Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Film Villainesses

There's something about a woman as the antagonist in a film that packs a special punch and makes a story especially fun to see unfold. Being a bad girl must be great fun for an actress. It's also a good career move, as the Academy apparently loves a bitch.  Hopefully none of these girls were anything like their character in real life, though I suspect it wasn't such a stretch for some. In any case, their performances sure were convincing. Here is a group of ladies you'd want to avoid, or at least not accept an offered beverage from.  

Bette Davis, The Little Foxes (1941) -- William Wyler

Davis is Regina Giddens, a loveless shrew obsessed with money. She ruthlessly outwits her two scheming brothers and loathes her husband (Herbert Marshall) for refusing to share her lust for wealth. Lesson learned: don't expect her to retrieve your heart medicine. Nominated for Best Actress.   

Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) -- Milos Forman

Don't let the starched white outfit fool you. Authoritarian Nurse Ratched rules the nut ward with an iron fist and is more than a match for rebellious R. P. McMurphey (Jack Nicholson). Noncompliance is unacceptable. If drugs don't bring her patients into submission, there's always electro-shock therapy and lobotomies. Fletcher did Davis one better and won Best Actress.

Bette Davis, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) -- Robert Aldridge

Davis makes the list again as Jane Hudson, a former child star who's a little demented and a whole lot jealous. She makes her sister's life a living hell by the end of the film. Blanch (Joan Crawford),  confined to a wheelchair, is served rare delicacies for lunch. And a trip to the beach is no picnic. Davis secured another nomination for Best Actress.  
Ruth Chatterton, Dodsworth (1936) -- William Wyler
Self absorbed Fran Dodsworth convinces her good-natured husband, Sam (Walter Huston), to retire and take a European vacation. She thinks she can recapture her youth with an affair or two, and after betraying him tells Sam she wants a divorce. When the shallow woman is later rejected by a would-be suitor, she comes crawling back to guilt him into a reconciliation. Thankfully, Sam refuses to play the patsy and opts to remain in Italy with Edith (Mary Astor), a divorcee he now loves.
Mercedes McCambridge, Johnny Guitar (1954) -- Nicholas Ray
Emma Small tells Vienna (Joan Crawford) she's nothing but a railroad tramp. Is it jealousy or spurned love that drives her hate? Hard to tell in Nicholas Ray's unusual Western, but Emma has a mean violent streak. She gleefully burns down Vienna's gambling house and almost gets her enemy hung before confronting her in a gunfight in the film's climax.
Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven (1945) -- John Stahl
Tierney is Ellen Harland, a cool psychopath who wants her husband all to herself. When little brother gets too much of Cornel Wilde's attention, Ellen takes Danny swimming in the lake. Should have brought a life preserver. Ellen deliberately tumbles down the stairs to induce a miscarriage, and later tries to frame her husband for murder, believing he now loves her sister. Tierney snagged her only nomination for Best Actress.
Leopoldine Konstanin, Notorious (1946) - Alfred Hitchcock

Mothers-in-law were given a bad name as Konstanin plays a cold-blooded Nazi who keeps her submissive son on a short leash. When she finds out his wife, Ingrid Bergman, is a spy, she tells her dutiful boy to kill her. Slow poison will mask the scheme from their Nazi collaborators.  No wonder that coffee tasted bitter.
Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity (1944) - Billy Wilder
Sexy in a trailer park way as Phyllis Dietrichson, Barbara Stanwyck pulled Fred MacMurray's strings as well as any femme fatale. She wanted someone to knock off her husband. One look at that ankle bracelet and Fred was hooked. Before he knew what was happening he had planned and executed the deed. As one of film's best connivers, Stanwych earned a nomination for Best Actress.    
Joan Crawford, Possessed (1947) - Curtis Bernhardt
Van Heflin forgets the old adage: "Don't mess with a woman scorned." Obsession leads Crawford to murder, not once but twice. As emotionally unstable Louise Howell she can't get over losing Heflin to another woman. It's not a pretty picture and it ends with Louise wondering aimlessly in downtown L.A., completely off her rocker. At least she got an Oscar nomination.  


  1. Not a bunch of gals I'd like to lunch with! Although I do cut Fran Dodsworth a little slack. Her self-delusion is her own downfall. Sam's going to be alright.

  2. CW, I think you are right about Fran. She's the least dangerous of the bunch. Still, I found her insufferable and was so happy that Sam made the right choise in the end.

  3. I have not seen "Dodsworth" or "Johnny Guitar," but I am in definite agreement on the other gals. Definitely, you don't want to mess with any of them.

    Fun post!

    By the way, your little snippet about "Dodsworth" has me REALLY wanting to see that one. I will be on the lookout for it.