One of the perhaps perverse appeals of the film noir genre is the fact that woman often do the dirty work, inflicting damage both physical and psychological.
They chew up their male foes for breakfast, and serve what’s left for lunch. These women are NOT to be fooled with.
Lizabeth Scott certainly could hold her own as could Marie Windsor, Jane Greer and Audrey Totter, not to mention Gloria Grahame.
We’re spotlighting today one of the toughest of the group, Marie Windsor.
A former beauty queen (Miss Utah) with serious acting ambitions, Windsor is perhaps best remembered today for her many TV appearances from the late Fifties until the early Nineties. She died in 2000, a day before her 81st birthday.
But make no mistake, she was a formidable big screen actress. She perhaps best illustrates the fascinating aspect of noir films — that it was the women who most often ruled the roost. Men were often portrayed as the weaker sex.
This subversive premise emerged long before anyone much considered of the concept of women’s liberation. Noir dames were true femme fatales, as tough and mean as required, and were proud of it. Since they flourished largely in the Forties and early Fifties, they certainly were way ahead of their times.
Sexy, hardnosed and mean in her crime dramas (don’t let that benign pinup expression above fool you), Windsor was in fact an open-hearted Utah girl offscreen who was remarkably intelligent and well respected.
Costars and such notable directors as Stanley Kubrick admired her for much more than what one scribe calls her luxurious bedroom eyes that accentuated a delectable 5’9″ figure of jaw-dropping sexuality. She was a talented actress who worked hard.
After winning a Utah beauty contest (she was born in the state as Emily Marie Bertelsen), Windsor headed for Hollywood in hopes of emulating one of her screen idols, Clara Bow — all the rage in the 1920’s and known as the “It Girl.”
But unlike Bow, the characters Windsor played in films loved to humiliate men, especially submissive husbands. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 thriller, The Killing it’s Elisha Cook Jr. Cook was much abused in a number of noir pictures–the poor guy gets slapped, punched, and, in The Killing, thoroughly emasculated by Windsor. (The unhappy couple is pictured at the top of today’s blog.)
Windsor was memorably paired with noir stalwart, actor Charles McGraw, in 1952’s The Narrow Margin, affectionately described as among Hollywood’s best ever ‘B’ movies.
Although most of her movie roles were in strictly B pictures, Windsor had A-list acting ambitions and studied acting with Maria Ouspenskaya, a Russian-born actress and acting teacher.
Windsor was a tall woman, taller than some of her leading men. George Raft and John Garfield each stood two inches shorter than Windsor’s 5-feet 9-inches. Windsor was trained to bend her knees a lot in closeups with Raft in 1949’s Outpost in Morocco. Windsor costarred with Garfield in 1948’s Force of Evil, one of his best films, and one of hers.
Her place as one of the toughest Film Noir DAMES is assured with the films we’ve mentioned here. See them.