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Women’s Noirs in Hardboiled Books


Below is a table with the titles of movies cited by author Mark Bould as “women’s pictures.” He says these movies “have been excluded from the film noir canon.” My table indicates whether or not the movies are cited in the discographies — or, if the book has no discography, then in the indexes — in six books that represent film noir in terms of the hardboiled paradigm.

Compare the following table with the table in the page Women’s Noirs in Reference Books.

The film that is the anomaly is Gilda, since it is included in every book in both tables. This is because its plot is unlike Bould’s other “women’s pictures.” (For more about Gilda, see Addendum below.)

The books that have an index instead of a discography sometimes may mention one of Bould’s movies just as an aside. Although I give the book credit in the table for citing the movie as a film noir, the movie may not be discussed seriously, if at all. For example, Eddie Muller speculates that audiences “couldn’t shake from their minds the seething anger they’d seen” in seven of Robert Ryan’s films, one of which is Caught (p. 142). In a discussion about Robert Mitchum, Muller refers to Undercurrent because it was on the set for “her lone trip into noir territory” that Katharine Hepburn said to Mitchum, “You can’t act” (102).


1981: Foster Hirsch, Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen (Da Capo Press)

1988: Bruce Crowther, Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror (Columbus Books Limited)

1989: J. P. Telotte, Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film Noir (University of Illinois Press)

1998: Eddie Muller, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (St. Martin’s Press)

2005: Eddie Robson, Film Noir (Virgin Books, Ltd)

2007:   Geoff Mayer and Brian McDonnell, Encyclopedia of Film Noir (Greenwood Press)

* = The film is cited in the book.

0 = The film is not cited in the book.

 Title 1981 1988  1989 1998 2005 2007
Beware, My Lovely * * * 0 0 0
Beyond the Forest * 0 0 0 0 0
The Blue Gardenia 0 * * 0 0 0
Caught 0 * 0 * 0 0
Cause for Alarm 0 0 0 0 0 0
Experiment Perilous 0 0 0 0 * 0
Gaslight 0 0 0 0 0 0
Gilda * * * * * *
Hangover Square 0 * 0 0 0 0
My Name Is Julia Ross * * 0 0  0  0
Notorious  0 * * 0 0 0
The Reckless Moment * * 0 0 0 0
Secret Beyond the Door 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sleep, My Love 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sorry, Wrong Number * * * * 0 *
The Spiral Staircase 0 * 0 0 * 0
Sudden Fear * * 0 * 0 0
Suspicion 0 * 0 * 0 0
The Two Mrs. Carrolls 0 0 0 0 0 0
Undercurrent 0 * 0 * 0 0




In her book, Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir: Ready for Her Close-up (Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), Julie Grossman suggests why Gilda may be seen as a woman in distress as well as a femme fatale, and why Rita Hayworth’s interpretation of Gilda challenges the validity of both characterizations.

“Gilda provides a good example of the problem with generalizing about representations of women in film noir. In 1956, Jacques Siclier wrote about ‘the relentless misogyny’ in film noir, noting about Rita Hayworth that her role was to ‘Be beautiful and keep silent…she has nothing to say’ [quote from R. Barton Palmer, Perspectives on Film Noir, G. K. Hall, 1996, p. 70]. In fact, Hayworth’s ‘crime’ in Gilda may be that she speaks up. Gilda reveals that what’s fatal in the ‘femme fatale’ is the persistent ideation surrounding women. She calls attention to the victimization of women: first, through her several performances of ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ (one, plaintively; one, humming; one, aggressively, as part of her striptease); second, through her use of language as a weapon. Gilda in fact silences Johnny [Glenn Ford] when she implicitly refers to the sexual meaning of ‘dancing,’ and disarms Johnny when she feminizes him by repeatedly referring to him as ‘pretty.’ Gilda’s wit and her performances constitute a rebellion against Ballen’s [George Macready] and Johnny’s narrow construction of her identity, a misogynist representation of women within the film that is not — as a result of Gilda’s power, intelligence, and invitation to sympathize with her — endorsed by the film.

…’Gilda’s charismatic performances, like her wit, disrupt male voice-over, narration, and control, substituting female autonomy for male ideation…

‘Rita Hayworth’s famed ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ number contributed to Rita Hayworth’s status as a pin-up, which according to Maria Elena Buszek, reflected female agency in important ways. At the end of her chapter ‘New Frontiers: Sex, Women and World War II,’ Buszek says,

‘[t]he pin-up provided an outlet through which women might assert that their unconventional sexuality could coexist with conventional ideals of professionalism, patriotism, decency, and desireability — in other words suggesting that woman’s sexuality could be expressed as part of her whole being. [Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture, Duke University Press, 2006, 231]

…’Rita Hayworth’s image, like other pin-ups who were ‘neither domestic nor submissive (Buszek, 186), would eclipse Hayworth’s life and properly nuanced readings of Gilda, as a result of cultural obsessions with the ‘femme fatale’ figure. (103-105)