(originally published during “Femme Fatale”-week in Talkbacker on July 25, 2014)
[This article contains heavy amounts of personal opinions, list-making and pictures that may evoke an emotional response!!!!]
In honor of this week’s theme, the Austrian Detective and I make lists. Because We all LIVE to make lists. Let’s face it; the way true geeks were portrayed in “High Fidelity” is not that far-fetched.
No “topical week” would be complete without a proper list article and random cat-gifs in the comment section. This is why the honourable Mr. I-am-better and my humble self, Detective Dee, decided to submit not one, no two lists!
First we will list our three favourite “femme fatales”, then we will tell you which three actresses we always wanted to see in that role.
My three favourite Femme Fatales (Dee)
Lena Headey as “Ma-Ma” (Madeline Madrigal) in “Dredd” (2012)
What I like about the character of “Ma-Ma”is that she is not just an “evil” woman: She is the head of a big gangster syndicate, a role that rarely is cast with a female. The story behind the heavily-scarred face which seems to be forever stuck in a slightly demented expression that is composed of a hazy notion of somewhat that could be interpreted as a crooked smile and sleepy cat eyes, is that Ma-Ma was once a prostitute who killed her own pimp.
Despite this back story, her relentless cruelty and coldheartedness don’t seem to be a mere product of her troubled life. Apparently, Ma-Ma has always been power-hungry psychopath and all of the questionable stations in her life are not a result of a direction-less lifestyle, but have been planned steps up to the top. I like the idea that Ma-Ma, even though she is clearly mad, is still in control of everything and makes rational decisions- this lady is all business. Not even her greatest weakness, her drug-addiction, impedes her in being one of the toughest foes for the futuristic super-cop Dredd and when he finally takes her out of the game by throwing her through a window, she only reacts with her trademark expression: Indifference. Ma-Ma is an unusual femme fatale, as she never has to resort to subtle means like scheming and manipulation but is always very direct and blunt (while still cunning) in her methods, which is more of a man’s domain. That’s why I consider the character as very progressive because lest we forget, even negative role models are important, as long as they don’t serve ancient stereotypes. You’d never want to meet a (larger-than-life) character like that in real life- but damn do we love to see them on screen!
Miki Sugimoto as “Rei” in “Zeroka no onna: Akai wappa”(1974)
“Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs” is the first chapter in a series of exploitation movies about the sleazy and violent adventures of Rei, who is played by a different actress in each of the ten entries of the saga. My favourite impersonation is that of (the stunningly beautiful) Miki Sugimoto from Part No1. Her Rei is a proficient killer who gets into jail for killing a rapist who turns out to be working for the American embassy. But a (fictional) Special Police Department offers her, in exchange for her freedom, to go undercover in a group of lunatic criminals who abducted the daughter of a politician. Rei is a determined woman and her sole ambition is survival. You can see she has seen rough times and yet the plot heaps even more misery on her. Not even getting whipped while being tied naked to a pole and other humiliations can crush her spirit though. But make no mistake: Rei is by no means a purely passive/reactive woman. Once she gets pushed too far, she brings her deadly skills into play and you don’t want to be around then. Her trademarks are a red coat and a red pistol and her weapon of choice are -naturally- red handcuffs with an extra-long chain she swings around like a kusarigama. Despite her cold exterior and her uncompromising attitude, she possesses a feeling heart underneath and a (twisted) sense of justice too. Therefore you could describe her as a female version of Clint Eastwood’s “Stranger”- character- just less talkative.
Isabella Rossellini as “Lisle Von Rhoman” in “Death Becomes Her”(1992)
Isabella Rossellini has played femmes fatales before, but none quite like this one from Robert Zemeckis’ unfairly almost forgotten dark comedy gem. Her character, Lisle Von Rhoman, is a modern witch that provides stars with a serum that promises eternal youth- with caveats of course. Lisle has no hunchback, she is not riding a broom or has a cat on her shoulder. Instead of a small witch house in the German forest she owns a huge Gothic castle at the outskirts of LA and there you will find no cauldron filled with mysterious fuming liquids but a large indoor swimming pool. Looking like a cross between an early 30s movie star and a clairvoyant from the same time period, Rossellini seemed to have a lot of fun with her role and it shows. Lisle is the only person in the movie that does not despair on her immortality, but embraces it, enjoying her eternal life partying with officially deceased Hollywood icons like Presley and Monroe and surrounded by her male harem.
“Make some room for my friend, for Chrissake. But… keep your ass handy.”
A deliciously campy, menacing and sexy character at the same time, Lisle deserves a place in the Femme Fatales- Hall Of Fame.
TOP 3 “Femme Fatale”-performances (IAB)
Renee Soutendijk in “The Fourth Man”
“The Fourth Man” was Paul Verhoeven’s first pass at the themes he would explore further on in “Basic Instinct”, but I would say that this is actually a superior film to that. And Soutendijk’s Christine, who is called “witch, black widow, Delilah and the Devil” and drags poor Jeroen Krabbe into her web of doom, is a much more mysterious and fiendish creation than Catherine Tramell. Whereas “Basic Instinct” was much more about Hollywood taboo-breaking and sensationalism , this – Verhoeven’s last Dutch film before going to Hollywood – is a much more cerebral piece and Soutendijk oozes sensual devilry in every scene. Sadly, Hollywood never really discovered her, except in the quite entertaining scifi-film “Eve of Destruction”.
Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat”
Lawrence Kasdan wrote “Body Heat” as a love letter to the old film noirs , and the character of Matty Walker as a kind of combination of all the characteristics of the classic femme fatales. And the at-the-time 27-year old Kathleen Turner was some spot-on casting as the devilish black widow and master manipulator, who enlists William Hurt’s easily manipulated , slightly stupid, sleazy lawyer into her plot to get rid of her current wealthy husband. The film takes place during a heatwave in Florida, so the amount of on-screen sweat may cause perspiration even in the viewer – boy, was that Kathleen Turner hot in those days! Also recommended: her comedic take on a same kind of character in Steve Martin’s “The Man With two Brains” and another great femme fatale-performance in “Crimes of Passion”
The Alien Queen in “Aliens”
No list would be complete without at least one “completely out of left field”-choice, wouldn’t it? But come on – she is he ultimate mean b*tch in science fiction after all. Brings death to everyone, everywhere with her endless supply of loyal soldiers. Try to capture her – good luck. Try to tame her – yeah, right. Try to throw her out of an airlock – might work until the sequel(s). Torch up her little egg children – you better run and run fast, because she will hunt you to the ends of the universe. And god DAMN is she beautiful!
But now – let’s get to the OTHER part of our obsessive list-making:
My wish list of actresses that should be cast as Femme Fatales (Dee)
I know that she is a quite controversial actress to say the least. While I agree she made some bad (good for her bank account though) career decisions -one of them involving sparkling “tea-party” vampires- I actually think, contrary to popular opinion, that she is an underrated talent. Stewart gets a lot of flack for looking “mopey” and “apathetic”. Well, I never had a problem with that attitude, as I have a large spot in my heart reserved for dreamers and melancholiacs. More than ever, they are an endangered species, so bless them. Yet, this behaviour also the very reason why I want to see her as femme fatale. Nobody would see that coming, it could give her career a turn and people who are cast against their type notoriously give passionate performances, hoping they can escape their usual role pattern. Her distancing detachedness could also work in favour of the femme fatale role. My suggestion to the film makers: Mess with the people’s minds and address her “Twilight”-curse directly in a meta-way.. Wait another three to five years and then cast her as an evil vampiress in a proper horror film. Give her room to show her acting skills and let her be glamorous, evil and seductive. Soon the days she had to decide between a vacuous-faced vegan vampire and a werewolf who had not even chest hair, will be forgotten.
Emily Browning is a talented actress who is on the verge of becoming a star. She is best known for her roles in “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”, “Sucker Punch” and recently “Pompeii”, but she impressed me the most with her fearless performance in “Sleeping Beauty”. But acting prowess aside, her most noticeable asset must be her unusual looks. Browning has one of these faces you cannot look away from, a very distinctive combination of interesting features a good director cannot help but take advantage of (only Zack Snyder was foolish enough to make her unrecognizable with the help of tasteless make-up and bleached hair). No femme fatale can be found on her acting resume yet, so she might be inclined to add one to it. My suggestion: Put her into a period drama, maybe as a decadent, scheming Rococo-duchess with a magnificent wig or as a taciturn kitchen maid working for a rich noble family in the Victorian period, who is secretly poisoning each family member one by one.
Not many words need to be lost on this gorgeous, talented woman who improved uneven movies like “Burt Wonderstone” and “Tron: Legacy”with her mere presence. It’s not just her stunning looks but also a certain energy she is radiating that make the screen glow every time she is entering the scene. It’s kind of odd though that despite her strong jawline, her almost geometrical face and her piercing eyes she was never cast as a femme fatale. My suggestion: Cast her as assassin/sniper- it’s time for a movie in the “female assassin” subgenre again, but a good one for a change. I could also see her as a millionaire’s trophy wife with murderous ambitions in a neo-noir thriller, as she exudes a cold kind of glamour.
TOP 3 actresses I want to play a Femme Fatale (IAB)
Why the hell not? She’s done action(Demolition Man, Speed), comedy(Miss Congeniality, The Heat), romantic comedy(The Proposal), drama(The Blind Side, Gravity), but she has never really played a really mean, dark, manipulative femme fatale? She has the chops: her performance as the mean-spirited, racist wife of Brendan Fraser’s district attourney. How bout it, Hollywood? She has proved she can play nice – now let’s give her a real chance to let off some steam.
Again, why not? I know I sound like a broken record, but I see the potential in these sweet-looking women and I believe they would absolutely knock it out of the park. Rossum has definitely explored some darkness in the telavions series “Shameless” and would without a doubt be a magnificent femme datale.
Same goes with Bell, too. And she actually HAS played a villain already, but only on the small screen, as the mentally unstable Elle Bishop in “Heroes”. Time to attack the silver screen with some sexy nastiness. Princess Anna from “Frozen” needs to bring death and despair to men!
So, how did you like our lists? Whom did we forget? With which choices do you agree/disagree?