Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Field Guide to the Femme Fatale

Have you ever been trapped in a film noir? Of course you have. If you're a boy, you've probably thought to yourself, "There's a girl I like, but how do I know she's not out to screw me over?" If you're a girl, you may have thought, "Gee, I'd like to take a guy for all he's worth, but how do I know I have it in me?"

Wonder no more. For your education and safety, I now present the subcategories of femme fatale.

The Instigator
So there you are, minding your own business, when out of the blue some dame comes up and asks you to rob a bank with her. Normally you'd tell her to jump in a lake, but you've just never seen a girl with eyes so green or legs so long. What's a poor fellow to do?

I'd like to quote a first lady here and tell you to just say no, but I'm only human. I know how hard it is to say no to someone you love. And hey, you're actually relatively lucky if this is the femme fatale you're matched with; it's not in her best interests to screw you over, since you're in on the same scheme, and she may even really love you. What she says is something that's always manipulative, but which non-criminals have said since time immemorial: if you love me, you'll do it.

Related to the Black Widow (see below), but not always interchangeable. Lucky for you. Also related to the Damsel in Disguise (ditto,) but where that one pretends to be innocent, this one lets you know up front what you're in for. And you go for her anyway.

How to Spot: You know that woman in front of you, asking you to commit a crime? It's her.
How to Be One: If you must, target guys low on the intelligence scale. But really, think twice about being this variety; your boy toy's likely to kill you when he's had enough of your games.
As Seen In: Gun Crazy, Carmen Jones, Out of the Past

The Catalyst
I've tried to refrain from saying "It's your own fault" too much in this essay, but that's the case by definition with this lady. See, she may be a little promiscuous, a bit of a lush, prone to smoky eyeshadow, and maybe even have a mean streak, but you don't have to worry about her killing anyone. What you do have to worry about is how you act when you're around her. You get violently jealous, insanely posessive, and start scaring her with the depth of your "love." Problem is, so is ever other guy around her. And of course, you're sure it's all her fault.

Sometimes confused with Just Drawn That Way (see below,) but much less independent and much less happy.

How to Spot: If she's sleeping around and doesn't care if you know, this one is a good bet. Incidentally, ease up on the Othello impressions- if she's turned on by that, she's probably not the kind it's safe to be around.
How to Be One: Are you crazy? I know you want men around you paralyzed with love and lust, but you don't want Dennis Hopper or Glenn Ford stalking you. Trust me on this.
As Seen In: Gilda, Blue Velvet, The Blue Angel, Anatomy of a Murder

The Black Widow
This is probably what you think of when you hear the term 'femme fatale.' She's sexy as hell but stuck with a creep, and wants you to take said creep out. I can't say for sure she's screwing you over- sometimes the guy really is a creep and she really is in love with you. But remember, that creep she's with probably thought she was in love with him at one point. Some day that creep could be you.

Don't think you're safe if you're female, either. This type is known for ensnaring women just as easily as men. Particularly if said femme fatale is French.

How to Spot: You'll usually see her stuck in a small town diner or a huge and empty mansion, on the arm of a guy twice her age. Think real hard about how much you value your life before taking her up on anything.
How to Be One: Always have a backup plan. If things go wrong with your scheme or your sucker, be ready to bail and have a prepared way of doing so. Also, platinum blonde wigs seem to help.
As Seen In: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Body Heat, Les Diaboliques, Niagara- this is probably the most common subtype.

Just Drawn That Way
She's not a bad girl, not really. Is it a crime to wear slinky dresses and banter with private eyes? Of course not. She's just having some fun, and if she likes a guy and he gets in trouble, you can bet she'll be there to help bail him out.

You might call her the decoy femme fatale, but she's close enough that I consider her a subtype. She has all the trappings of trouble, but there isn't a predatory bone in her body. Some women can be sexy and fun loving without being evil- imagine that!

How to Spot: Banter is a good way to spot this one. If you're teasing her and she gives as good as she gets, you're in luck.
How to Be One: I know you've got a heart of gold, but try not to play too many games. The sooner you and the private eye start working together, the better for all concerned. Also, don't be afraid of slinky dresses.
As Seen In: The Big Sleep, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Pulp Fiction.

The Damsel in Disguise
While most femmes fatale tend to be rather blatant, this one isn't. At least, not to you. She's in trouble. She needs help. Some of it is her fault, but everyone makes mistakes. Those stories she tells you about how bad men have hurt her break your heart, and she's awfully keep on helping you solve that murder mystery. Well, you knew it was too good to be true...

This subtype can overlap with the Black Widow and can be mistaken for the Catalyst. She doesn't have to be the former and certainly isn't the latter; odds are she's a criminal mastermind, and you're a small pawn on a big chessboard.

How to Spot: Helping out girls in danger is perfectly admirable, but here's a tip- the more crimes she needs you to commit to save her, the more likely she's this.
How to Be One: You've got to be a good actress, and you've got to pick your targets. You want them loyal and not too curious- private eyes are tempting, but they ultimately ask too many questions.
As Seen In: The Maltese Falcon, Brick, The Killing (in one scene, anyway.)

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