Psychological Disorders and “Wiretapping the Unconscious”: Film Noir Listens to Women



In Chapter 1, I referenced the hard-boiled Ethel Whitehead from The Damned Don’t Cry, who says, “You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a lift.” The language of kicking and punching as a response to the exigencies of modern life echoes Annie Laurie’s demands in Joseph Lewis’s Gun Crazy, released, interestingly, in 1950, the same year as was The Damned Don’t Cry. Says Annie Laurie (Peggy Cummins), “I’ve been kicked around all my life. From now on, I’m going to kick back.” In one of the most memorable moments of the film, Bart asks Annie Laurie, “Why do you kill?” in that tone of strangely untethered questioning that David Lynch would rehearse in Blue Velvet (1986), when Jeffrey Beaumont asks, “Why are there people like Frank Booth?” Annie Laurie’s answer to Bart belies her canonic status as evil “femme fatale.” She says, “I do it because I’m afraid. I panic,” suggesting a portrait of desperation or mental illness: a young woman who experiences life as a hunted animal. As Adrian Martin says, Annie Laurie “shoots to kill whenever fear overwhelms her; whenever she is seized hysterically by the threat of loss” (84). The tone of Martin’s essay is personal, but its content seems to me right, in the sense that it doesn’t cast Annie Laurie simply as a “femme fatale” but suggests the desperation of her needs and desires and her passion for and devotion, within those terms, to Bart.


Personality Disorder Female Character Roller Coaster Roller Coaster Ride Female Desire 
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© Julie Grossman 2009

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