Enduring Empowerment : Women Who didn’t Give a Damn! …in Silent & Classic film!

THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!

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THE GODLESS GIRL (1929) CHAIR SMASH courtesy of our favorite genius gif generator- Fritzi of Movies Silently

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In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant and beautiful women!

There was to be no indecent exposure of the ankles and no SCHWOOSHING!  Not in this Blogathon baby!

From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures, to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender and sexuality! That’s our party!

In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… All together there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!

First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up these fabulous femmes….

Rischka Wildcat
1) Rischka (Pola Negri) in The Wildcat (1921) Ernst Lubitsch’s hyperactive Dr. Seussian comedy is worth seeing for the sets alone but the best part is Pola Negri’s Rischka, a young bandit queen who is terrorizing the mountains. She meets the local Lothario during a robbery and by the end of the scene she has stolen his heart. And his pants.
Countess A Woman of the World
2) The Countess (Pola Negri) in A Woman of the World (1925) Anyone who thought going to Hollywood would tame Pola Negri’s wild side had another thing coming. In this film, she plays a countess whose skull tattoo causes an uproar in Anytown, USA. The film also features a romance between Negri and the stuffy local prosecutor, who soon finds himself on the receiving end of her bullwhip. Not a metaphor.
Miss Lulu Bett
3) Lulu (Lois Wilson) in Miss Lulu Bett (1921) Independent women weren’t always given to violence and thievery. In the case of Lulu, she is a single woman trapped in two Victorian social conventions: spinster and poor relation. During the course of the film, she rejects both titles, learns her own self-worth and empowers herself to enter into a healthy relationship with the local schoolmaster. Tasty feminism!
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4) Zaida (Bebe Daniels) in She’s a Sheik (1927) Silent movie audiences enjoyed reversals of gender tropes. The Rudolph Valentino vehicle The Sheik (1921) had been a smash hit and had spawned many rip-offs and parodies. (kidnapping = love = box office!) In this case, a warrior princess falls for a French officer and decides the most sensible course of action is to abduct him for the purpose of marriage. Sadly, this comedy seems to be one of many silent films that is missing and presumed lost.
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5) Eve (Leatrice Joy) in Eve’s Leaves (1926) Another gender reversal comedy, Eve’s Leaves features twenties fashion icon Leatrice Joy as a tomboy sailor who finds the perfect man while ashore on business. She ends up saving the day– and her favorite dude in distress– through quick thinking, a knowledge of knots and a mean right hook.
Ossi The Doll
6) Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) in The Doll (1919) Ernst Lubitsch featured another feisty heroine in this surreal comedy. Our hero wishes to dodge marriage but cannot gain his inheritance without a bride. A plan! He will buy a lifelike doll from a famous toymaker and marry that. What he doesn’t know is that the doll was broken, the toymaker’s daughter has taken its place and she means to teach the reluctant bridegroom a lesson. Oswalda’s mischievous antics are a delight.
Molly Sparrows
7) Molly (Mary Pickford) in Sparrows (1926) Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart during the silent era and audiences adored her fearless heroines. Molly is one of her boldest. She’s an orphan raised in a Southern swamp who must rescue a kidnapped infant. The epic final race across the swamps– complete with alligators– is still harrowing to behold.
Helen Lass of the Lumberlands
8) Helen (Helen Holmes) in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916) Helen Holmes was an action star who specialized in train-related stunts and adventure. In this 1916 serial, she saves the day on numerous occasions and even saves her love interest from peril on the train tracks. (It should be mentioned that the Victorian “woman tied to the train tracks” cliche was incredibly rare and usually treated with ridicule in silent films.) This is another movie that is missing and presumed lost.
Musidora Judex
9) Diana Monti (Musidora) in Judex (1916) Not all the empowered women in classic film were heroines. In the case of Musidora, her most famous roles were as criminals. She was the deadly thief/hit-woman Irma Vep in Les Vampires and then took on the titular caped crusader in Judex. Smart, stealthy and likely to slip a stiletto between the ribs… in short, a woman not to be trifled with.
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10) Helen (Miriam Nesbitt) in The Ambassador’s Daughter (1913) This short film from Thomas Edison’s motion picture studio features espionage and a quick-thinking heroine. She tracks down spies at the embassy, follows her suspect and manages to steal back the documents that he purloined from her father. Not at all bad for a film made seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Cornelia The Bat
11) Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy) in The Bat (1926) It’s a dark and stormy night and a murderous costumed villain means to recover stolen loot in an isolated mansion. What is an elderly woman to do? Take up her trusty pistol and investigate, of course! She also wields a dry wit and keeps cool under pressure. The Bat doesn’t stand a chance
Catherine The Eagle
12) Catherine the Great (Louise Dresser) in The Eagle (1925) As mentioned above, Rudolph Valentino specialized in aggressive wooing but he finds the shoe on the other foot in this Russian romance. Louise Dresser is a kick as the assertive czarina who knows what she likes and goes for it.

Now to unleash the gust of gals from my tornadic mind filled with favorite actresses and the characters that have retained an undying sacred vow to heroine worship… In their private lives, their public persona and the mythological stardom that has & still captivates generations of  fans, the roles they brought to life and the lasting influence that refuses to go away…!

Because they have their own unique rhythm to the way they moved through the world… a certain kind of mesmerizing allure, and/or they just didn’t give a hoot, a damn… nor a flying fig!

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“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud”-Coco Chanel

Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!

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Barbara Stanwyck posing with boxing gloves!

The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!

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13. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) Double Indemnity (1944) set fire to the screen as one of the most seductive femme fatales— a dame who made sunglasses and ankle bracelets a provocative weapon. She had murder on her mind and was just brazen enough to concoct an insurance scam that will pay off on her husbands murder in Double Indemnity (1944). Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is the insurance guy who comes around and winds up falling under her dangerous spell… Walter Neff: ”You’ll be here too?” Phyllis: “ I guess so, I usually am.” Neff: “Same chair, same perfume, same ankle?” Phyllis:  “I wonder if I know what you mean?” Neff: “I wonder if you wonder?”
Bacall Slim To Have and Have not
14. Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944) Lauren Bacall walked into our cinematic consciousness at age 19 when Howard Hawks cast her as Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944). A night club singer, (who does a smoking rendition of Hogie Carmichael’s ‘How little We Know”) She’s got a smooth talking deep voiced sultry beauty, possesses a razor sharp wit to crack wise with, telling it like it is and the sexiest brand of confidence and cool. Slim has the allure of a femme fatale, the depth of a soul mate and the reliability of a confidant and a fearless sense of adventure. Playing across Bogart as the jaded Captain Harry Morgan who with alcoholic shipmate Eddie (Walter Brennan ) run a boating operation on the island of Martinique. Broke they take a job transporting a fugitive running from the Nazis. Though Morgan doesn’t want to get involved, Slim is a sympathizer for the resistance, and he falls in love with her, while she makes no bones about wanting him too with all the sexual innuendo to heat things up! Slim: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”
Bette as Margo Channing in All About Eve
15. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) All About Eve (1950) In all Bette Davis’ films like (Jezebel (1938) Dark Victory (1939) The Letter (1940) Now, Voyager (1942)), she shattered the stereotypes of the helpless female woman in peril. Davis had an unwavering strength, fearlessly taking on the Hollywood system and embracing fully the moody roles that weren’t always ‘attractive.’  Davis made her comeback in 1950, perhaps melding a bit of her own story as an aging star in All About Eve. Margo must fend off a predatory aspiring actress (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington) who insinuates herself into Margo’s territory. Davis’ manifests the persona of ambition and betrayal which have become epic… “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” 
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16. Margaret DeLorca / Edith Phillips (Bette Davis) plays the good twin/bad twin paradigm in Dead Ringer (1964). Edith, is struggling working class gal who owns a nightclub, and Margaret is her vein and opportunistic twin who stole her beau Frank away and married into a wealthy lifestyle. On the night of his funeral, Edith shoots Margaret in a fit of vengeful pique, then assumes her identity with ironic results. Davis again proves even though she commits murder, she can manifest a pathos like no one else… Margaret DeLorca: You really hate me, don’t you? You’ve never forgiven me in all these years.”  Edith Phillips: “Why should I? Tell me why I should.”  Margaret DeLorca: “Well, we’re sisters!”  Edith Phillips: “So we are… and to hell with you!”
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17. Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) is a forgotten alcoholic former child star living in a faded Hollywood mansion with her invalid sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), herself an aging Hollywood star. They punish each other with vicious mind games, temper tantrums and repressed feelings of revenge and jealousy.  Jane is a tragic tortured soul who’s life becomes ‘ugly’ because she’s been shunned and imprisoned by a fatal secret in which sister Blanche holds the key. What makes Jane such an empowered figure are the very things that have driven her mad. Jane’s itching for a comeback and is ready to dance and sing her way back into everyone’s heart! Jane has a child-like innocence that gives her that ambition and pure drive to see herself back on the stage. She believes it. While other people might laugh at her behind her back, Jane’s repressed rage also leaves room for joy. She’s an empowered aging actress who refuses to give up the spot light… Good for you Jane, now put down that hammer and feed Blanche something edible… Davis delivering yet another legendary line… Blanche: “You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.” Jane: But you *are*, Blanche! You *are* in that chair!”
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18. Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), in Hud (1963): Playing against the unashamed bad boy Hud Bannon (Paul Newman), Alma is a world-weary housekeeper who drips with a quiet stoic sensuality and a slow wandering voice that speaks of her rugged womanly charm. The philandering Hud is drawn to Alma, but she’s too much woman for him in the end… Hud Bannon: “I’ll do anything to make you trade him.” Alma Brown: “No thanks. I’ve done my time with one cold-blooded bastard, I’m not looking for another.”
Ball of Fire (1941) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Henry Travers, Oscar Homolka, Gary Cooper, Leonid Kinskey, Aubrey Mather, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, Tully Marshall, Barbara Stanwyck
19. Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanny) in Ball of Fire (1941) she is just that, a sexy ball of fire and a wise-cracking night club singer who has to hide out from the mob because her testimony could put her mobster boyfriend Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews) away for murder! Some nerdy professors (including Gary Cooper) want to exploit her to study slang and learn what it’s like to speak like real folk and does she turn their world upside down. Sugarpuss O’Shea: [needing help with a stubborn zipper] “You know, I had this happen one night in the middle of my act. I couldn’t get a thing off. Was I embarrassed!“
Killer Jo Walk on the Wild Side
20. Jo Courtney (Barbara Stanwyck) in Walk on The Wild Side (1962). Jo runs the New Orleans bordello called The Doll House with an iron hand— when anyone steps out of line she knows how to handle them. Stanwyck had the guts to play a lesbian in 1962, madly in love with Hallie Gerard (Capucine). Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney is elegant, self-restrained and as imposing as Hera in tailored suits. Having to be strong in a man’s world, her strong instinct for survival and the audacious will to hold onto Hallie brings her world to a violent conclusion…  “Oh you know me better than that Hallie. Sometimes I’ve waited years for what I wanted.”    
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21. Marie Garson (Ida Lupino) in High Sierra (1941) Roy “Mad Dog” Earle has been pardoned from a long prison term. Marie, a rough around the edges taxi dancer, finds herself resisting her attraction to this brutal gangster, forming a very complicated dynamic with a second mobster who wants to pull off a high stakes robbery. Marie is a force of nature that bristles from every nerve she purely musters in this tale of doom-fated bad boys, but more importantly here… A woman can raise a rifle with the best of them! Marie Garson “Yeah, I get it. Ya always sort hope ya can get out, it keeps ya going.”
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22. Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino) in Private Hell 36 (1954) This rare noir gem is written by the versatile powerhouse Ida Lupino who also plays Lilli Marlowe. Lilli has expensive tastes. After getting caught up in an investigation of a bank heist, she falls in love with the blue collar cop Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran). Cal has secretly stashed away the missing money from that bank heist, and then begins to suffer from a guilty conscience.  Lilli’s slick repartee is marvelous as Cal and his reluctant partner Jack Farnham (then husband Howard Duff) focus on her, hoping she’ll help them in their investigation. Lilli’s tough, she’s made it on her own and isn’t about to compromise now… Cal may be falling apart but Lilli knows what she wants and she always seems to keep it together! Lilli Marlowe: “Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed I’d meet a drunken slob in a bar who’d give me fifty bucks and we’d live happily ever after.”
Tallulah Lifeboat
23. Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) in Lifeboat 1944. It’s WWII and Connie is a smart-talking international journalist who’s stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with an ensemble of paranoid and desperate survivors. Eventually her fur coat comes off, her diamond bracelet and expensive camera gets tossed in the sea. But she doesn’t give a damn, she can take the punishment and still attract the hunky and shirtless (yum) John Kodiak… survival’s just a state of mind… and she does it with vigor and class and a cool calm! Connie Porter: “Dying together’s even more personal than living together.” 
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24. Berenice Sadie Brown (Ethel Waters) The Member of the Wedding 1952. Berenice doesn’t take any crap. She’s in charge of the brooding, temperamental tomboy Franky Addams (Julie Harris) who feels like an outsider. Berenice’s kitchen is a place of wisdom as she tries to bestow some life lessons, to a child who is a wild and longing little soul… Berenice is the only steady source of nurturing and a strong pair of shoulders to lean on… Thank god Franky/Harris didn’t start having her droning inner monologues until The Haunting (1963). Frances ‘Frankie’ Addams: [throws the knife into the kitchen door] “I’m the world’s greatest knife thrower.”  Berenice Sadie Brown: [when Frankie threatens her with a knife] “Lay it down, Satan!” 
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25. The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) Bride of Frankenstein (1935) The Bride might be one of the first screen woman to rabidly defy an arranged/deranged marriage. She’s iconic,  memorable and filled with glorious hiss!.. because The Bride may have come into this world in an unorthodox way, but she’ll be damned if any man is going to tell her who to love! James Whale isn’t the only one who brought about life in this campy horror masterpiece… Elsa Lanchester manifested The Bride with a keen sense of fearsome independence. No matter whether the Monster demands a Mate, The Bride isn’t ready and willing. Lanchester always took daring roles that were larger than life because she had a way of dancing around the edges of Hollywood convention. Charming, hilarious and downright adorable even with the wicked lightning struck hair and stitches and deathly pale skin! the bride-“Hiss…Scream….”
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26. Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Gal Friday (1940) Hildy is a hard-bitten reporter for New York City’s The Morning Post. She’s just gotten back from Reno to a get a divorce from her louse of a husband who happens to also be her boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy’s anxious to break ties with her manipulative ex-husband who just isn’t ready to let her leave the job or their marriage so she can marry straight-laced Bruce (Ralph Bellamy)… and he’ll do so by any means. But she’s nobody’s fool… and if she stays it’s because she’s made up her mind to embrace Walter’s crazy antics… Hildy Johnson: [to Walter on the phone] “Now, get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee: There ain’t going to be any interview and there ain’t going to be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. If I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I’m gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkeyed skull of yours ’til it rings like a Chinese gong!” 
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27. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950) There’s just no one quite like Norma Desmond. It’s 1950’s decadent Hollywood, the heyday of the Silent Era long gone… and a true screen icon, a sympathetic soul, fights her way to a comeback. brought to life by Gloria Swanson. Swanson, who knew very well what it was like to be a screen goddess railing against fading away, creates an atmosphere of fevered madness. She’s a woman whose desires are punished by an industry and the men who hold the reigns. But Norma doesn’t give a damn she’ll always be ready for that eternal close-up… Yet another memorable phrase is turned and a legend both on and off screen is reborn. Joe Gillis: “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”  Norma Desmond: “I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.” 
Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone
28. Karen Stone -(Vivien Leigh) in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) Karen Stone has the misfortune of being a 50 year old actress. There’s no place in theatre for an old woman of 50. On the way to Italy with her husband who is much older than she, he dies of a heart attack on the plane. Karen decides to settle in Rome and live a quiet life of solitude in her magnificent villa. Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya) is an opportunistic Madame who employs charming young gigolos to wine, dine, and bleed dry wealthy older women. She introduces Paolo di Leo (Warren Beatty) to Karen in hopes that it will bring about a showering of riches from this great American lady. Karen has no use for her old theatre friends, the status, and the game of staying on top. She enjoys the serenity of her life at the villa. Yet she is shadowed by a young Italian street hustler’s mysterious gaze. At first Karen is reserved and cautious but soon she allows Paolo to court her, and the two eventually begin an affair. Karen is aware Paolo is using her for her money, but her passion has been released. She is using him as well. But when his mood begins to sour and he turns away, Karen finds him with a younger wealthy upcoming starlet that he is already sizing up as his next meal ticket… The fling ends but Karen has taken back the power of attraction and sexual desire, and turns the usual stigmatizing dichotomy on it’s head, for while it was okay when she was a younger woman married to a much older man,  she takes a younger male lover Karen Stone: “You see… I don’t leave my diamonds in the soap dish… and when the time comes when nobody desires me… for myself… I’d rather not be… desired… at all.” 
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29. Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner) in Night of the Iguana (1964). Maxine is a the personification of the loner. She is sexually, morally and socially independent from opinion. When Ava was cast as the “earthy widow” the director said her “feline sexuality” was perfect for one of Tennessee Williams’ “hot-blooded ladies.” Maxine runs a quiet out-of-the-way tourist oasis in Mexico. When a bus load of provincial middle aged ladies break down, Maxine has to host Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) a repressed lesbian, her gaggle of ladies who lunch, and Sue Lyon, a Lolita who is chasing Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) a defrocked alcoholic priest, that Maxine would like to become better acquainted with. Once Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather arrive, the atmosphere seems to shift and Shannon is confronted with questions of life and love. Everyone at the hotel has demons and the rich and languid air seems to effect everyone… Maxine waits patiently for Lawrence to realize that they could have a passionate life together if he’d stop torturing himself… Gardner’s scene dancing in the ocean with the two young men is daring and provocative and purely Ava Garnder- Judith Fellowes: [Yelling at Shannon] “You thought you outwitted me, didn’t you, having your paramour here cancel my call.”  Maxine Faulk: “Miss Fellowes, honey, if paramour means what I think it does you’re gambling with your front teeth.”
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 Ava Gardner | Maxine Faulk in Night of the Iguana 1964
HAROLD AND MAUDE, Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, 1971
30. Maude (Ruth Gordon) in Harold and Maude (1971) There is no one quite like Ruth Gordon. She’s a sage, a pixie filled with a dreamy light that shines so bright from within. You can’t help but believe that she was as effervescent off screen as she was on screen.  Maude has a transcendent world view and a personal dogma to live life to the fullest and not waste time with extraneous matters. She believes everyone should be themselves and never mind what other people think… What else can you say about a character that vocalizes as much wisdom as any of the great and insightful spiritual leaders? Maude and Ruth both have a tenacity, vivacity and perspicacity…  Maude: “Harold, *everyone* has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”  — Maude: “I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”  Harold: “I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”  Maude: “Why do you say that?”  Harold: “Because they’re all alike.”  Maude: “Oooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are *this*”

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31. Ma Kate Barker (Shelley Winters) in Bloody Mama 1970: You know that Roger Corman was going to get the BEST woman who didn’t give a damn to play Ma Barker, the machine gun wielding matriarch of a notorious gang of bank robbers. She’ll do anything for her boys… Four boys only a mother could love. She’d kill for them! Ma Barker was irreverent and as mean as a bear backed into a beehive. A bold and brazen nature that delves into a whole other level of ‘no fucks given.’  Holding up a bank with her machine gun in hand “Alright everybody now reach for the nightgown of the lord, REACH!” 
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32. Pepe (Grayson Hall) in Satan in High Heels (1962). Pepe is the owner of a posh burlesque house in mod-yet-gritty 60s New York City. Pepe is an incessant smoker and savvy, domineering woman who brings the story about a new ‘singer’ Stacey Kane (Meg Myles) who joins the club, to a boil— even as she stays as cool as the center seed of a cucumber. Pepe tilts her head sizing up all the various patrons who inhabit her club with just the right mix of aloof and self-possession as she puffs on her cigarette. She’s always ready with the quick lash of her tongue like a world-weary drag queen.  “Bear up, darling, I love your eyelashes.” — “You’ll EAT and DRINK what I SAY until you lose five pounds IN THE PLACES WHERE!”
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33. Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne), The Awful Truth (1937) Before the ink on the divorce papers is dry Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) torture each other and sabotage any chances of either of them getting re-married. Both Lucy and Jerry carry on monologues to themselves throwing out quick witted repartee, so that we can see both sides of the story. One evening, when Jerry is flirting with the idea of marrying into a high society family, Lucy impersonates his sister, playing at it like a cheap bimbo. At one point she does a fabulous drunken Hoochie dance, wiggling around with a provocative sway falling into her ex-husbands arms in a way that should definitely put a dent in Jerry’s plans. Lucy is hell bent on driving Jerry crazy, yet becomes flustered herself when the tables are turned on her as she tries to carry on with her new fiancé (Ralph Bellamy). Jerry Warriner: “In a half an hour, we’ll no longer be Mr. and Mrs. Funny, isn’t it.”  Lucy Warriner: “Yes, it’s funny that everything’s the way it is on account of the way you feel.”  Jerry Warriner: “Huh?”  Lucy Warriner: “Well, I mean, if you didn’t feel that way you do, things wouldn’t be the way they are, would they? I mean, things could be the same if things were different.”  Jerry Warriner: “But things are the way you made them.”  Lucy Warriner: “Oh, no. No, things are the way you think I made them. I didn’t make them that way at all. Things are just the same as they always were, only, you’re the same as you were, too, so I guess things will never be the same again.”
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34. Catherine ‘Cay’ Higgins (Ruth Roman) in Tomorrow is Another Day (1951). Catherine is a tough dance hall girl who isn’t afraid to get herself dirty. She goes on the lam for the sake of self preservation when her new love interest Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) is wrongfully accused of killing her abusive pimp… and geez he’s just gotten out of prison after a long stretch. Cay is ballsy, extremely earthy, and exudes an inner strength that is so authentic it’s hard not to believe she could take one on the chin and still keep going. She embodies an indestructible sort of sex appeal, powerfully passionate and self-assertive woman you’d want to be with you if you’re ever on the lam… Catherine ‘Cay’ Higgins: “You worked a whole day just to dance a minute at Dream Land?  Bill Clark: It was worth it.”
Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in Pitfall 1948
35. Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) Pitfall (1948) Mona is a sultry dewy blonde fashion model with a low simmering voice in the greatest tradition of the noir femme fatale. Forbes falls for her, and they begin to see each other, though she unwittingly starts the affair without knowing he’s married. It’s a recipe for disaster because ex-cop turned private dick J B MacDonald (Raymond Burr) is psychotically obsessed with Mona and will set things up so Forbes goes down. Mona is a tough cookie, who unfortunately keeps attracting the wrong men. But she can take on any challenge because she’s got that noir frame of mind. She’s a doll who can make up her own mind and can hold a gun in her hand as easily as if it were a cigarette. Mona “You’re a little man with a briefcase. You go to work every morning and you do as you’re told.”
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36. Lady Torrence (Anna Magnani ) in The Fugitive Kind (1960) Lady is an earthy woman who’s passions run like a raging river & her emotions and truths flow freely on the surface clear and forceful. She is a shop owner in Louisiana who is stoically existing in a brutal marriage to her cruel and vindictive husband Jabe (Victor Jory) who’s bed-ridden and dying of cancer. Lady dreams of building a confectionary in the back of the store. Along comes Marlon Brando as Valentine “Snakeskin’ Xavier, a guitar playing roamer who takes a job in the shop. Lady’s jaded loneliness and Valentine’s raw animal magnetism combust and the two begin a love affair. And Lady suddenly sees possibility again and her re-awakened passion empowers her to live her dreams. Lady-“Let’s get this straight, you don’t interest me no more than the air you stand in.”
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37.  Egle (Anna Magnani) … And the Wild Wild Women (1959) Egle is the toughest inmate at this Italian prison for women. When Lina (Giulietta Masina) is convicted on a wrong felony charge, Egle takes her under her hardened wing and tutors her in the ways of crime. Egle is an instigator, she’s volatile and inflammatory and stirs up quite a riot at times. She’s got no fear. She is a tougher-than-nails, armpit-washing dame who just could care less about anyone else’s comfort or freedom. She’s a woman who has built up a tough exterior long enough that she truly is made of steel. The only thing that may betray that strength is at times the past sorrow or suffering that swims in her deep dark eyes.
The Rose Tattoo
38. Serafina Delle Rose (Anna Magnani) in The Rose Tattoo (1955) As the tagline states ‘Seething with realism and frankness!” You can’t get any other kind of performance from Magnani, her passionate soul is right up front, on her face and in her movements like a wild animal she moves so freely. Serafina is perpetual grieving widow filled with fire, playing against another actor (Burt Lancaster) whose bigger-than-life presence comes her way to bring about a lighthearted romance… Serafina is a seamstress in a small New Orleans town. She lives with the memory of her dead husband as if he were a saint. She mourns and wears black to show she is still committed to her man, even after he’s been killed by police while smuggling drugs for the mafia hidden in the bananas in his truck. With the presence of the local Strega or witch (Serafina gives deference to these things illustrating that she is of an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment), and her wandering goat, the town of fish wives & gossips who point, stare, judge, wail and cackle with their unkind insults put Serafina it forces her to fight for every last bit of dignity. Serafina gives deference to these things illustrating that she is of an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment. Once she learns her dead husband Rosario Delle Rose (who had a rose tattoo on his chest) was having an affair, the spell that leaves her imprisoned by mourning, breaks and awakens her will to celebrate life once again. She is stubborn, & passionate, and she has a strength that commands the birds out of the trees.  Serafina “We are Sicilians. We don’t leave girls with the boys they’re not engaged to!” Jack “Mrs Delle Rose this is the United States.” Serafina “But we are Sicilians, and we are not cold-blooded!”
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39. Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Martha who is the archetypal Xanthippe and George (Richard Burton) are a middle-aged couple marinated in alcohol, using verbal assaults, brutal tirades, and orgies of humiliation as a form of connecting to one and other. All the characters spew biting blasphemous satire and are each neurotic in their own ways. But Martha is a woman who spits out exactly what she wants to say and doesn’t hold back. It’s an experiment in at home couple’s therapy served with cocktails, as they invite Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) to join the  humiliating emotional release. In the opening of the film Martha arrives home and does a nod to Bette Davis while also condemning her own personal space and the state of her marriage, as she says “What a dump.” “I swear to GOD George, if you even existed I’d divorce you.”– Martha: “You’re all flops. I’m the Earth Mother, and you are all flops.”
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40. Gloria Wandrous  (Elizabeth Taylor) in Butterfield 8 (1960) Gloria is a fashionable Manhattan beauty who’s part model, part call-girl–and all man-trap. She grew up during the Depression and couldn’t escape the sexual advances of her uncle. New York City was for her a great escape. Gloria becomes an independent, sexually free woman who wants to get paid for her time. She hits the bottle a lot, because she has those dark troubling memories from her past that make her want to drown her thoughts. She winds up meeting a wealthy business executive who’s married, Weston Liggett, (Laurence Harvey) instantly he becomes entranced by her. She’s thrown off course and headed toward a fateful end, because she sees a kindred soul in the disillusioned Liggett who isn’t happy in his marriage. Their passion breathes new life into both lonely people. Though we can admire her sexual liberation, in cinema, women in the 60s ultimately had to be punished for their willful freedom, though it’s a double standard of course. Liz Taylor is another screen goddess who never shied away from bold & provocative roles. Gloria Wandrous: “Command performances leave me quite cold. I’ve had more fun in the back seat of a ’39 Ford than I could ever have in the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank.”
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41. Severine Sevigny (Catherine Deneuve) in Belle du Jour (1967) A whole new world opens up to Severine, a repressed housewife married to a doctor, when she decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute. While she can not seem to find any pleasure or intimacy with her husband, she blossoms in the brothel run by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) and adopts a persona that can experiment with her secret desires of being dominated, her sexual appetites flourish during the day, when often she runs into more rough clients. But, sexual freedom has a price and ultimately, a relationship with a volatile and possessive john (Pierre Clémenti) could prove to be dangerous. Severine breaks free of the confines of convention, like marriage, and explores a provocative even deviant kind of sexual behavior. She allows herself to go further and explore the most secret desires by indulging them, it is quite adventurous and risky and Deneuve masters it with a transcendent elegance. Madame Anais: “I have an idea. Would you like to be called “Belle de Jour?”  Séverine Serizy: “Belle de Jour?”  Madame Anais: “Since you only come in the afternoons.”  Séverine Serizy: “If you wish.” 
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42. Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) in The Bride Wore Black (1968) Julie Kohler is on a mission of revenge for the men who accidentally shot her husband on their wedding day outside the church. It was a short marriage… Julie finds a maniacal almost macabre sort of presentation to her theater of revenge, she moves through the film with the ease of a scorpion. But there’s dark humor and irony  (in François Truffaut’s homage to Hitchcock) running through the narrative. Like a good mystery thriller it utilizes very classic iconographic motifs. Julie is a captivating figure of sadness and passion put out at the height of it’s flame. Once passion for her late husband, and now passion for revenge. It’s playful and sexy and Moreau is utterly brilliant as the resourceful Julie Kolher who creates a satirically dire & elaborate, slightly Grande Guignol adventure of a vengeful woman on a crusade to exact poetic justice where the system has failed. Coral: “Permit me to make an impossible wish?” Julie Kohler: “Why impossible?” Coral: “Because I’m a rather pessimist.” Julie Kohler: “I’ve heard it said: “There are no optimists or pessimists. There are only happy idiots or unhappy ones”. .Julie-“It’s not a mission. It’s work. It’s something I must do” Priest–“Give it up”
 Julie–“That’s impossible, I must continue til it’s over”
Priest–“Have you have no remorse in your heart?… don’t you fear for your soul?”
Julie-“NO… no remorse, nor fear.”
Priest-“you know you’ll be caught in the end”
Julie-“The justice of men is powerless to punish, I’m already dead. I stopped living the moment David died. I’ll join David after I’ve had my revenge.”
Brigitte Helm Alraune
43. Alraune ten Brink -Brigitte Helm as Alraune 1928. A daughter of destiny! Created by Professor Jakob ten Brinken (Paul Wegener) Alraune is a variation on the Shelley story about man and his womb envy- which impels him to create a human-oid figure from unorthodox methods. A creation who does not possess a soul. He dared to violate nature when he experiments with the seed (sperm) of a hanged man and the egg of a prostitute. Much like James Whale’s Frankenstein who sought the secrets of life, Alraune is essentially a dangerous female who’s origin is seeded from this socially constructed ‘deviance’ of the hanged criminal and the whore (the film proposes that a whore is evil- I do not) Mixing the essence of sin with the magical mandrake root by alchemist ten Brinken he is seeking the answer to the question of an individual’s humanity and whether it be a product of nature or nurture. Alraune stumbles onto the truth about her origin when she reads the scientist’s diary… What could be more powerful than a woman who isn’t born with the sense of socially ordered morality imposed or innate. Is she not the perfect femme fatale without a conscience, yet… A woman who knows she is doomed to a life without a soul, she runs away with her creators love-sick nephew, leaving Professor ten Brinken, father figure and keeper- alone.
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44. Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) in Night of the Hunter (1955) “I’ve never been in style, so I can never go out of style.” Lillian Gish. There are certain images that will remain with you long after seeing masterpieces like Night of the Hunter. Aside from Harry Powell and Mitchum’s frightening portrayal of an opportunistic sociopath, beyond the horror of what he is, the film is like a childhood fairy tale. It’s a cautionary tale about the boogeyman but it’s also a story about the resilient spirit and far reaching imagination of children. And those who are the guardian angels of the world. One of the most calming and fortifying images- is that of Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) protecting the children from harm, holding the rifle and keeping watch like a wonderful fairy god mother elected by fate to guard those little ones with her powerful brand of love… There’s just something about Gish’s graceful light that emanates from within and the character she manifests in the righteous Rachel Cooper…. Rachel Cooper: “It’s a hard world for little things.”
Lucille Ball in The Dark Corner
45. Kathleen Stewart- (Lucille Ball) in The Dark Corner (1956) Kathleen Stewart is the always faithful and trustworthy secretary of private investigator Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) She’s the right amount of snarky and just a sexy bundle of smarts… Bradford Galt: “You know, I think I’ll fire you and get me a Tahitian secretary.”  Kathleen Stewart: “You won’t like them; those grass skirts are a fire hazard.”  Kathleen just won’t quit her boss. She knows he’s in trouble and wants to help him face it head on. She keeps pushing Galt to open up that steel safe “heart”, of his and let her help. Once she’s in on the intrigue, she’s right there with him, putting her secretarial skills aside and getting into the fray with her love interest/boss. She shows no fear or hesitation, doesn’t look down on Galt’s past, and is quite a versatile sidekick who really helps him out of a dangerous set up! She’s that other sort of  film noir heroine Not quite the ‘good girl’ nor a femme fatale. A strong sassy woman who doesn’t shy away from danger and when she’s in… She’s in it ‘for keeps.’ And say… isn’t that empowering!. Kathleen tells it like it is, sure she dotes on the down and out guy and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get frenzied or rough. Doesn’t make her a sap, it makes her a good friend and companion! Kathleen: “I haven’t worked for you very long, Mr. Galt, but I know when you’re pitching a curve at me, and I always carry a catcher’s mitt.”  Bradford Galt: “No offense. A guy’s got to score, doesn’t he?”  Kathleen: “Not in my league. I don’t play for score, I play for keeps “
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46. Lady Lu (Mae West) in She Done Him Wrong (1933) In the Gay Nineties, Lady Lu is a voluptuous nightclub owner/singer (she sings-A Guy What Takes His Time) who has men falling all over themselves. One is her ex lover who just escaped from prison, and a few waiting in the wings. Lu is interested in the handsome Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) who runs the temperance league across the way. Lady Lu loves to be bathed in and dazzled by diamonds, lots of diamonds. But Lu is also determined to seduce missionary Cary Grant… who is more interested in her soul than in her body-Marvelous Mae tells him- “Maybe I ain’t got no soul.” Mae had a hand in creating the woman who didn’t give a damn! She gave us the immortal line… “Come up’n see me sometime. I’m home every evenin’–“Lady Lou: “Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them.”  Captain Cummings: “Well, surely you don’t mind my holding your hand?”  Lady Lou: “It ain’t heavy – I can hold it myself.” 
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47.  Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) in Diabolique (1955) Simone Signoret is a torrent of sensuality (Room at the Top 1959, Ship of Fools 1965) Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) plays the wife of a sadistic husband Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) the controlling headmaster at their boarding school for boys. Nicole is the mistress of the cruel Michel, who has formed a special bond with Christina. Nicole incites the timid and weakly woman to kill the bastard by drowning him in a bathtub and then dumping his body in the school’s unused and mucky swimming pool. Nicole is determined and forceful in her mission to rid Christine of this abusive beast and the two women go through with the plan.  Nicole Horner: [to Christina] “I won’t have any regrets.”  In short, the pool is drained, the body isn’t there. And then there are numerous eerie sightings of the dead man which eventually drives the murderesses into a panic…  Is Nicole in on an even more nefarious scheme to drive Christina crazy? For now, the main focus is how Nicole summons a thuggish type of power that is riveting.  What’s remarkable about the film, aside from Clouzot’s incredible construction of a perfectly unwinding suspense tale, Signoret’s performance exudes grit and an unrelenting audaciousness. Nicole.  Christina Delassalle: “Don’t you believe in Hell?”  Nicole Horner: “Not since I was seven.” 
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48 Mia Farrow is Rosemary Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby 1968
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48. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Rosemary has a fearless defiance in an ordinary world that becomes an unsafe space and a deep well of paranoia. Beyond guarding her body and motherhood against all intruders, Rosemary has an open mind, a delicate brand of kindness although troubled by a catholic upbringing that haunts her, she is still ‘too good’ and too independent to taint. And she winds up taking life and the life of her baby on her own terms. No one could have manifested the spirit of Rosemary Woodhouse like Mia Farrow. It’s an indomitable image of striking resiliency. A heroine who braves an entire secretive cult of devil worshipers entrenched in the high society of NYC. That takes a lot of guts people!… Ruth Gordon as well personifies a meddling old New York busybody who just happens to be a modern day witch. Minnie Castavet also does what she wants -as she is empowered with her quirky style and her beliefs, as wicked as they may be…And her wardrobe is bold, kitschy and fabulous! Rosemary Woodhouse: “Pain, begone, I will have no more of thee!”
Geraldine Page
49. Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page) in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) Alexandra Del Lago is a decadent, soaked in boozed, and fading film star who is picked up by drifter by Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) for a tumble in the sheets. He’s been trying to break into the film biz for years, and hoping that Alexandra can help him get a screen test. He also wants to be reunited with his old flame Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight). Chance Wayne: “I had my picture on the cover of Life magazine!… And at the same time I was… employing my other talent, lovemaking.”  Alexandra Del Lago: “That may be the only talent you were ever truly meant for.” The roles that Geraldine Page would often take were filled with an intellect that transcends the strong female archetype. As Alexandra, she has a unique sort of cynical romanticism that exudes, a bit of alienation, a touch of longing and a penetrating intensity. She might be a washed up film star but she’s also a philosopher with a grasp of vocalizing the ironies and tragedies of life. She wants to drown her sorrows in liquor so she can escape from the pain of her life, and the uncertainty the future holds. But within that internal tumult is the soul of a great lady. Narcissistic, world-weary and a spirit stoked by those heart-aches.
Anna Lucasta (1958) | Pers: Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr | Dir: Arnold Laven | Ref: ANN040AE | Photo Credit: [ United Artists / The Kobal Collection ] | Editorial use only related to cinema, television and personalities. Not for cover use, advertising or fictional works without specific prior agreement
50. Anna Lucasta (Eartha Kitt) (1958) Young Anna is rejected by her sanctimonious father Joe played to the hilt by Rex Ingram. While the rest of the family wants Anna to come home, her self-righteous father can’t resist demonizing his daughter, with an underlying incestuous desire that he is battling.  Anna takes the cliched road of the fallen woman and becomes a good time gal who meets Danny (Sammy Davis Jr.) a cab driving sailor who is as smooth as silk and as fiery as molten lead. Though there is an underlying sadness because of the estrangement with her father, Anna possesses a strong sense of self, and exudes a fiery passion that cannot be denied… She isn’t a bad girl, she had to find her own way and again, it often leads to taking control of who you love and how you love. She and Sammy have a smoking hot chemistry on screen, and Kitt is just powerful as a woman who made that road her own…  Danny- “Tell her who Papa is” (speaking about the little carved wooden Haitian idol he’s given her) Lester – “That’s the model of Agwé the Haitian god of the sea. Seems he’s good to sailors” Anna- “Looks like Papa and me’s got something in common…”
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51. Carol Richman (Ella Raines) in Phantom Lady 1944 Carol Richman risks her life to try to find the elusive woman who can prove her boss (Alan Curtis) didn’t murder his wife. The unhappy guy spends a fateful evening with a woman he has picked up in a bar. He doesn’t know her name but she wears an unusual hat, which might be a clue for Carol to try and track down. Carol’s got so much guts, she puts herself in harms way so many times but she’s fearless just the same. Even when she meets the super creepy jazz drummer Cliff Milburn, who obviously is manic and might just be a sadist in bed, (if his drumming is any indication.) Plus there’s always the deranged sculptor Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone) who seems to be a menacing force.  Cliff Milburn (Elisha Cook Jr) “You Like Jive?” Carol ‘Kansas’ Richman “You bet, I’m a hep kitten” 
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52. Pam Grier is Coffy 1973  Okay okay tho I’m sneaking in past the 1970 cut off… I’m a woman who doesn’t give a damn and nodding to one of the greatest 70’s icon… Pam Grier set the pace for strong female heroines that laid the groundwork for all the others to follow… so she gets a nod from me! She plays a nurse who becomes a vigilante in order to get justice against the inner-city drug dealers who are responsible for her sister’s overdose… Coffy sets the bar high for strong female characters who wouldn’t back down, and who possessed a strength that is meteoric and a force to be reckoned with. Beautiful, resourceful, intelligent -a strikingly irrepressible image that will remain in the cultural consciousness for an eternity. Arturo Vitroni: “Crawl, n*gger!” Coffy: [pulls out gun] “You want me to crawl, white mother fucker?” Arturo Vitroni: “What’re you doing? Put that down.” Coffy: “You want to spit on me and make me crawl? I’m gonna piss on your grave tomorrow.”
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53. Charlie (Teresa Wright), in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Charlie is tired of small-town life with her parents and annoying younger sister. She’s a girl starved for new adventures, longing for something exciting to happen, to stir up her life. Careful what you wish for… She’s overwhelmed with joy when her beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) decides to pay the family a visit. But something isn’t quite right with her idol, he begins to exhibit a strange sort of underlying hostility and troubling secret nature… Her mother’s (Patricia Collinge) younger brother is actually a sadistic serial killer who preys on rich widows by marrying them, then strangling them! He’s so charming and charismatic that women can’t help being drawn to him. But young Charlie begins to see through his facade. Why would he cut out the news headline in the paper about a murderer who kills rich women? It all begins to take shape, and unfortunately Uncle Charlie can’t afford to have his favorite niece spill the beans.  What’s remarkable about young Charlie is that for a girl who fantasizes and indulges herself in things of a more romantic nature, she’s pretty darn brave in the self preservation department since no one else in the family believes her suspicions that he’s The Merry Widow killer. And she might just have to go rogue and wind up killing him in self-defense… Young Charlie: “Go away, I’m warning you. Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See… that’s the way I feel about you.”
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Constance Towers & Virginia Gray
Constance Towers The Naked Kiss
54. Kelly (Constance Towers) in The Naked Kiss (1964) The opening of the film is one of the most audacious entrances in early exploitation cinema,as Kelly confronts her pimp who has shaved off her hair and stolen her money. Kelly brutally pummels the rat with her handbag. Stripped of her hair she looks like a mannequin signifying her as the ‘object’ She is introduced to us from the opening of the narrative as a fighter. Kelly manages to fit in to the quaint new town of Granville she’s made her home until the perverse true nature of Granville’s benefactor is exposed. Grant (Michael Dante) possesses a dark secret that Kelly stumbles onto and ultimately explodes in scandal. The story is a mine field of social criticisms and hypocrisy that allow Kelly to rise above her persecution by the local cop Griff (Anthony Eisley) who isn’t adverse to taking Kelly to bed himself or frequenting Madame Candy’s (Virginia Gray) high class “cat house’ yet he’s above reproach. Griff tells Kelly it’s a clean town and he doesn’t want her operating there. But Kelly wants out of the business. She’s great with disabled children at the hospital and just wants a fresh start. Until she exposes the truly deviant secret about Grant and winds up accused of his murder. Kelly initially walks the fine line of being the ‘whore’ of the story, the one who needs redemption only to have the narrative flip it around and more importantly it’s the town that must be redeemed because of it is jaundiced complacency from the long kept secrets of the wealthy Patriarchal family that own and run it. Kelly is a powerful protagonist, because she kicks down the door of hypocrisy and judgement. Kelly also shatters the limitations that are placed on women. There’s exists a displaced female rage that started to become articulated later on with ‘f’eminist parable’ films during the late 60s and 70s. In the end she no longer is labeled or objectified or persecuted. She is embraced as a savior. Kelly’s got a reserve of strength and a great sense of self. To me she ends up being a heroine who rather than redeems herself becomes the catalyst for cleansing the ‘white middle-class’ town of it’s hypocrisy… Kelly (talking to Capt. Griff Anthony Eisley)“I washed my face clean the morning I woke up in your bedroom!”
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55. Velma (Agnes Moorehead) in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) Velma is Charlotte’s trusted companion. She shows a lot of gumption when Cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) shows up trying to gaslight poor Charlotte who’s suffered enough at the grotesque and tawdry way she lost her fiancee, and how she lived under the oppressive thumb of her father (Victor Buono). Velma wasn’t nary shy a bit to face off with Cousin Miriam, that intimidating gold-digging she-devil in Park Avenue clothes. (From de Havilland’s own wardrobe) Velma always says it like it is, and tries to be a trusted friend to Charlotte even when the whole town shuns her as a crazy axe murderess. We all need friends who would either help you hide the body, or at least defend you against an accusing mob… either way. I’m pretty sure Velma could have taken Miriam if she didn’t have Joseph Cotton’s help on her side… And we can’t forget Mary Astor’s firebrand performance as Jewel Mayhew… Jewel Mayhew: “Well, right here on the public street, in the light of day, let me tell you, Miriam Deering, that murder starts in the heart, and its first weapon is a vicious tongue.”– Velma Cruther talking to Cousin Miriam: “O you’re finally showin’ the right side of your face. Well, I seen it all along. That’s some kinda drug you been givin’ her. Isn’t it? It’s what’s been making her act like she’s been. Well, Ah’m goin’ into town and Ah’m tellin them what you been up to.”

Continue reading “Enduring Empowerment : Women Who didn’t Give a Damn! …in Silent & Classic film!”

Butterfield 8 (1960) Part II “I don’t suppose that anybody would think that she was a good person but strangely enough she was. On the surface she was all sex and devil may care yet everything in her was struggling toward respectability,and she never gave up trying”

Butterfield 8 (1960)


Gloria’s little red sports car pulls up in front of a row of lovely houses. She gets out, Ligg tells her “that’s where I was born” There’s snow on the ground, you can hear the wind howling around them. Ligg tells her his father “was an inventor…can you think of anything more useless in a small town like this?”she says “not if he invented a way to get out”

“He was certain I’d go a long way in this world.” Gloria says”And you did, didn’t you?…the head of a big chemical company”

“I’m just another hired hand, the company belongs to my wife’s family…My wife is a fact that I can’t avoid…she’s the center of a huge spider web of family, money, country clubs and childish time killing employments, all into at once” Gloria touches his lips with her leather gloved hand to hush the words that are aching him and they embrace in front of an elderly couple walking by looking shocked.

Gloria’s mother and Francis are sitting at the table drinking coffee and playing cards. Annie seems distracted. She mixes up her cards, “what did I play” Francis says “your heart and I can hear yours pounding across the table”Annie apologizes and says she’ll pay better attention.

Fannie says “I’d rather you put your troubles out and put them on the table” “I don’t want to burden you with them” “so what am I your friend for…your money?…or maybe I wanna steal your husband” She continues “Look you think I don’t that you haven’t heard from your daughter in 6 days” Annie looks upset “she’s never done such a thing before without calling”

Annie slaps the cards down on the table and gets up.”Something terrible must have happened” Fannie says “now why does it have to be bad, there are good things that happen too ya know” “Francis look you’re my best friend but I can’t talk to you frankly” “why not?” “There are things you don’t know about and shouldn’t…nobody should”Francis says “yes they should” Annie tells her “No her father died when she was so little…I only wish she had a father who was wise enough and strong enough to keep her on the right path” (yet again an example of patriarchal rule giving governance) Annie looks out the window. “once there was a man I almost married…(she looks visibly shaken)

“The Major, Major Hartley” she starts to cry a little “Somehow or other Gloria didn’t like him” we see Annie’s profile, Francis listening “it might have been good if I had” Francis walks over and puts a comforting hand on her shoulder and in a stern voice says “Annie, Gloria’s a good girl, don’t worry about her”

Annie cries out “but you always say such impolite things to her” “I say the same thing to everybody, I’m a born critic…there’s bad in everything, but there’s good too…her good far out weighs the bad” Fannie is one person aside from Steve and Happy who sees the virtue and kindness in Gloria.

“Oh if she was as bad as she pretends, you wouldn’t have heard from her in 6 years.” Annie asks ” do you mind if I kiss you?”Fannie grabs her with a big wide hug “you do and I’ll spread a big ugly rumor all around the neighborhood.

Cross fade

While Gloria and Ligg are walking together on a pier Liggett uncovers his old rust bucket of a Yacht, and the two go inside the cabin to spend some romantic time together.

Emily Liggett is sitting in bed reading. Her mother Mrs Jescott played by the gritty Carmen Mathews enters the room. “You should be in bed. And you shouldn’t be in bed, alone” She sits down and says that she wants to tell Emily about the family. “We’ve had sacrifice and cowardice, honor and infidelity, courage, love, deception, confusion, brilliance, tragedy”

Now seated across from her mother as an equal, Emily being more assertive “Mother if there’s anything wrong with Wes we brought it about” she explains “instead of my living his life, we brought him here to ours, and we handed him a big gift wrapped package and said, here, here’s your life don’t bother to live it yourself…you even presented him with a meaningless job, all title and no work.”

“One day he woke up with energy to burn…and he started burning it, but in all the wrong directions…liquor, women,defiance and the more he did it the more he had to go on doing it to justify it.”

Emily’s mother says “but you’re not running a mission for lost egos” “Mother I’m running a marriage, not just through the good days but through the bad days too. Some day Wes is going to find himself.

(Gloria is also on a journey of self discovery yet still considered a tramp while Wes doing all the same things is going to find himself),and when he does his wife will be there waiting for him.Gloria only awaits loneliness and a terrible end.

Back in NYC Gloria and Liggett are walking arm and arm down the busy city sidewalk. Gloria sees a leather attache case, and stops in to buy it for Steve’s birthday.

Gloria calls over to “Liggett, I’m going to have to leave you today and go see Steve” he says “Now Look” she says “I know, you’re with me kid remember” Gloria asks the clerk if what she called in the other day was ready yet. The clerk goes and gets it. Gloria hands Liggett a small gift wrapped package. It’s a sterling silver lighter with the inscriptions BU8 on it.

He smiles and kisses her. “Gloria there’s something I have to tell you” she looks deeply into his eyes, “you act like a man who’s expecting his wife back in town.” ” how did you know?” she says “I always knew…someday” She says thank you for not calling me, honey and babe and doll face anymore” he says “I couldn’t I don’t think of you like that anymore”

Cross fade

The little Yorkie sitting atop a pillow like a princess on Annie’s couch. She comes into the apartment and calls out “Mama.” Seconds later her mother walks in puts the packages down and runs over to hug her daughter. “Mama I want to tell you what I’ve been doing” nervously “no dear, you don’t have to” “I’ve been with a man a whole week. Her mother gets up shaking her head disturbed “no”, Gloria says “let me tell you the truth for once in my life” her mother pleads ” no please, please, please”crying and turning away, Gloria goes after to her.

“Mama, we both know what kind of a girl I’ve been, we both know it” Her mother screams and covers her ears, shaking,”no I don’t want to hear about it”Gloria tries to grab her mothers hands away from her ears, so she has to listen. She shakes her “mama you have to!…unless I can be honest with you about yesterday, how can you believe me today?” “believe what?!”

“I am different, Mama I am different, yesterday it was men, a whole world full of men” her mother says”let me go you’re hurting me, you’re hurting me!” Gloria begs,shouts “Mama face it , I was the slut of all time!” Her mother slaps her in the face. There is a sudden silence. A moments pause in the midst of crisis. Gloria looking so much more authentic, “if only you’d done that before…long ago…every time I came home all soaked through with gin.” Annie is sobbing, turns and faces the wall “I’m sorry” she weakly speaks out.

Gloria touches her “it’s not your fault Mama, it never has been, it was in me…but it isn’t there anymore. It’s no longer just men for me, there’s only one man, one, just one…maybe it’s too late for marriage, but it’s not too late for love…now by some miracle I’m like everybody else.” Annie is facing her daughter now. “I’m in love…you can look at me mama, without wishing I’d never been born” they hug.

Mildred Dunnock is remarkable as Gloria’s fragile yet caring mother

Fade to black

Gloria shows up at her psychiatrist’s office.Dr Treadman says”don’t try to analyze me, you don’t have the training” she comes back cleverly “not in books perhaps”

“Dr Treadman are you hard of hearing?…I’ve been trying to tell you something…I don’t need you anymore!” he looks skeptical” I have no problems anymore…I’m in love, I am in love…I am really in love” He says that he’s delighted to hear it. Gloria gets up, shakes his hand and thanks him for everything.

He calls to her “Gloria, Gloria while it is possible that sometimes love can solve many things, love is not so simple that you can rely on it as a complete solution, so if it isn’t all that you hoped it would be…if it doesn’t work out, don’t hesitate to come back…quickly.”

She looks back at him confidently “but it will work out, I’m gonna make it work”he calls over to her again as she is walking out of his office. ” but if it doesn’t””but it will, it has to”

Cross fade

Gloria knocks on Steve’s door, he opens the door she kisses his cheek wishing him a happy birthday, holding flowers and his present. Norma’s on the phone. Gloria, is snuggling all over him, kisses him trying to get him in trouble while Norma’s on the phone.

“what are you trying to do to me?”he says laughing , she says “oh you drive me wild with desire” he asks “Gloria where’ve you been all this time?””I’ve been chained to the wall of a sanitarium trying to keep away from you”Steve has to leave to meet up with Norma.

Gloria follows him over to the closet. And sees the fur coat. Liggett’s wife is coming back to town today, “The coat, oh the coat,what am I going to do?” She runs out of Steve’s with the fur.

Short scene.

Just as Gloria is walking towards the doorman to Liggett’s apartment building with his wife’s fur, Emily Liggett gets out of a limo wearing another fur coat. The doorman greets Mrs Liggett, and Gloria is stopped in her tracks. She runs back to her little red sports car with the coat, gets in and starts crying.

Cross fade

Emily is sitting at her dressing table doing her nails. Wes gives her a kiss, welcomes her home. she thanks him, and acts surprised at the gesture.She tells him that “there’s a certain aliveness about you” She tells him her mink is missing. He says maybe she left it out on Long Island. But she’s checked it’s not there.

He tells her he’s been home the whole time and nobody else has been there. Then he looks down at the cigarette lighter. He leaves the room, and she runs after him caling Wes. She wants to call the police, but he grabs the phone from her. “the cheap publicity and all” they argue for a bit. “let me do it my way shall we, without your mother!”

Liggett is at a bar, asking if the bartender knows Gloria. “you don’t have to describe her to me Mr Liggett, I’d know her with my eyes closed, on the bottom of a coal mine, during the eclipse of the sun” She hasn’t been in for over a week.”Without her this place is dead, she’s like cat nip to every cat in town”

He goes to the next bar. two men approach him and ask where he’s been. Then they say Gloria’s the kind of business they wouldn’t mind having again. One man puts him arm around Liggett, “Oh come on Liggett come on Gloria, ha sure, she’s she’s frantic isn’t she like a rocket right off the earth…mother I’d have left home for that…she’s got a traveling hitch,she’s like a flea hop hop hop from one dog to another, bites ya and she’s gone, she picks ya up and she drops you” Ligg looks worried,angry, the man raises a glass and says “well welcome to the fraternity we meet once a year at Yankee Stadium”

Ligg walks out and is on the phone now. “Now listen Butterfield 8 I’ve called her hundreds of times, (desperate) I’m her closest friend, you’ve got to tell me where she is, it’s a matter of life and death.(frustrated about to blow) you’re liars all of you liars fiends and liars now tell me!” he slams the phone down.

We see Gloria driving the red sports car being pulled over by flashing police lights. Tells her to take it easy, don’t drive away your troubles. Tomorrow the sun will come up again just like it did today. She’s at Happy’s now. Happy brings her a plate of cookies. She’s telling Gloria a story about an actress trying to get a part in the show.

Trying to get in solid with the director.”Two days later or should I say two nights later, she was in, but solid, yeah with the director with his cousin,She was so busy getting in solid with every Tom, Dick and Harry and his uncle George she wouldn’t recognize a producer if she found one right under her pillow…So time passes and our heroine is very big, yeah but not in the theater oh no, in all the wrong places…in 500 little black books…and 28 divorce cases, 2 police blotters and in one restraining sheet in the psychopathic ward in Bellevue. Yeah she hit it big, from a size 12 dress to a size 44. She went from looking like an Orchid, to a face like a pan of worms.and all because she said with only a rag a bone a hank of hair. I will move the world my way”

Happy sees that Gloria is sullen. She grabs her arm and tells her “hey you live it, you kick up your heels, you grab everything you can get, you light the candle from one end to the other as they say…and then one day, you too can be the proud proprietor of a very heavily mortgage rolled side brick brothel, you’ll wish you were dead.” Happy eats a cookie looking down and disgusted with her life.

cross fade

Liggett is with his wife Emily sitting at the breakfast table. He gets up and pours vodka into his orange juice glass, “Don’t worry Emily it’s not alcoholism it’s just a kind of medicine”

He says he can’t he has to go out and look for her fur coat. She wonders why he feels so personally responsible for it. “Wes is there anything I can do?” he says  ” When I come back with that coat which I will, I want you to throw me out” he takes his drink, the scene ends.

Gloria’s mother is needle pointing “sorry I didn’t come home last night I spent the night in a motel, Annie looks worried but Gloria laughs “alone” I had some thinking to do, then she passes a mirror and takes a hard look at her reflection. I saw a woman, utterly proper, utterly conventional,utterly beautiful.

Then she stares at herself in the mirror again. Annie says “you’re beautiful too dear”She says “I have a face, and that’s not the kind of beauty I mean” Her mother asks “what kind of beauty?” “The kind that comes from self respect I guess, it shines” Her mother answers “I’ve seen that kind…it takes a lifetime to find” Gloria says “I”m going to find it”mom says “I think you will”

“Butterfield 8 called. Mr Liggett says he has to see you, it’s a matter of life and death.” Now Liggett’s sitting at a bar table, he’s already drunk. Gloria walks in holding his wife’s coat. He sees her takes a long look. She looks back at him. He sees the coat. “so you did take it!”

“Yes and I’m sorry Liggett, may I sit down?” he says “that’s up to you Honey” the waiter comes by asking if she’d like to order, but Ligg says “no the lady’s not going to order” Gloria gives him the coat. “why did you bother to bring it back?” “because it isn’t mine” he throws it down and erupts quietly,”because you’re scared you mean…cause you know I’m not like one of those ordinary Joe’s you take for a sleigh ride…because you know while I’m might have given you the world, I’d tear your head off if you’ve stolen as much as a nickel from me, isn’t that it?” she quietly shakes her head and says “no”

He drunkenly says “so you pick up the man when you want, and drop him like a bomb,” he drops his glass. it breaks, “when you want…people don’t mean anything to you, do they?, the way they feel in here ( he points to his heart) not down where you live” she cries “I care about some people” he says  “for an hour, or a day, or a week, til you’ve had your kicks, then you slither off to the next one.”

She is so visible struck silent “I’ll talk to you tomorrow” he grabs her arm very violently, “there isn’t going to be any tomorrow… and for once somebody’s going to drop you, and go ahead try that heel trick again the one you use that get’s the boys hot…I ought to break this arm right out of your shoulder” she says “May I say something to you” “sure honey, babe,doll face, kid…say something sexy, something that always got the boys straight for the hotel” He’s still gripping her wrist, imploding.

Gloria reasons”You can’t have everything in life, be grateful for the few things you do get, no matter where they come from.” she’s holding it together, he lets go of her arm “the pornographic philosopher….now you just sit there like a good tramp should until I get out of your sight….I can’t stomach being seen in public with you”

He’s creating a scene in the bar. Gloria picks up the coat and says “Liggett” he snaps “don’t you dare mention my name in public again…( he gets closer up to her face and yells ) you’re a joke, a dirty joke from one end of this town to the other”

A man comes over to try and quiet Liggett, Liggett gets violent and the man punches him til he staggers off. Gloria runs after him with the fur.

They’re sitting in her little red car now. She tries to help him out of the car, but he shoves her away.Emily looks out the window at just the right moment and sees him getting out of Gloria’s car. Gloria gets out of the car and hands him the fur. He says, “for something like this you want me to give this back to my wife after something like you has touched it”!

He throws it back at her. Emily tears up at the window. He walks into the building and tells Emily to leave him alone. “Do you want a doctor” Wes says “yes and tell him to bring me something to make me unconscious before I can think.”

Gloria shows up at Steve’s. They’re in totally darkness at first. Then Steve thrusts the room into light. She’s wearing the fur “ask me about the coat Steve, ask me”

“I see you still have it” “Because it’s mine..every skin…every thread…every hair…is mine….(she gasps for air) and you know why?…because I earned it, pretty good pay for one week…a thousand dollars in fur a day” She yanks it off her body.

Steve says “I take it Liggett couldn’t make it?” She says that’s not the import thing, the important thing is “I took money…you know what that makes me” she breaks down and sobs and hugs Steve. She says “let me cry ,let me cry like all the times I should have and never could”

She throws herself face down sobbing on Steve’s bed. He pats her back and she says Steve I have to tell you something” he says I know about you Gloria” she says “you don’t know this…nobody knows this, except a certain man somewhere who I’d like to think of as standing in the middle of a lake filled with burning gasoline…she pauses and cries please listen…”

“I was 13, my father was dead, all older men seemed like fathers to me, but I wanted one of my own…to sit in his lap…and to hug him…and have him say I was beautiful.” She turns to Steve and asks “do you remember Major Hartley?Steve remembers. “Major Hartley my mother’s friend, he came down to Grand Central Station one day to pick me up from summer camp, mother was away visiting. He took me home…he let me sit on his lap. he let me hug him…he told me I was beautiful.”

“He stayed in that house for one week, and taught me more about evil than any 13 year old girl in the world knew” Steve quietly says don’t don’t. She turns to him viciously asserting “you haven’t heard the worst of it yet” She says with a smile and a defiant yet self deprecating tone, “I loved it!!!!!…every awful moment of it, I loved…” screeching out the words”that’s your Gloria Steve, that’s your darling Gloria…I made a way of life out of it,,,the deep shame of it didn’t hit me til it was too late. I couldn’t go back to 13 again.”

She looks up a bare trace of light on her face, “I had one chance to stop it, one last chance, and I threw it all away for 32 animals sewn together in a coat.” She’s crying into her hands. Steve goes to her, “it’s not all over…you have another chance. She says it doesn’t matter where she goes. But steve tells her it matters a great deal what she does. “You got to decide what you’re going to do next, I do too, stay here tonight” She sadly kisses his cheek “thank you Steve”

Cross fade

Liggett’s in bed smoking, Emily asks “anything you need Wes” He says  “a divorce” he’s a failure as a husband and a failure as a man. She doesn’t want the divorce “Wes I love you”

“I know you do and that makes the divorce all the more necessary…because I can’t go on disappointing you.” She asks “Do you love her, that woman you were with?” “I seem to” “but you fought with her and sent her away in a rage” “yes I did, I was sick because I was afraid I was going to lose her…and I hated her unreasonably because I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her…just as you hate me now. Emily runs out of the room crying.

Gloria is back with her mother holding the dog, “I just called Butterfield 8 and told them to shut off the service and to send me a bill as soon as I have an address in Boston will you forward it to me?”

Fannie is there Gloria’s mother says “yes dear I will” “take care of mama Mrs Thurber “Oh I got plans for her, my cousin Harry” “Oh Francis” “I’m a born match maker” Gloria pipes in ” at 10 percent of course” Fannie say “naturally…look I don’t want to be a nosy neighbor but why Boston?” “well that’s where the pilgrims made a fresh start, if it’s good enough for them I guess I can take it”Fannie replies “can Boston take you?”

Mother asks ‘what will you do in Boston dear?” “well, i’ll buy a paper, look up the want ads, same as any girl without a job” Fannie says wearing Emily’s fur coat, “look before we start crying let’s get the luggage into the car…looking in the mirror, ah this is as close as I’ll ever get to heaven”Gloria asks “Do you like it Mrs Thurber?” “Course not I’m only faint from not eating in three days” “it’s yours”

Fannie looks shocked”no”Annie is smiling, Gloria says “wear it in good health” “oh no you can’t bribe me with this…I could never say a mean word about you as long as I live, I’d die of boredom ” “Well then just keep it warm for me”she turns to her mother “goodbye mama” they hug very preciously and Annie says “I don’t want you to go, I have a feeling you’ll never come back” “I never will come back Mama, but I’ll send for you as soon as I can” she kisses her on the cheek, then kisses the little dog on the head.

Now Liggett is on the phone, “did she leave any forwarding address?…Now look this is the most important telephone call of my life…you must tell me please…Boston?you’re certain…thank you Butterfield 8, thanks”

Joe’s Barber Shop, a gulf gas station, cars speeding fast on the road, he’s driving to find her. He stops the car, he sees the little red sports car outside a brick diner. She’s sitting at a table. She looks stunned. He says “don’t be frightened Gloria, please…I can only think of one apology…will you marry me?…I’ve arranged for a divorce, wait for me and in time, I’ll make you forget every word I uttered last night” “You can’t….I’m left with those words…I’m branded with them, but thank you for asking me to marry you…if only you’d done it yesterday it might have meant something, but not today.

“I only did what I did last night, because you were so much in my blood that I exploded” “But you were right last night, no man could marry me and not keep remembering,,,you, you’d have to explode at my life..past and present, you couldn’t help but explode””Oh Gloria I can think of a dozen apologies””Oh I know, and I accept, but then look at all the thousand of explosions ahead and the thousand apologies and a thousand acceptances until we” he grabs her hand and kisses it, crying holding it his mouth. “til we both get so disgusted” he whispers “I love you I love you””And I love you…it’s no use it’s no damn use”

He wants to go over to Happy’s to be alone and talk ” if I get in a room with you, together, alone, I know what’ll happen, it’ll be the same thing all over again”look Gloria, we started this whole thing together, we’re obligated to solve it together, please” She tilts her head she’s weakening.

Happy greets Liggett and says “Oh you brought another weary traveler. Hi Honey, welcome home”. Happy keeps talking, Liggett gets impatient The key Happy give me a key” Gloria is gripping the steering wheel of the car, hesitating to go into the motel room. Suddenly Gloria speeds away, Liggett goes after her.

]

She’s racing the engine as fast as it will go.She gets onto the thruway, he’s in pursuit. She goes faster, looks behind her to see him following and realizes too late that she’s hit a detour.Gloria skids off the road, we see and hear scream in the little red car as it goes off the cliff and smashes down into rocks. The horn stuck blaring. Liggett looks over at the wreck then the police show up, they are putting a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. Liggett is just standing there. A cop comes over “you saw the accident?” “Yes” Your name please” “Weston Liggett 10 -38 10th avenue NYC

The cop says “I stopped that same girl 2 nights ago for speeding, I wish I had put her in jail” then another cop comes over “I haven’t made her name yet chief” “Her name is Gloria Wandrous” “You knew her?”the cops look at each other baffled

cross fade

Liggett returns home,”You’re going to read about it in the newspapers tomorrow Emily, the family name your picture, my picture, everything, I’m sorry”

“Wes I don’t understand what’s happened tell me” “she’s dead…she lived for an hour unconscious but she’s dead” Emily asks “who that girl?”  “yes, terrible, automobile accident, she was trying to get away from me, I’m sorry, so sorry”

He says solemnly “I don’t suppose that anybody would think that she was a good person but strangely enough she was. On the surface she was all sex and devil may care yet everything in her was struggling toward respectability , and she never gave up trying”.

He jerks forward in a gust of anguish then turns to Emily,”I’m going out looking for my pride, alone, when I find it, if you’re here, I’ll come back and we’ll see if it still has any value to either of us” he walks out the door. The strings start dramatically, we are left with  Emily standing in the apartment for a second before the screen goes black.

The End

Liz rightfully won an academy award for this role ~and somehow I find myself yet again doing another womanhood in peril film

A woman cannot afford to be an individual who is sexually adventurous otherwise she is labeled a whore. Thus she is reviled by the very men who are themselves sexually active.

Gloria is also under a doctor’s care for this.Another factor in a woman having a strong sexual identity is that it is associated with a mentally ill pathology. Francis Farmer was labotomized for this. Not many decades ago women were thrown into jail or Psych wards for this.

While men are heralded as being part of a Fraternity, a brotherhood of users, exploiters and objectifiers. They are viewed as heroic and successful. They affirm their masculinity. While women, lose their self worth and become dehumanized and shunned.

Gloria’s downward spiral was inevitable because she needed the outside agency of other sympathetic characters finding the good that is buried deep within her,when in fact it was obvious that she was a good person.

She is already a very dynamic, delightful, loving and free spirited individual, something to be honored and not reviled.

As in The Naked Kiss (1964)we see a double standard of what male /female expectations are.

Woman’s sexuality as something to be feared, judged and also used as a weapon as it applies to the undoing of male power over logic. The theme of Madonna vs Whore syndrome, where she can’t be both, not able to exist in this world with this dual role she must be destroyed in order to be set free from the stain of her sexual nature. Kelly had to leave Grantville, Gloria had to die horribly in a car crash, in order to destroy the sexual desire she both embodied and projected.

From “The Dread of Difference:Gender and the Horror Film” edited by Barry Keith Grant

Page 35 “Horror and the Monstrous -Feminine An Imaginary Abjection” by Barbara Creed

“All human societies have a conception of the monstrous-feminine, of what it is about woman that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject.Classical mythology also was populated with gendered monsters, many of which were female. The Medusa with her “evil eyes” head of writhing serpents” -Barbara Creed

page 36 “It is not by accident that Freud linked the sight of Medusa’s to the equally horrifying sight of the mother’s genitals, for the concept of the monstrous- feminine, as constructed within and by a partiarchal and phallocentric ideology, is related intimately to the problem of sexual difference and castration.” In 1922 Freud argued that the “Medusa’s head takes the place of the female’s genitals.If we accept Freud’s interpretation we can see that the Perseus myth is mediated by a narrative about the difference of female sexuality as a difference which is grounded in monstrousness  and which invokes castration anxiety in the male spectator.” -Barbara Creed

Remember when Liggett tells Gloria that she should go slither away, making a reference to her as serpent. Liggett is also emotionally castrated by his relationship with wife and mother in law.

Butterfield 8 (1960) Part I “I’d know her with my eyes closed, at the bottom of a coal mine, during the eclipse of the sun”

Spoiler Alert: I do discuss the film through to the end. So if you haven’t seen it yet skip the review!

Butterfield 8 – Directed by Daniel Mann and scripted from the John O’Hara novel. One of his early works which garnered a lot of attention, primarily because O’Hara dealt bluntly with matters of social class, sex, and ambition that other novelists didn’t write about during the 50’s and 60’s.He acquired a grasp of social stratification that is pervasive in his writing.

The melodramatic score by Bronislau Kaper is as beautifully dramatic as it is as trashy like a Harold Robbins novel.

Butterfield 8 Stars the great lilac eyed beauty of the golden age of cinema,when the big studio empires ruled over their actors.One of my favorites, Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor won an academy award for her role as Gloria Wandrous and Laurence Harvey plays Weston Liggett(without his groovy sideburns that he sported in the early 70s. Harvey who’s speaking voice is like silk to my ears.)Both actors had played husband and wife in the psychological thriller Night Watch (1973) which I plan on reviewing down the road.

First some blurbs about O’Hara’s novel:

“Gloria Wandrous is New York’s ultimate playgirl–a professional escort in the down and out days of the Depression. O’Hara bitingly paints a portrait of despair in Gloria’s life–from the minute she wakes up in a strange bed, to the moment her life ends. Based on a true story, men flock to Gloria–raped by her father figure as a child, her security with love is thin, though she continues to seek support from her friend Eddie, and her seducer Liggett. In the speakeasy culture of New York, sex and booze is all the rage, and yet Gloria’s one real desire, love, only leads her to her death.”
Angela Allan, Resident Scholar

“Gloria Wandrous is a golddigger extraordinaire in New York City during the depths of the Depression, circa 1931. She escaped a molesting uncle in the sticks and has made her own way in the big city ever since. When she tangles with prosperous businessman and Yale grad Weston Liggett, it’s hard to tell who’s leading whom.
David Loftus, Resident Scholar

Butterfield 8(1960)

The film unlike the novel is set in 60’s era style and not the depression era 30’s.It is a story not just about Gloria Wandrous a tragic figure, at the mercy of her past and present demons that haunt her, the film is about male ego, male control and male pride. In order for Taylor’s character to be redeemed in the end as a good person, she must be obliterated by the plot. Similar to the way Kelly had to leave the clean town of Grantville In The Naked Kiss, Gloria must die in order for her existence to be redeemed.

This is what happens to girls who are either hyper sexual, sexually independent or perceived as wild and immoral. It’s a tragedy of moralizing. For me Butterfield 8 is a story about society’s fear as well as male fear of the female body, when neither are in control of it.

Gloria is portrayed as an amoral sex addict who’s trajectory was formed at age 13 when a man her mother was engaged to marry rapes her over the course of a week.Now her only goal in life is to obtain wealth and power through her body.The abuse is alluded to early on, we catch wind of Gloria’s mother Annie saying that Gloria didn’t like her fiance the Major.

The fact that her self-worth and promiscuity might stem from early child hood sexual abuse,and that Gloria is a victim condemned to repeat the abuse with each man she flagrantly sleeps with isn’t really part of the narrative until much later in the film during a very powerful confession to her dearest friend Steve.Yet another male who needs to look after Gloria, and act as brotherly protector for her.

Not having read OHara’s book I am not sure if he wrote Gloria’s character as sympathetic. Taylor does her best to show us a compassionate woman in turmoil regardless of the moralizing in the film.

Dina Merrill plays Liggett’s wife Emily a “decent” respectable woman of breeding who is also portrayed as having stripped Weston Liggett of his manhood by foisting a life upon him that wasn’t of his own choosing, thus giving him an excuse for why he seeks the comfort of other woman,and the excesses of booze. He too is self deprecating and self destructive like Gloria, but unlike Gloria, he gets the opportunity to find himself in the end, where Gloria had to literally crash and burn.

And yet we don’t see Liggett’s actions as being amoral. He gets a small lecture from an associate Bing who while on a train bound for Long Island, tells him he’s making a mess of his life, but people make excuses for Liggett all the way through. Liggett’s own wife, recognizes her part of the blame in infantilizing her husband therefor taking the burden of blame off of him.

However, Gloria is a walking sexual plague, a virtual epidemic capable of taking men and marriages down with one phone call to Butterfield 8.. She is a rolling one woman demolition team, smashing through sexual encounters like a bulldozer. Until she meets the one man she actually falls in love with, Wes Liggett. Only with this one man can she find self worth and become redeemed. Finally she starts to shed her life and aspire for more than taking from men, by giving over her body. Women are not allowed to be sexual beings, not in the way that men are expected to be.

The wonderful Mildred Dunnock ( she was in one of my favorite episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Cheaters) plays Gloria’s fragile and inhibited mother Annie and Annie’s neighbor and best friend Fannie Thurber is played by Betty Field who adds some comic relief to the tension at times. She’s a constant in Annies troubled life, worrying about her daughter and her reputation.

Gloria Wandrous high priced call girl just dial Butterfield 8, wakes up in Wes Liggett’s bed in his lavish apartment. She starts calling for Liggett (Laurence Harvey) who we see stepping into an elevator. The vintage baby blue Crosley phone is off the hook. The oboe is ominous and alienating. She picks up a pack of crumpled cigarettes and flings it when she discovers it’s empty.

She keeps picking at the ashtray looking for the remnant of a cigarette butt that she can smoke.She finds a pack of Liggett’s cigars and lights up, inhales and starts choking on it. Pours herself a glass of scotch. Walks around the swanky apartment in the bed sheets, kicks a silk salmon dress she wore the night before lying on the floor next to her pumps. Picks up the dress and holds it to herself.Remembering last night she crumples it up and throws it back on the floor.Puts her slip on and saunters off to find Liggett calling his name. She steps into an ultra ornate bathroom splattered with flecked pink and gold.

Her curves are accented by the silk slip. She drips sex. Looking in the mirror she wipes the night before out of her eyes. Rinses her toothbrush in the glass of scotch and brushes her teeth, gargles with the scotch and spits into the sink.Sitting at Emily Liggett’s dressing table deciding on which perfume to douse herself with.

The film is photographed in washes of that fabulous vintage muted pink, blue and gold tones fashionable for the 60s style. Gloria goes to the closet and fondles a brown mink coat, holds it close to her body like a lover. Sets it back in the closet and picks the other white fox lined coat, wearing it over her slip. Goes into the bedroom and hangs up the phone.

She then goes over to her gold purse and pulls out a note written on an envelope”Gloria-$250 enough? Will phone you later. L” Lingering on the note a bit, she is visibly upset, this is not something she’s expected

The brash horns underscore her fervor when she grabs her lips stick and writes on the mirror in big red letters “NO SALE” and places the money on an ornate clock atop the mantle. She rips up the note and goes back to the closet to hang up the white fox coat, grabs the more expensive brown mink instead.

Gloria picks up the phone and says “Butterfield 8, it’s Gloria any messages for me…mhm, Charlie, yeah George, yeah, listen a Mr Liggett will try to call sometime today, He might use Mr L…find me where ever I am…this is one call I want to take personally…and immediately” she hangs up. She picks up a bottle of scotch, and then pulls out money for it and places it on the bar and walks out into the gray New York City day. Hails a yellow cab and says she’ll double her tip for a cigarette. As is the assumption of the brash New Yorker attitude, the taxi nearly runs into an older couple crossing the street and yelling ensues.Gloria tells him that he’s in good voice this morning.

This is how Butterfield 8 opens. We see a woman who is insulted that she has been paid for sex by the one man she thought was different.She arrives at her friends apartment, knocks on the door, and finds Steve Carpenter (Eddie Fisher),obviously a poor struggling composer, trying to work on tomorrow’s arrangements on the piano. She hands him the bottle of liquor and says “tribute” for his “faith, hope and charity” and kisses him on the cheek. He says she’s got scotch on her breath, but she says it’s good scotch 20 years old. He says “and the cigar smoke?””I always said I’d try anything once” Steve says”you ever try common sense?” and she answers “Only in desperation”

She tells him that she stole the fur coat, not for real, just long enough to get even with somebody. He made her so damned mad, he left her money,”he actually left me money!”

Steve tells her that his work is designed to get paid. She says it wasn’t work. Besides, her dress was torn so she borrowed something “spiteful and elegant”She utters his name Weston Liggett, Steve’s heard of him,very social. She says and “very Yale” “what’s with you an Yale?, always Yale” she tells him it’s the last college left, she started with Amherst and worked her way through the alphabet to Yale” and puffs on her cigarette “I’m stuck there…of course I could work backwards again”

Steve and Gloria are childhood friends, and he is very protective of her. Steve tells her to put the coat back on”Half dressed women make it difficult to concentrate” She tells him “don’t think of me as a woman, after all we’re just like brother and sister, remember” He gets agitated tells her to put the coat back on.

He tells her.  I’m sick of opening up that door every other day and  finding you boozed up, burned out and ugly”


She says “sick for me or sick for you?”he comes back “For you, for everything you’re wasting…why do you come here like this?”he asks. She tells him that she always comes to him, because at least she can be honest with him. He tells her to start being honest with herself.”You’re making a mess out of your life and you’re forcing me to watch it.”

Gloria says ” It’s terrible Steve, I say yes too much, when I shouldn’t and you say no too much when you shouldn’t”

She wonders how she’s gonna get home dressed in only a slip and fur coat what will her mother think. Steve says that her mother knows everything about her. She agrees but says she’d never admit it. “I’m still her innocent little girl…and she’s my dear sweet cookie baking mother””So go home, give her an innocent smile and have a cookie”

Gloria asks to borrow one of Steve’s girlfriends dresses. Steve’s girlfriend Norma played by the lovely Susan Oliver feels threatened by the friendship between Gloria and Steve. Gloria gives Steve a little of her philosophy on woman.
“The more you ask her to sacrifice, the more she knows you love her…honestly”

Cross Fade

On the LIRR heading to Long Island Liggett is smoking a cigar and lost in deep thought.On the train sitting next him is a colleague Bing who asks “problems Ligg?”he tells him “do you know 3 of the most over rated things in this world, home loving, home cooking and security”

Ligg’s got everything, lots of people would envy him, but he wonders “But am I happy?”Bing says “obviously not” “ever wonder why?” “I have…can you take it from an old fraternity brother…you’re a heel…a low down rotten heel…anything that doesn’t go your way, anything that you can’t have you destroy” This is the one enlightened moment of the film where there is insight into Liggett’s pathology and the narrative holds him accountable for his behavior.Bing tells him he could still come back and be a law partner with him any time.


Now on Long Island Ligg is skeet shooting with his wife Emily. He asks when she’s coming back to town(NYC).But the question is more of curiosity than passion. There is an obvious strain in the marriage. They are shooting at targets instead of engaging in a real conversation.

We’re back with Gloria, who’s borrowing a suit dress from Steve’s girlfriend Norma. She tells Gloria, “just remember that suit has lived a sheltered life…it shocks easily” “well then, it’s time it had a little adventure” a sarcastic banter ensues and Norma asks what happened to Gloria’s dress  “It’s a funny thing, one minute it was there, and the next minute it wasn’t” Norma lilts her voice “much like your virtue I presume”

Gloria shows up at home in her little red sports car.Her mother says “Here’s Gloria now” her friend Fannie says”From where girl scout camp?” Mother Annie is holding a little Yorkshire Terrier, and asks her skeptical friend Mrs Francis Thurber who is drinking coffee. “Do I look alright?”setting the little dog down on Fannie’s lap. Fannie wriggles with displeasure, shooing it away. Gloria comes in and hugs her mother. Mrs Thurber asks “how’s church?”Gloria snaps back “why don’t you go sometime and find out”

Her mother remarks about the nice suit, Gloria tells her that she picked it up at the designers last week. Mrs Thurber gives a dig by saying” it must be hard changing dresses in one of those sport car trunks” Gloria shoots daggers back at her.

Then her mother tells her that the modeling agency sent some dresses, one of them they want her to wear to 3 different places tonight, but Mrs Thurber interjects again with yet another dig “the Salvation Army, The Public Library and The PTA in Brownsville” Gloria lets out a fake laugh for Mrs Thurbers benefit.

Gloria’s mother is the only one who doesn’t openly acknowledge Gloria’s lifestyle “Francis don’t joke about Gloria’s work it’s very important to her…she’s one of the few girls of her kind in the city” Gloria asks if Butterfield 8 called?Her mother tells her she’s 2 weeks late on her car payment and Gloria asks to borrow some money.

Ligg is back at his apartment in NYC. He sees the lipstick writing on the mirror NO SALE and picks up the dress from the floor. He calls Gloria, they arrange to meet that night. She shows up at the bar wearing a stunning black dress, black gloves and pearls. “He apologizes about the money. He tells her she’s with him tonight, and she comes back with “by choice, only”


Liggett says “women are all alike, play tough” Gloria says “I’m not like anyone, I’m me!” “That’s right I shouldn’t knock it should I?”He says she’s something different, she says “sure I’ve got the world by the tail” He calls her doll face.

She  gets up and says goodnight but he grabs her arm. “You’ve got a great act” She digs the heel of her pump into his shoe. He grabs tighter, holding onto her wrist.It’s a battle of the wills. Neither one winces or cries out in pain.Ligg says “go ahead rub your wrist”, she says “not if it killed me” then Ligg says “I want to carry you out of here.” But Gloria slams him back “that was a lesson pal, not a treatment”

He says he won’t talk about money again, but offers her an apartment as big as she’d like, and charge accounts. “Mr Liggett put your assets away…you don’t have enough” he says to try him, but she tells him about offers she’s turned down “You couldn’t match what I’ve already turned down”, Yachts in the riviera, genuine Van Goghs in every room, paid for by men with “pocket money” annuities for life, jewelry.”

She turned them down flatly, she earned her money modeling clothes. He remarks”now I get it…you pick the man…he doesn’t pick you” “Finally, why I’m not teaching logic at Columbia I’ll never know” ” You also drop the man when you want to” and she snickers ”and without a parachute”

He’s driving her little red sports car but he purposely misses her stop.He says he’s tired of looking and listening. He says nobody treats him that way. She says “oh Weston Liggett the wealthy” he says “no Weston Liggett the man” I wasn’t cut out to be a chauffeur, an escort or a straight man for your nightclub repertoire”

Gloria says “The next time you get angry just remember you sent for me, I didn’t send for you”. She puts a cigar in his mouth and lights it for him. He blows the smoke in her face, and looks at her seductively, then he says “Like hell you didn’t send for me” ” and now what you’re going to drag me up to your cave?”

He says his apartment is close. She tells him “oh no not again.” He says it was alright last night. But she says “last night my sense of direction was slightly impaired by gin” he tells her “That’s okay I’ve got caves all the place” She rests her head on his shoulders. He says “hello” she answers softly “hello”the battle is over,they are seeing each other for the first time.

They Arrive at Happy’s Motel. Happy played by Kay Medford runs this out of the way motel.Liggett calls out for Happy. She looks into the car, and says “oh we always have room for 2 weary travelers” Happy wants to tell him a joke about 2 old maids but he says later. She says “A man’s gotta get his “rest” he’s gotta get it regular”(rest is code for sex of course)

Happy was in Vaudeville once. Looks at Gloria, they enter the motel room. A Saxophone is playing sultry music and the neon lights are flashing red and green in and out invading the darkness every time they blink. We know what’s next as they embrace in the doorway of the room and as the screen darkens they shut door number 9. End scene.

Next morning in a diner, juke box playing torchy music, “You know you’re liable to wind up psychologically famous, a case history in a medical book” He asks “You writing it?” “No, but I have to tell my psychiatrist everything that happens to me” (psychoanalysis was becoming the trend for the bored disillusioned angst of the middle class.)…”even down to the smallest deepest, darkest detail” Ligg says earnestly “That’s a set of notes I’d like to read”

He asks why she needs a psychiatrist. “I’ve never met anyone direct and uninhibited as you” she smiles, “Wild is the word” He says “First genuine wildness I’ve ever come across in a woman”

fade out

Steve and Norma always fight about Gloria so he explains “Gloria and I grew up in the same neighborhood. I’ve known her all my life, we went to the same school together. Her father died when she was very little, her mother went to work, so I sort of became her family”He gets in closer to Norma,”somebody’s got to look after her…I”m gonna do it for as long as it takes, now will you try to understand?”

she says “I understand, I understand that it’s worse than I thought, much worse, you are actually in love with her and you don’t even know it”

“Steve is she or is she not a tramp?” he says” I never liked that word” “Is she not the biggest tramp in this whole city?” Steve says “I especially don’t like to hear you use it”

Norma starts to suppose about marriage and children, Steve is plunking out indescriminate chords on the piano.She asks “do you want her hanging around us all the time, babysitting…nipping brandy out of a hand bag at 8 in the morning and telling them the story of little red riding hood and the 3 lecherous bears. Do we keep a spare room where she can sleep off her hangovers?”

Steve answers “All I know is I worry about her” “but does she worry about you?”now Steve gets up and yells in Norma’s face ” I don’t know and I don’t care, this is something I’m gonna do whether you like it or not Norma”

Continued in Part II