Monday, March 26, 2012

Nine Tough Movie Dames

This would have been Ten Tough Broads, except that Google continues to deny me access to any photo links. Hopefully when daughter returns from a trip, she'll be able to straighten things out for me. The photos I've used on this post were stored by me in a file a while back.

9 Tough Broads.

You know who I mean - movie dames so tough they spit bullets. Not the major stars who were known for their impenetrable on-screen veneer: Toughies like Joan Crawford (the toughest of them all, merely a lift of those indelible eyebrows was enough to get a hernia going ), Bette Davis (no slouch herself, less obvious than Joan, she had The Voice that could eviscerate a man at twenty paces) Barbara Stanwyck (she had honed the sneer to perfection), even Jane Russell and Lana Turner.

All were tough movie dames. All were stars of the first tier. Broads of the first water. (And I mean that in the best possible way.)

But today's post is about some second tier toughies, all battle-scarred (figure of speech), all veterans of the double-cross, all wise to the use of the coup de grace, all fine-tuned to the ways of men.

My nine are just not as well known as the stars I listed above, they are nine who didn't quite make it into the Abestos Hall of Fame.

I had added Rita Hayworth to the stars mix, but then decided she was tough, yeah, but she was too soulful, too often the object of heartbreak, too glammed up to commandeer a sub-machine gun and take out a nest of bad guys (or good) without chipping a nail. Same for Ava Gardner.

The following, then, are my choices for the toughest of the tough - women with dollar signs for hearts, women who think nothing of flipping off the geek who served them with devotion, think nothing of scorning true love for great sex. Women who could shoot to kill with and without a gun, but never without a manicure.Women who were occasionally good enough, but more often bad enough.

Now before anyone takes umbrage or accuses me of besmirching the memory of a good woman, I am ONLY talking about the screen presence of these beautiful creatures who were born, more or less, to slink their way into bad-girl movie history. Maybe not strictly Hall of Fame material, but close enough.

Gloria Graham

Gloria Graham was and always will be (at least for me) the epitome of the tough broad. She just had that sleepy look about her that told you a thing or two without uttering a word. She had a tough as nails glossy exterior and a low-key way of making herself understood, speaking softly, barely without
moving her mouth. (I believe she'd had some kind of surgery that had gone wrong or something. But it just added to her on-screen allure.)

Even when she played good, she played bad, if you know what I mean. No one would ever mistake her for a member of the PTA - at least on screen. Borderline sleazy, she was really quite wonderful in just about anything she did. She had the strange ability to make men quiver and yet, women liked her. Go figure.

To learn about Gloria Graham and her films, please use this link.

Marie Windsor

Now, Marie Windsor was a different kettle of...uh, fish. She wasn't breaking her heart over anyone - she was there to stomp on hearts and to hell with the debris. I know no woman who can honestly say they liked Marie on-screen. Her film persona was just too brittle, too hard-edged. You'd pour your soul out to her and she'd sell you down the river for a couple of dollars and some bling.

Can't help it, that's the impression she always gave. She meant business with a capital B. In films she was usually the gal friend of the swarthy guy who owned the local gambling hall, nightclub, bar, dance hall, carnival or strip joint. Though in the end she was usually left holding the bag while the head honcho went on to greener pastures with the young innocent do-gooder who'd caught his jaded eye, you knew Marie would live to connive another day. The cigarette in the fancy holder told you that much.

Marie had been around the block one too many times and often looked it. She had a steely glitter in her googly eyes which would, of course, instantly put another woman on guard. Not that it actually ever got her anywhere, since in most movies she usually wound up dead or dumped. But while she had the upper hand, she enjoyed the heck out of it.

I'll bet in reality she was a sweetheart, but we're talking film persona now.

To learn about Marie Windsor and her films, please use this link.

Jan Sterling

Poor Jan Sterling, she was almost always doomed to play dumb but shifty. I don't think I ever saw her in a movie where there was much going on behind the sultry, vacant stare. (As my daughter would say, the hamster must have left the wheel untended.)

Jan's characters were always ready to believe anything a man told them and were cruelly disappointed (every damn time) when the inevitable double-cross landed her in the gutter (literally, in UNION STATION), in the arms of the law or on a slab in the morgue.

You had to feel sorry for her, you really did. The minute she slinked onscreen, it was 'uh-oh' watch out, this one's gonna' get it. All you had to do was wait for the inevitable. And every single time it came as a total surprise to Jan. I think it was all the peroxide.

To show you how the camera can distort reality, Sterling was born to a well-to-do family and educated in Europe. So much for verisimilitude.

To learn about Jan Sterling and her films, please use this link.

Joan Blondell

Joan Blondell was always the hussy with the heart of gold. She was tough, she could dish it out, she knew the score, but when push came to shove, she did what the second banana usually did, she took the fall for the leading lady who usually had much less on the ball than she did. But again, it was the screen persona.

Even when she wasn't really a gold-digger, Warren Williams thought she was and treated her like it. Even when she was just there as girl-friend back-up to Carole Landis, Joan is the one who gets killed instead. True, she comes back as a ghost to frolic with Topper (in TOPPER RETURNS) and hunt for her killer, but still...

Joan always looked as if she worked at the local burlesque joint and didn't care who knew it. Yet she had a motherly vibe about her that made it impossible for anyone to dislike her.

She seemed to know every snappy one-liner ever written and wasn't shy about spitting them out. I loved Joan in just about anything she was ever in. She had a fabulous way of looking ditzy but you knew, deep inside, she was figuring the angles. With the fussy Warren Williams in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, she shared one of the best screen kisses ever. Yeah, believe it or not - Warren Williams. Who'd of thunk it? He fell hard for her. Who wouldn't?

To learn about Joan Blondell and her films, please use this link.

Audrey Totter

Audrey Totter had a way of popping her eyes (most on display in her famous close-up in THE LADY IN THE LAKE with Robert Montgomery as Phillip Marlowe) that eventually turned her into a caricature of herself. I could never take her seriously as a femme fatale (but I'm a woman and I wasn't meant to) and yet, she nearly always played one onscreen. She looked tough as nails without even trying, vulnerable was a reach for her.

On screen, Audrey Totter had a straight arrow spine and unyielding body posture - a combo which can be kind of romantically intimidating. Actually, this sort of thing is intimidating in real life as well. She also had a dissatisfied curl to her lip which instantly raised your hackles.

According to Wikipedia, Miss Totter is still live at the age of 93 and I say more power to her. Lots of these saucy dames lived and are living to ripe old ages which only goes to show you that playing bad on screen must be good for your health.

To learn about Audrey Totter and her films, please use this link.

Lizabeth Scott

In my view, one of the more beautiful of the tough movie broads. She had a sexy, sultry voice to die for. I like to think that with a voice like that I could have conquered not only Hollywood, but half of Europe as well. Ah, dream on, Yvette.

Scott had a reclusive quality, a loner vibe which is what I think kept her from big time Hollywood Stardom. (That and some of the movies she was in.) She looked self-contained and perfectly complacent on her own even when she was supposed to be clinging to her male lead. She also had a 'touch me not' quality which went rather well with her don't come hither beauty. In other words, she was an on-screen enigma.

She gave the cool appearance of perhaps not being being worth the trouble it would take to keep her. There's more to life than being 'sultry', but 'sultry' was Lizabeth Scott's modus operandi. She also had a way of gobbling up the camera so that when she was on screen you didn't notice much else.

For me, she was and always will be, the 'I don't care' girl. I always thought she should have been a bigger star. (Yes, I know about the rumors. But surely that couldn't have been the reason. Not in Hollywood.)

To learn about Lizabeth Scott and her films, please use this link.

Hillary Brooke in JANE EYRE

Hillary Brooke was never tougher (or more coldly alluring) then in her role as Blanche Ingram, the gold-digging 'gentle-lady' from the estate  next door, on the make for Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester in the form of Orson Welles. I mean, her hard-edged indifference was scary.

She would have made a good vampire. But I don't think she ever played one.

In general Hillary Brooke played society types, often British, though she was American born. Her stock in trade was an  icy coolness which served her well in the roles of women who meant to get their own way in life, by hook or by crook - she made business suits look sexy. For whatever reason, Brooke's beauty never lifted her above the role of character actress and she appeared in many films and on television over the years, usually as the steely blond femme - fatale or otherwise.

Somehow, she played foil to Abbott and Costello in a couple of their movies and on their TV show. Hollywood makes for strange bedfellows.

To learn about Hillary Brooke and her films, please use this link.

Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino was a rarity down at the Division of Tough Broads. She could slide into the role of slightly used night club chanteuse just come in from slithering around the block as easily as she could play the caring and beleagured ingenue in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.

She all but breaks our hearts in the part of the blind girl who falls for Robert Ryan's rough detective in need of redemption in ON DANGEROUS GROUND.

But when Lupino played a hard dame, there were no two ways about it, she was as hard a dame as ever two-timed a movie he-man. Fortunately or unfortunately, she always had a way of looking smarter than the hero.  "I was the poor man's Bette Davis" she once said.

Later in her career, Ida Lupino became that rarity for film actresses then and now, a director.

To read more about Ida Lupino and her films, both as actress and director, please use this link.

Jane Greer and Robert Mtchum

Now we come to a really, REALLY tough broad, every one's favorite deceitful dame, Jane Greer. I saw her recently with Richard Widmark in RUN FOR THE SUN where she played a good enough type, a magazine writer looking for a story who goes to some Latin American country and gets more than she bargained for. Not a very good film and Richard Widmark, not the best actor Hollywood ever produced, is plain awful. As usual, he was good to look at though....But I digress.

Jane Greer always looked as if she knew something nobody else in the movie knew. She appeared wise beyond her years, wise in the ways of men and the wicked, wicked world. She knew every trick, knew how to put her beauty to good use. She was a belle dame sans merci - for sure.

She had a disgruntled, impatient quality, as if there wasn't anything a man could do to win her favor short of showering her with dough and when that became boring, take the blame for her evil misdeeds. She also  had a way of making you feel as if none of it was ever her fault.

Here was a dame didn't seem to mind using a gun if the need arose, as it does in OUT OF THE PAST, her memorable film noir duet with Robert Mitchum - as tough a male presence as Hollywood ever produced. Yet in OUT OF THE PAST, Mitchum plays the sap to Greer's Lady Macbeth routine.

Hard to believe that Greer was once married to crooner Rudy Vallee. I kid you not.

To learn more about Jane Greer and her films, please use this link.

So, what do you movie mavens think of my list? I know it's vastly incomplete, but I plan on more posts (once google gets its act together) and I'm also working on a My Favorite Villains post. So, as I like to say - stay tuned.


  1. I love this post. You've chosen some terrific tough dames, and I agree with your lineup. I especially like this about Marie Windsor, "she was there to stomp on hearts and to hell with the debris."

    Swell job.

  2. Hello Yvette:
    We absolutely love the idea of an'Asbestos Hall of Fame' for those femmes fatales who really could breathe fire and incinerate anyone within a five mile radius!

    Although your fist tier 'toughies' would certainly be on our list, we regret to say that we have but scant knowledge of your runners up. This has made fascinating reading to be fully introduced to them.

  3. Very cool post.

    I began reading with the thought that "If Yvette skips Marie Windsor we'll have to have words." I should have known better. Personally I am such a ball of mush that I sometimes wish I could be like Sherry in "The Killing" - only a bit smarter.

    My favourite line uttered by Audrey Totter on screen is from "The Unsuspected" when she says disparagingly of nice girl Joan Caulfield, "She drinks too much milk and her seams are always straight." Snap!

  4. Yvette, what great timing for bad girls! First TotED's FRITZ LANG WOMAN IN THE WINDOW vs SCARLET STREET post, now ...IN SO MANY WORDS' awesome NINE TOUGH MOVIE DAMES! They're all dynamic dangerous dames, but my particular favorites on your list include:

    Marie Windsor: With her tough looks, wags said she looked like a female Edmund O'Brien! Windsor kicked tush (almost literally!) in THE NARROW MARGIN, in a surprising twist!

    Jan Sterling: She was great in MYSTERY STREET (which got an Oscar nomination for its screen story), even if her character was still ill-fated. I love your Caftan Woman's daughter's quip "The hamster must've left the wheel untended."

    Joan Blondell -- How can anyone NOT love her? I always want to hug her!

    Audrey Totter: Another compellint tough babe, but as you know from my TotED LADY IN THE LAKE post last Christmas season, even Audrey had a touch of vulnerability.

    Lizabeth Scott: She wasn't a perfect actress, but she always had a wounded, vulnerable side through her tough-girl demeanor. I wrote an Easter-oriented blog post her for DEAD RECKONING, if you're interested:

    Great choices, my friend, and a fabulous post!

  5. Thank you, Jacqueline. :) This was a very fun post to work on. I'm just glad I had the pix in a file.

  6. Caftan Woman, I would never skip Marie Windsor. :) She was such a fixture on the femme fatale front for so many years.

    Ha! I love the Audrey Totter line you quoted. But what can we expect, Joan Caulfield. Please. She was no match for our Audrey. :)

  7. Thanks, Jane and Lance. If I've introduced you to some 'new'faces then all is not lost quite yet. :)

    These dames deserve to be better known, that's for sure.

  8. Dorian, I wanted to include Joan Bennett too! But I'm having google connecting problems and couldn't get a pix of her to include. What a pain!

    But I had enough fun with these nine don't you think? HA!

    In UNION STATION, poor Jan Sterling literally winds up in the gutter after Richard Jaeckel (the swine!) either shoots her or runs her down with his car - can't remember. I mean, this woman was always looking for love in all the wrong places. The man had kidnapped a blind girl for goodness' sake!!!

    I will definitely look up your DEAD RECKONING post.

  9. Now here's another classic and fantastic -- and hilarious -- post from this blog. This one must be enjoyed at a few readings of it. Such spot-on characterizations -- with wit.

    Now I have more movies to see from this list.

    Will comment more on specific women listed.

  10. Hi, Yvette - I have to admit that I knew the names of only Joan Blondell and Ida Lupino. I'm starting to realize that you must collect movie floor to ceiling!

  11. Gloria makes the top of the list! She is the queen of the tough dames. IN A LONELY PLACE - stunning and fatally sexy. THE BIG HEAT - tart tongued and nasty, then delivering a poignant final scene after that awful scarring Lee Marvin gives her.

    Marie Windsor is amazing in THE KILLING. I went in search of as many of her movies I could find after I saw her in that. Haven't yet found anything that tops that performance. I'll have to watch her westerns - she made more of those than crime films.

    Jan Sterling did some great work on TV where she broke out of her mousy gun moll type of role. I saw her in a "Twilight Zone"episode a few weeks ago and marvelled at her subtlety.

    Lizabeth Scott has one great role that no one ever talks about: TOO LATE FOR TEARS. You need to see that if you haven't. I was never a big fan of hers, but that movie proved she had more than what she usually displayed in all her other movies. Real acting, real guts, a very dark side to her.

    Joan Blondell in NIGHTMARE ALLEY - classic manipulative woman role. Her brilliant dramatic role, I think.

    Ida is my dream girl. Everything I've ever seen her in she's utterly fascinating. And her directing is just as good, sometimes masterful as in THE HITCH-HIKER.

  12. Yvette - Love your choices, but love the words you spun about these ladies even more. Marie Windsor and Audrey Totter strike me as quintessential B-movie queens - both fantastic as hard-bitten broads. Gloria Grahame is tough alright, and so sensual - no surprise she won an Oscar (score 1 for every hard luck dame in the world). But Jane Greer reigns eternal as the ultimate noir femme fatale - her turn in "Out of the Past" is is the essence of (enchantingly) beautiful, cold and deadly.

    Fantastic post - I'm tweeting it!

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  14. Marie Windsor and Jan there's somebody I know...or do I? I was thinking of more names to add. I came up blank. Next time I watch an old film I'll have to look for the "second tier" toughies. Great post, Yvette!

    About no access to photo links, you might want to try a new browser. I use Chrome — it's fast but sucks up memory which is fine with me. IE doesn't work well for me and I can't get used to Mozilla, though I'm told it's better than the other two.

  15. I'd have to pick Marie Windsor and Audrey Totter as the two toughest dames in your post, Yvette. There wasn't a touch of hidden sweetness or compassion in either of them. I loved all of your rough broads, and I think they were the roughest! Both fit your hilarious description: "Women who could shoot to kill with and without a gun, but never without a manicure." Loved your post!

  16. This is an awesome post. As a fan of noir, I am familiar with your list. You are completely justified in your omission of Gardner and Hayworth.

    I LOVE Gloria Grahame - even with the Oscar win, I feel like she is overlooked/under-appreciated for what she did not screen.

    Lizabeth Scott - oooh that voice!

    Whenever I think of Joan Blondell I think about her wit, but she was tough too :)

    Ida Lupino is ace! A tough dame in front of and behind the camera.

    I just mentioned this book in the comments of one of my posts, but it is equally if not more relevant here as a recommended read:

  17. Thank you, Kathy. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I try NOT to take things too seriously, especially in these trying times. Movies have always been an escape for me, and I suppose I just want to share the fun I always managed to find one way or another. :)

  18. Well, we'll have you whipped into movie-shape soon enough, Mark. Ha! You mean, you never saw Gloria Graham??? Oh my dear, you're in for a treat.

    And I know you'll love Ida Lupino especially in ON DANGEROUS GROUND.

    She was also terrific in a film she made with Dane Clark (another unsung hero of films)...but can't remember the title. But really, she was good in just about everything she did.

    I don't watch tons of movies anymore, but I sure did - once upon a time.

    You also have to remember, Mark, that I've been around for a very long time. I had the opportunity to grow up during the golden age of television when movies were a staple almost every night. That's how I first saw many of these older movies - sitting in front of our old Admiral television, staring transfixed at the screen.

  19. John - Gloria could do poignant like none of the other toughies. She was remarkable. She had a quality about her that just made you want to know more about her. She really should have been a MAJOR star. She was always my favorite too.

    Marie Windsor was the B-Movie Queen. At one point she seemed to be in every movie I watched on tv. She was ubiquitous. Best in black and white, I think. She was some dame.

    I don't remember the Lizabeth Scott movie you mentioned, John, I'll have to look it up. Thanks for the tip.

  20. Eve, THANKS so much! Tweet away. :)

    It was a fun post to work on and I'm thrilled you enjoyed the result, you movie queen you. :)

    I've always loved the tough broads who made me either like or admire them secretly - though with Windsor it was usually a hard slog.

    Never did much like Jane Greer either. But agree she was a viper in OUT OF THE PAST. Ha!

  21. Well, Prashant, you'll have to start checking the old black and white B-movies for the names of these gals. You'll run across them all right.

    If you have a local library which stocks dvds, you should be able to find most of these sorts of films.

    I do have Mozilla as an auxiliary but I don't like it much. I tried it and I still had the same problem with google search. But I'll figure out a way to deal with things, once my daughter adds her brain power to the mix. :)

  22. Becky, yes they were two heartless broads. Ha! Love 'em.

    I'm glad you enjoyed my post, Becks, I'm always afraid to step on toes, but what the heck. I'm the original bull in a china shop.

    Gosh, I love the old black and white movies. I hope that comes through in anything I write about 'em. Love the old color movies too, even if I first saw them in black and white.

  23. Oh Iba, that book sounds just about perfect. I'll have to get my hands on a copy. Thanks for the tip.

    And thanks too for the kind words about my post.

    I'm thrilled that you movie dames...uh, mavens, liked my post.
    I admit, it's turned out to be one of my faves as well. :)

  24. Yvette, You were correct!! I LOVE this blog! I have found several of the old black and white movies lately and love watching them. I knew most of these "dames" but Jane Greer. Thanks for having so much fun writing this and for you words!! Love reading anything you write!! judy

  25. Yvette, send me an e-mail as to what problem you are experiencing with photos --perhaps I can help you figure it out.

    I loved this post! You brought back a lot of memoriesfor many actresses. Ida Lupino--wow-- I haven't thought of her in years!

  26. I liked Ida Lupino, Lizbeth Scott and Joan Blondell.

    Is the movie with Ida Lupino and Dane Dlark "Deep Valley"" It's findable through a google search.

    There are humdingers of movies related to these women. I have to write them down.

    I was watching comedies and some TV dramas but not a lot of movies until The Late Show was on; then I watched a lot.

  27. Fabulous post Yvette for some fabulous femmes! Jan Sterling is a great one to focus on, probably the least well-known of the group despite her sensational appearance in ACE IN THE HOLE ("Kneeling bags my nylons"!). Joan Blondell I simply adore though perhaps, in my mind at least, she was just a teensy weensy bit too soft and funny for inclusion in such a list? I can watch her literally in anything though. I would probably add Ann Savage at least for her sensational performance in DETOUR.

  28. Thanks, Judy! I love it when you take the time to read my stuff. It's a way of keeping in touch. I'm always happy to be correct. Though, occasionally, incorrect is good to. Ha!

  29. Pat, thanks! I just sent you an email reply. If you don't get it within the next few minutes let me know and I'll try again.

    The thing about the older movies is, that MOST of these actors are only still alive on film and in our memories. We need to remember them as best we can. :)

  30. Oh Kathy, I remember the Late Show. Also Million Dollar Movie and The Late Late Show. Also at one point there was, I think, The Early Show which had movies right around dinner time or a little earlier. I think it was on Channel 2.

    Ah, memories....!

  31. Sergio, google-willing, I do plan on doing a couple more posts on the Tough Dames we all know and love - this was just my first venture.

    As for Joan Blondell, well, there were all sorts of tough cookies in films and she was just a different type. Usually the tough side kick with the heart of gold though in NIGHTMARE ALLEY her heart was not perhaps as authentically gold asin other films.

    I always think of Joan's Remember My Forgotten Man number in Gold-Diggers of '33. She doesn't sing it, she speaks the words, but it's still a powerful Busby Berkeley memory for me.

  32. I adore Ida Lupino and many of the other actresses you mentioned, but for me, the tough dame I love the most is Barbara Stanwyck.

  33. I did mention her, Ryan - in the first paragraphs. But she was too big a star to include in my B-List - don't you think?

  34. I saw you mention her, I'm just so in love with her I had to do it again :-)

    And I agree, she would be too big to include with the other gals though they made some of my favorite movies too.

  35. You can never mention Barbara Stanwyck enough, that's true. :)

    Did you ever see her in that burlesque movie where she played a part based, I guess, on Gypsy Rose Lee? It was a murder mystery based on Lee's book, The G-String Murders. (Ha!) But can't remember the title of the film at the moment...

  36. Brrr: I can't even watch Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck without getting shivers. Bette Davis, a bit.


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