This thesis re-imagines cultural-historical texts from contemporary perspectives to argue for the visibility of the femme fatalist figure in classic Hollywood cinema. The project contends that the femme fatalist, as an identity, more substantively accounts for women's multidimensionality as filmic characters, beginning with an assessment of this figure in two films noir and arriving at an assessment of her presence in a psychological thriller. To demonstrate the necessity of re-envisioning female multiplicity in the cinema, this study investigates how the motion pictures The Killers (1946), Gilda (1946), and The Spiral Staircase (1946) contribute to an understanding of the femme fatalist phenomenon. Through an extended analysis of critical scenes and the ableist, masculine-hegemonic rhetoric that perpetuates the sociobiological hierarchies of power depicted in the films, this project determines the extent to which the women portrayed in these motion pictures may unfetter themselves from patriarchal values of femaleness without compromising their ability to belong to this gendered iconography. The femme fatalist derives from the femme fatale while remaining distinct from this entity. In other words, a woman does not need to signify as a fatale to project fatalist-ness. However, the woman who chooses to embrace fatale-ness or whom society Others because of her non-traditional identity cannot re-integrate into conventional culture once alienated. Only by performing a role—that of the femme fatale or the femme fatalist or possibly both—can she ensure that she still belongs in society. Women possess more complicated identities in classic cinema than history and existing scholarly conversations might suggest. Assessing the figure of the femme fatalist demonstrates that however much we understand about the human condition, we can re-define how we perceive ourselves in relation to a cultural past that continues to shape our contemporary identities.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
English; Literary, Cultural and Textual Studies
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Volz, Noah, "From the Femme Fatale to the Femme Fatalist: Re-Envisioning Gendered Iconography in Classic Hollywood Cinema" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1108.