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Femme Fatales Fail In Film Fest

Public Domain

Women are the pivotal characters in a film festival launching Wednesday at the Normal Theater, but that may not necessarily be a good thing. Femme fatales, or fatal females, usually set the plot into motion. 

"This is a negative, misogynistic archetype," said film fest organizer Bill  McBride. "These writers in this tradition put all the emotion into the female and make them wear high heels, and lots of make up. They're black widow spiders, they're vampires."  

McBride is an Illinois State University Associate Professor of Film and Drama. His amateur film school this fall is called Film Noir: Visual Style and Fortune.  McBride settled on six classic film noir examples: "Double Indemnity," "Murder My Sweet," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Out of the Past," "Chinatown," and "The Maltese Falcon," which is on the screen tonight at 7 PM, for free.

In the "Maltese Falcon," the character Brigid O'Shaughnessy (played by actress Mary Astor), exits the end of the film headed to prison or the electric chair. In "Double Indemnity," Barabra Stanwyck's character Phyllis Dietrichson is shot dead. Same with Kathie Moffat, played by Jane Greer in "Out of the Past," shot dead. Faye Dunaway's character in "Chinatown," shot and killed at the end of the film. McBride agrees, they women get what they deserve and that they often lose.

"That's part of the Hays Code: crime cannot pay," said McBride. "It's still the Hollywood machine that is not going to have crime pay. So these femme fatales are not only fatal for the men, but for themselves as well."

First published in March 1930, the Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays code named for its creator. It was an attempt at introducing film censorship through guidelines for film producers. 

The six-week film series runs select Wednesdays at The Normal Theater. In the spring expect six different films from director Alfred Hitchock on consecutive Wednesdays.