Salon shared a great excerpt from Richard Lingeman’s book The Noir Forties on the rise of the femme fatale, in which he attributes the genesis of the noir genre to war-era German immigration to America, and connects the femme fatale to postwar male anxieties about self-reliant women. Characterizing the femme fatale type, he says:
Feminist critics would later celebrate the noir woman — the iconic femme fatale — as a lioness of empowerment and sexual freedom. Janey Place articulates this view when she writes that the noir era “stands as the only period in American film in which women are deadly but sexy, exciting, and strong . . . active, not static symbols . . . intelligent and powerful if destructively so.” The femmes fatales were certainly more than just sexpots; they were apolitical rebels against the traditional female role. Depression babes ambitious for a materially richer life but lacking education or business ambitions, they rejected domesticity (unless they wanted to negotiate a marriage of convenience to a wealthy man) and used their sexual wiles to undermine patriarchal power — to “unman” a man and thus control him.
Lingeman mentions Mildred Pierce in the article, and it just so happens that Michelle and I were recently discussing the trailer for the 1945 adaptation, which grossly mischaracterizes the plot and themes of the film in order to emphasize exactly the qualities Lingeman is describing. Check it out: