Les Femmes Fatales: A Tribute to Two Dark Beauties
January 2, 1979
The vamp, the fatal woman, the black widow, the spider lady, the she-devil. Variations on the theme of woman as Eve, as evil temptress, offering the lure of sex and the promise of oblivion. Such types as the above mentioned, so deeply embedded in all literary and artistic forms down through the ages as to render the word “sexist” miserably inadequate as an adjective suggesting the causal meaning of this cultural archetype, have inhabited the imaginations of filmmakers from the earliest silent days. Horror films, and more recently porno films, have been most up-front in giving direct expression to the more grotesque/medieval visions of woman as devouring beast, killer-slave to monstrous sexual/blood appetites. However, far more interesting and alluringly ambiguous treatments of “the fatal woman” can be studied and even (perversely) enjoyed in the dark melodramas, the film noirs, and even the soap operas of the ’40s and ’50s. This program pairs two relatively unknown works by “auteur” directors Edgar G. Ulmer and King Vidor, which star two sensual beauties - Hedy Lamarr and Jennifer Jones - in femme fatale roles: in both The Strange Woman and Ruby Gentry, the tour-de-force performances by Lamarr and Jones are enriched by the filmmakers’ almost overripe mise-en-scene and near-Biblical respect for the conventions of the genre.