What Makes Those Dames So Deadly?

  • Samantha Lindop


Though not essential to classic film noir, the femme fatale is certainly highly prominent and undoubtedly memorable. The archetype of the fabled deadly woman has appeared under many guises throughout the centuries (Pandora, Medusa, Sirens, Vampires). But regardless of what form she takes, she is consistently characterised as an iniquitous creature that has the power to seduce and destroy men. In patriarchal Western culture this positions her, above all else, as a manifestation of male anxiety. But why is the fatale of 1940s and 1950s noir so prominent? What fears is the figure representative of? And how do these apprehensions link to broader socio-cultural dynamics at the time? While these questions have previously been considered by eminent scholars in the field, in this chapter I take a fresh look as the femme fatale. In doing so, I challenge some of the assumptions attached to the character, specifically her representative significance in the context of the cultural climate, shifting gender dynamics, and the position of women in the public sphere during and after World War II. I argue that despite popular contention that the spider woman is symbolic of the independent working woman, a textual analysis of the character does not support this.


Psychoanalytic Theory Female Protagonist Male Protagonist Visual Style Gender Power Relation 
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  1. 3.
    Also see Jancovich’s ‘Vicious Womanhood: Genre, the Femme Fatale, and Postwar America’ (2011).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Samantha Lindop 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha Lindop
    • 1
  1. 1.University of QueenslandAustralia

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