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Film Noir's Femme Fatale - Book Report/Review Example

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The image of the femme fatale has been one of the most enduring features of Hollywood films from the earliest silent features to movies being released today. This analysis will explore the notion of whether the femme fatale is essentially a male creation designed for a predominantly male audience…
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Film Noirs Femme Fatale
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Download file to see previous pages A brief discussion of the femme fatale through history will provide a useful historical background upon which the two films can be cast. The phrase literally means "deadly woman" or "fatal woman" in English, and throughout history she has been portrayed as sexually insatiable and dangerous. Early examples are the Sumerian goddess Ishtar and the Bible's Delilah. In the Twentieth century, Mata Hari :- exotic dancer, irresistible seducer of men and executed spy - sums up the dangerous combination of sexual magnetism and amorality that is meant to typify the figure. As Dijkstra (1988) has suggested, the cultural clich of the female as dangerous siren was developed by the early 1900's and has continued until the present day. It may be more hidden today, but it still exists. Movies are not created in a vacuum; they are developed, produced and eventually released within a particular economic, cultural and political milieu that changes with time. A comparison of two films made in 1944 and 1992 must take into account the radically different landscapes in which they were created in order to understand how their femme fatales were portrayed. In 1942 the so-called "Code" enforced by the Hayes Code was in force in American films. This listed certain ideas, lines, themes, subject-matter and even types of clothing which could not appear in films without incurring the wrath of the censors. The film industry more or less accepted the strictures of the Code until the late 1960's.
The influence of censorship on 1942's Double Indemnity is illustrated by the fact that an alternative ending, in which the murderers go to the gas chamber, was shot, but never shown. The actual ending is much milder, even though the criminal does get his just deserts. The femme fatale in this film is named Phyllis Dietrichson, and was played in a an Oscar-winning performance by Barbara Stanwyck. The plot creates a classic femme fatale scenario. Dietrichson is unhappily married, seduces another man, Walter Neff, and persuades him to kill her husband in order to receive the "double indemnity" insurance payment of the film's title.
The whole story is told from the point of view of the now convicted criminal who has committed the murder. Thus the film's happenings are seen through the eyes of a "man" who has been persuaded into the act of murder by a "woman". This is thus a clear example of a kind of male gaze. The male gaze is a complex idea that essentially argues that women are often created in the eyes of men within the mass media in general, and within movies in particular. At the time Double Indemnity was made everyone involved in the film industry was men (except of course for actresses) so the creation of a film, whether one takes the auteur theory of a single man's vision or the group creation theory, is essentially a male process.
As one scholar puts it, "when you look at an object, you are seeing more than the thing itself: you are seeing the relation between the ting and yourself." (it.stlawu, 2006) In one of the more famous sections of the film, the narrator describes meeting his femme fatale for the first time, and appeals to what seems to be a totally male audience for their sympathy towards what subsequently occurred:

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