Noir Nook: Femme Entrances – Part 2
Last month, I offered up four femmes who provided us with some of the best entrances in film noir: Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity (1944), Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) in Out of the Past (1947), and Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) in Woman in the Window (1944). This month, I’m wrapping up this series with four more noir femmes with memorable entrances.
Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)
The story of Gilda has a number of themes and several moving parts, including jealousy, revenge, passion, and a “tungsten cartel” (whatever that is) – but at its core is the thin line between love and hate. In the title role, Rita Hayworth plays the mysterious Gilda, whose past is almost completely unfamiliar to us, except that we know she once loved and somehow lost one Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), the right-hand man to casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready). We find this out when Ballin returns from a trip with a new wife: Gilda. And it’s Gilda’s reunion with Johnny that provides the backdrop for her iconic entrance. Johnny arrives at Ballin’s home, eager to see his boss after his time away. When Ballin opens the door to his bedroom, we hear – along with Johnny – the sultry sounds of a woman’s voice, vocalizing along with a record. As recognition slowly registers on Johnny’s face, Ballin calls out, “Gilda. Are you decent?” Our gaze is taken inside the room where Gilda, from a position below the camera, suddenly sits up, tosses back her mane of hair, and smilingly queries, “Me?” She then sees Johnny as he emerges from the shadows, and her smile fades. “Sure,” she says, pulling up her dress to cover one shoulder. “I’m decent.” It’s an introduction that will practically take your breath away.
Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946)
The Killers opens with two hitmen hunting down ex-boxer Ole Andersson (Burt Lancaster), and fatally shooting him in his bed. The remainder of the film focuses on the attempts of an insurance investigator (Edmund O’Brien) to find out who killed Ole and why. As the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks, we get to know Ole, his girlfriend Lilly Harmon (Virginia Christine, later the pitchwoman for Folgers Coffee), his best friend (Sam Levene), and Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner), the woman who steals his heart. More than 30 minutes into the film, we meet Kitty when Ole and Lilly attend a party. Upon their arrival, they’re greeted by the tinkling of piano keys and ushered over to the hostess of the shindig, Kitty, who’s seated on the piano bench with her back to us. She’s dressed in a satiny black, one-shoulder gown, and even before we see her face, we suspect that she’s something special. Mind you, her entrance isn’t at all flashy – it’s brief and low-key. When she’s introduced to Ole and Lilly, Kitty turns toward them, flashes a pleasant smile, offers a simple “hello” and then turns away again. The exchange lasts less than five seconds, but Ole’s drawn to her like he’s made of steel and Kitty has magnets sewn into the hem of her dress. (And in that same span of time, Lilly knows that her relationship with Ole has come to an end.)
Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950)
Gun Crazy tells the tale of Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dall), star-crossed lovers a la Bonnie and Clyde who are adept at gun play, fall madly in love, and go on a crime spree. The film’s action begins when Bart returns home after an army stint and hooks up with two boyhood chums to attend a local carnival. When the trio pays a visit to a sharpshooting show – which is right up the gun-loving Bart’s alley – he gets his first eyeful of Laurie. Before she enters, she’s introduced to the crowd by Packy (Berry Kroeger), the carnival’s owner and manager, who gives her quite a build-up, calling her “the famous, the dangerous, the beautiful… direct from London, England, and the capitols of the continent… so appealing, so dangerous, so lovely to look at!” Following this, we hear a series of shots and see smoke from the gunfire – and into the frame enters Laurie, dressed in a western outfit and a gun in each hand. With a sultry gaze, she surveys the crowd, spots Bart (who is excitedly leaning forward in his seat with a face covered in grin), points a gun at him, and pulls the trigger. Bart is hooked.
Jean Wallace in The Big Combo (1955)
One of my best-loved noirs, The Big Combo stars Cornel Wilde as Leonard Diamond, a highly principled detective who is determined to bring down local mob boss Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). Jean Wallace is Susan Lowell, a fragile, unstable socialite who is not only Mr. Brown’s mistress, but also the object of Diamond’s desire from afar. We meet Susan as the film opens, in the bowels of a boxing arena. Clad in a strapless black cocktail dress and heels and accompanied by the sounds of the roaring crowd, Susan is running in and out of the shadows; we soon see that she is being chased by two men – Mingo (Earl Holliman) and Fante (Lee Van Cleef), who are minions of Mr. Brown. After managing to elude them for a while, she’s finally caught, with one man on each side and Mingo holding onto her arm. Susan asks them to let her go, but they refuse. (“Mr. Brown is mad already. We lost you for two minutes.”) Susan promises that she won’t run away and Mingo releases her arm. When he does, without missing a beat, Susan smacks him in the face with her clutch purse, gives a haughty sniff, and walks away, her head held high. It may not be the first femme entrance you think of, but it’s one you won’t forget.
And that’s it! Do you have any favorite femme entrances? Let me know!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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Linda Darnell’s entrance in “Fallen Angel” is pretty spectacular. Also, Gene Tierney’s in “Laura.” It’s an entrance that takes you completely by surprise.
Oh, I wish I’d thought of Linda Darnell — I love her entrance in Fallen Angel. Laura was one of the first femmes on my list, but I took her off because her first appearance in the movie was in the flashback scenes. Otherwise, she’d have been a sure thing!
Thank makes sense with “Laura.” I almost forget that she’s introduced via flashbacks before we know she’s alive. You can always do a part 3 and add Linda!
I love that idea! If you think of more, please let me know!
More good choices. It’s interesting to note that the one who comes off as in-your-face brazen in the beginning (Gilda) turns out to be no femme fatale at all.
And the one who comes off as a cuddly little kitten (Kitty Collins) who can’t bare to see a man she cares about hurt, as one of the most evil.
Jean Wallace’s entrance is good, but I can’t say I like the actress. At least in this film she’s quite vapid and spineless.
I love that observation about the differences between Gilda and Kitty’s intros, and who they ultimately turned out to be. I’m not overly wild about Jean Wallace as an actress (although I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in anything else), but I love when she whacks Earl Holliman in the face!
A couple more to consider: debatable as true noir, but noir-adjacent “To Have and Have Not”, Lauren Bacall. Also, though generally panned by most, I absolutely love the Brit-noir, “Tread Softly, Stranger” and the introduction of Diana Dors. And finally, Belita on ice skates in “Suspense”.
I love the Belita entrance, Bob! And I haven’t seen Tread Softly, Stranger, but you can bet I’ll be looking for it now — I’m always interested in seeing another Diana Dors movie. And To Have and Have Not may not be noir, but Bacall’s entrance sure is. Thanks for these!