Femme Fatale – a woman who is considered dangerous alluring or seductive, a fatal woman who leads men to destruction.
Who fits the description of femme fatale better than Gloria Grahame? Just watch the way she enters a scene, no matter where she is, her eyes never leave the bedroom. Sultry, pouty lips and shapely legs, Grahame was not the girl next door unless you lived in a neighborhood filled with dark rain drenched mean streets, dramatic lighting and women who carried a gat strapped to their thigh. Though she generally played a loose woman, unfaithful wife or gun moll she brought a sensitivity and intelligence to her roles that went beyond the stereotypical dimensions usually associated with these kind of parts. In reel life and in real life, Gloria Grahame lived close to the edge. You don’t get much more on the edge than sleeping with your teenage stepson and eventually marrying him after divorcing dad.
Sexual heat just poured out of Gloria on film, even the titles of her films sizzled, “Naked Alibi,” “Blonde Fever,” “Human Desire,” “The Big Heat,” “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Roughshod,” to name a few. Even in the perennial family Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Gloria still was the town tramp, Violet Bick, dancing for a dime with men, and maybe doing more, generally being the anti Donna Reed.
Despite an Oscar winning performance as the over sexed wife of screenwriter Dick Powell in “The Bad and the Beautiful,” Grahame’s best performances were arguably in “In a Lonely Place” and “The Big Heat.” She co-starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, in her then husband Nicholas Rays’ classic noir where she gives an amazing performance filled with paranoia, lust and distrust. We watch her relationship with screenwriter and possible murderer Dixon Steele (Bogart) crumble before our eyes as she first believes him to be innocent, then begins to suspect he may have been involved in the murder of a young girl. Vincent Curcio states in his Grahame biography, “Suicide Blonde,” that Ray continually rewrote the script changing it to correspond to his version of their decaying marriage. In Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat,” Grahame is Lee Marvin’s narcissistic mirror loving gun moll who is brutally punished when he tosses scalding coffee on her face for talking to cop Glenn Ford. Disfigured, branded an informer, she eventually gets her revenge by throwing hot coffee back in Marvin’s face. Then there were the roles that got away, two roles in particular were due to Howard Hughes refusal to loan her out to other studios. She would have been wonderful in the role eventually played by Shelley Winters in “A Place in the Sun,” and it would have been fascinating to see her in the comical role played by Judy Holuday if she had been allowed to take the part in “Born Yesterday.”
Like her character, in “The Big Heat,” Grahame was obsessed with her looks, never seeing herself as truly beautiful. According Curcio in his biography, Gloria had much cosmetic work done on her face, mostly around the lip area (she often use to stuff cotton under her upper lip hoping to straighten it out). She was always unsatisfied with the way she looked. Though she continued to work until the 1980’s, the 1950’s was Grahame’s decade. Her best and most memorable work came in those ten years. Part of the reason for her decline is certainly attributable to her 1960 marriage to her former stepson Tony Ray, Nick Ray’s son by a previous marriage. She was 36 and Tony was 23. The marriage lasted 15 years and Gloria gave birth to two boys during the marriage. The mind-boggling relationships that developed out of all this became fodder for the news media of the day and took its toll on Gloria’s career. Tony Ray would later on become a well-known actor, Assistant Director and Producer. Most of her post 1950’s work was beneath her talent, though she did make a few memorable appearances in films likes “Chilly Scenes of Winter,” “Melvin and Howard” and the TV mini series “Rich Man, Poor Man.” Much of her work though was on TV in shows like “Mannix,” “Then Came Bronson,” “Kojak,” “The Fugitive,” “The Outer Limits” and some low-budget films like “The Todd Killings” and “Mama’s Dirty Girls.”
Gloria never became a major star though she was a major supporting player, always wanted by some of Hollywood’s best directors including Fred Zinnemann, Robert Wise, Frank Capra, Edward Dmytryk, Elia Kazan, Vincent Minnelli, Fritz Lang and of course Nick Ray. Gloria Grahame died in 1981; she was only 57 years old.
Below is a list of her essential works.
1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life
1948 – Crossfire
1950 – In a Lonely Place
1952 – Sudden Fear
1952 – The Bad and the Beautiful
1953 – Man on a Tightrope
1953 – The Big Heat
1954 – Human Desire
1954 – Naked Alibi
1955 – Oklahoma
1959 – Odds Against Tomorrow
Upcoming Gloria Grahame films on TCM
Oklahoma April 19th 3PM
Human Desire June 8th 8:30AM
In Human Desire with Glenn Ford
Sultry with Sterling Hayden in Naked Alibi
Fatal in A Woman’s Secret
Publicity stills with Glenn Ford in The Big Heat
On the cover of Life Magazine
Posters and Lobby Cards