to react to any of the specified circumstances. Also, off to track down a copy of The Locket forthwith… 😉

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  8. If this movie is half as good as your post/guide, I’ll be very happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Laraine Day in a femme fatale role – nor did I suspect she had it in her. Looking forward to checking out “The Locket” – and Laraine Day as a Man Eater.

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  9. Great job with this post. I love “The Locket” and think Day is amazing in it. She was underrated and under-appreciated while at MGM, but RKO gave her some meaty roles like this one. Loved the way you incorporated femme fatale characteristics and combined them with a movie review.

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      1. she is indeed 🙂 her blog is the most splendid place on the loud interwebs, and very happy she has shown me the way to here 🙂

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  10. This post was amazing! I just wanted to say that I enjoyed it so much that I had to get my hands on the movie to watch, which I was finally able to do last night…and I really liked it.

    I’ve never seen a film noir quite like this one. The audience never sees her have a nasty moment; she is always so unwaveringly innocent in appearance. Usually, femme fatales telegraph that they are femme fatales, at least to the audience, if not to the men.

    Your analysis of her technique was great! 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments. 🙂

      I agree with you re: Laraine Day. She seems so wide-eyed and innocent, which probably makes her THE most dangerous femme fatale. I’m glad you had the chance to watch this underrated film.

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