Femme fatale is the French phrase for “fatal woman” and she’s known as a man-eater.
She’s a seductive character who uses her womanly charms to attract men, who she will then use in several ways to get what she wants. This character type has played out in many movies over the years, as well as books and TV shows. Cleopatra is recognised as one of the first ever femme fatales, inspiring many more. This Egyptian queen is the first and most famous woman whose unsurpassed beauty was used to influence others and rule her kingdom. Testimony to this, is the countless movies, plays, books and games, including online versions that have been inspired by Cleopatra; all of which have gone on to be hugely successful.
Femme fatale characters are often referred to as vamps, as they were seen as some kind of sexual vampires. This is important to the origins of the femme fatale characters in movies, with a poem by Rudyard Kipling entitled “The Vampire” said to have inspired the first “vamp” film. The Vampire by Robert Vignola starring Alice Hollister was released in 1913, with Kipling inspiring another 2 years later by the name of A Fool There Was. These two movies were the dawning of femme fatales in the industry.
The 1940s and 1950s were important for the development of femme fatales even more, with movies such as The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, Leave Her to Heaven, Double Indemnity, The Killers and The Postman Always Rings Twice, all popular films where a female character shows manipulative and narcissistic intentions. Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case, which debuted in 1947, is one of the standout movies from the era. The character played by Alida Valli is responsible for causing the death of two men, while also playing a role in nearly destroying another.
Other films which were key in this period include Too Late for Tears, where Lizabeth Scott plays Jane, who does everything possible to keep some dirty money hidden for herself, which includes telling lies, using a gun and by poisoning people. Jane Greer, one of the most famous female actresses of all time, is renowned for playing the femme fatale role brilliantly. She used her feminine wiles brilliantly on Robert Mitchum in Out of The Past, as she looked to get exactly what she wanted.
Femme fatale characters are as popular today as they were back then, with there being a steady flow of films starring a female character who does everything she can to reach her goals, often including seduction, manipulation and murder. Movies such as Body Heat, Prizzi’s Honor, Blade Runner, Basic Instinct, To Die For, Original Sin, and Femme Fatale are all prime examples of how integral this character type has become since its inception over a century ago.
The specific role has also seen actresses become known for playing it well. An example of this is Marion Cottillard who’s an Academy Award Winning actress. She’s played a femme fatale numerous times in movies such as A Very Long Engagement, Inception, Midnight in Paris and the Dark Knight Rises. Nicole Kidman is another actress who has become synonymous with the role too over the years, starring as a femme fatale in several films.