Noir Nook: Femme Entrances
Recently, during a viewing of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) on TCM, I tweeted about Lana Turner’s first appearance in the film, stating that it was one of the best screen entrances, ever. One of my followers suggested that I conduct a poll to garner opinions on other contenders for this title, and I loved the idea! So, in this month’s Noir Nook, I’m shining the spotlight on what I believe are four of the greatest femme entrances in film noir; next month, I’ll conclude this series with a look at four more. Let me know what you think of these choices and tell me if you have others that should be considered!
Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Turner plays Cora Smith, the wife of a roadside diner owner who teams with drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) to murder her husband (Cecil Kellaway). Cora is many things – frustrated, sexy, ambitious, smart. And she knows how to enter a room. We first meet Cora shortly after Frank’s not-so-serendipitous arrival at the diner, as he’s waiting for his burger to finish cooking. A lipstick falls to the floor and Frank tracks its path, right to a pair of gams that literally take his breath away. Along with the audience, Frank’s gaze travels upward to see Cora, dressed all in white, in shorts, top, and turban, as she holds out her hand for the lipstick Frank has retrieved. Having recovered from his initial shock, Frank cheekily makes Cora come to him for the item, and she does, sauntering easily across the floor before returning to the doorway, applying the lipstick, flashing Frank a look of disdain, and retreating back into her house. Of all the femme entrances on my list, Cora’s is my absolute favorite.
Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)
In my favorite noir, Barbara Stanwyck is the deadly and duplicitous Phyllis Dietrichson, who teams with insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to murder her husband (Tom Powers). If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because the source materials for both The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity were novels by James M. Cain, who based both stories on a real-life 1920s murder case. Phyllis’s entrance comes when Walter stops by her house in an effort to get an auto insurance renewal from Mr. Dietrichson. The mister isn’t at home, but Phyllis is, which Walter finds out when she appears at the top of a staircase. She’s clad only in a towel – she was sunbathing, you see – and although she initially hangs back modestly in the shadows, she steps forward tentatively when Walter introduces himself, and with a little more interest when he explains that he’s from an insurance company. “Is there something I can do?” she asks. Her honey-silk voice combined with her bare shoulders and legs cause Walter to stutter and stammer and make a few bad jokes, but Phyllis is completely in control. We can practically see the wheels turning as she instructs her maid to show Walter into the living room while she puts on some clothes. When we see her again, she’s descending the staircase and we’re given a close-up of Phyllis’s high heels and her “honey of an anklet” – and we get an idea of why Walter is unable (or unwilling) to resist her.
Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947)
Out of the Past, which many consider to be the quintessential noir, stars Robert Mitchum as private dick Jeff Markham, Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling, a ruthless but refined gangster, and Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat, Whit’s lover, who absconds after shooting him and – allegedly – stealing $40,000. Whit hires Jeff to find Kathie, but the private dick gets more than he bargained for when he finds her. Our first glimpse of Kathie comes in Mexico, where Jeff has followed her trail, and where he waits patiently, day after day, in a dimly lit local café. “And then I saw her,“ Jeff’s voiceover recalls, “coming out of the sun, and I knew why Whit didn’t care about that forty grand.” What we – and Jeff – see is Kathie entering the café, dressed all in white, from her wide-brimmed hat to her heeled shoes, a flowy, fitted dress, and clutch purse, looking for all the world like some sort of sophisticated, untouchable angel. She sits wordlessly at a table near Jeff and lights a cigarette. And Jeff is drawn to her like a moth to a flame.
Joan Bennett in The Woman in the Window (1944)
Edward G. Robinson stars as Professor Richard Wanley who, at the film’s start, is bidding a summer’s farewell to his wife and children (one of whom is played by Bobby Blake, later best known as TV’s Baretta). Later, on his way to meet friends at his club, Wanley is mesmerized by the portrait of a beautiful dark-haired woman in a storefront window. The woman in the painting is Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), and she makes her entrance after Wanley leaves the club and is once again drawn to the painting. As he stands gazing at it, he suddenly sees another woman’s image in the reflection of the storefront window and realizes that it is the painting’s subject, seemingly come to life. He turns to see that standing near him is Alice Reed, who reveals that she posed for the painting and admits that she visits the storefront to watch people’s faces as they look at the painting. Moments later, just before they stroll off together, she links arms with Wanley and informs him: “I’m not married, I have no designs on you, and one drink is all I care for.” Unfortunately for Wanley, this is noir, and his future with Alice doesn’t end with one drink.
Visit the Noir Nook next month for my next four femme entrances!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
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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