“Well, aren’t we ambitious”: Desire, Domesticity, and the “Femme Fatale,” or “You’ve made up your mind I’m guilty”: The Long Reach of Misreadings of Woman as Wicked in American Film Noir



In this chapter, I want to focus more sharply on the misreadings of women, first by the men whom they encounter within the films, and second, by film viewers and critics who then perpetuate, and eventually institutionalize, these misreadings. The first part of my title comes from an early scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice, the film adapted from James Cain’s novel and directed by Tay Garnett in 1946. Postman, featuring John Garfield as Frank Chambers and Lana Tuner as Cora Smith, remains a central text in the original-cycle of film noir movies made in the postwar period. In the scene from which my title is drawn, Frank sarcastically responds to Cora’s declaration about the Twin Oaks, the roadside diner where she lives and works with her drunken but seemingly innocuous husband Nick. Unsatisfied, Cora has ambition: “I want to make something of this place. I want to make it into an honest to goodness—.” Frank, a drifter who comes to the diner answering a “Man Wanted” sign, interrupts Cora’s speech, “Well, aren’t we ambitious.” At that point Frank claims her expression of desire as his own, and kisses her, as the music swells.


Gender Role Female Character Dead Reckoning Press Book Male Protagonist 
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© Julie Grossman 2009

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