Gender Roles in Hollywood Cinema

Introduction

Cinema can be regarded as the technology of gender construction and regulation of social relations. It means that movies can instil, correct, and impose particular attitudes, values, models and norms of behaviour. However, at the same time, cinema reflects the dominant social and cultural trends that take place within the society. In this way, it is possible to say that the presentation of any character in cinema contributes to the promotion of certain stereotypes and attitudes to gender in the public while reflecting the major perceptions of masculinity and femininity, as well as ideologies pertaining to gender differences, which currently exist within the society.

‘The construction of gender is both the product and the process of its representation’ (Lauretis 2001, p. 9). This statement serves as the theoretical basis for the dissertation. To understand the given idea and its relation to Hollywood cinema, it is important to evaluate the concept of gender and identify its major constructs.

For the largest part of the 20th century, most of the people including medical professionals considered gender a purely biological property and assumed that all social differences associated with genders result from nature (p. 6). Based on the given perspective, masculinity is a direct result of being a male by sex, and femininity – of being a woman. In this regard, the bipolar gender system was considered as undeniable fact and reality. Nowadays, the perspective on gender as a socially constructed phenomenon becomes more widespread. Lauretis (2001) claims that gender system is symbolic, and it correlates biological sex to cultural contents in accordance with social norms, values, and hierarchies (Benshoff and Griffin 2011, p. 5). In other words, biological differentiation of sexes is consolidated in culture through the symbols of masculine and feminine origins. The term ‘masculinity’ is used to define a set of personal and behavioural features compliant with the stereotype of the ‘real man’: confidence, courage, authority, and so on. The notion of masculinity emphasises the hierarchical principle of social organisation. At the same time, the term ‘femininity’ refers to all personal and behavioural qualities associated with the stereotype of the ‘real woman’ including tenderness, weakness, vulnerability, and so on.

Despite the fact that the gender system is comprised of two clear-cut polarities, it has a complex composition. Gender order in this system represents a hierarchically structured mode of life whereas gender relationships are based on inequality between the opposite sexes. This social system dictates what a person should or should not do. Every individual is expected to comply with a preassigned gender role – socially determined norms of behaviour which vary depending on gender. It means that gender roles are manifested in an ‘appropriate’ masculine or feminine look, speech, manners, gestures, spheres of social activity, and so on. It is suggested that the society encourages the implementation of prescribed gender roles and disapproves any attempts to change them. For instance, Carroll (2014) observes that men are usually judged by how successful they are at work, while women are often judged by how attractive and feminine they are (p. 89). When individuals do not conform well to gender stereotypes, they may be criticised. Any deviation from the norm is usually perceived as a negative phenomenon and provokes adverse emotions including fear and hostility.

In cinema, female and male representations reflect the socio-cultural meanings associated with gender roles. For instance, the major values held by men in the majority of Hollywood movies include professional and personal self-realization, social recognition, eventful and productive life. These features of masculinity in the cinema can be identified without a qualitative analysis, but merely after the first acquaintance with a male character because the story line is frequently constructed upon his personal ambitions. When speaking of women in Hollywood cinema, consistently with the patriarchal ideology, they often play roles of wives, mothers, and girlfriends. Female characters are usually portrayed as weak and dependent and, most of the time, they value romantic and family relationships more than other spheres of life. This general description can be applied to a great number of commercial Hollywood films and especially to those which were produced within the first half of the 20th century. However, in the modern cinema one can find more female characters that do not fit in the patriarchal tradition because the view on conventional gender system has drastically changed in the industrialised and advanced societies. While at the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of people saw it as an undeniable value, the present-day society tends to criticise it more.

The quantitative and qualitative changes in the representation of women in Hollywood cinema are directly related to the transformations that took place in the social worldview. As Lauretis (2001) states, the gender system is always interconnected with various social, economic, and political factors in different societies (p. 5). Thus, as the society changes over time, the gender system becomes modified, and the portrayal of women and men in cinema consequently changes as well.

The given theoretical framework will be applied in the subsequent chapters of the dissertation. In order to understand how and why did the changes in female gender representations in Hollywood cinema took place over the time, we will evaluate the social-cultural contexts in which the selected movies were created by using the textual/narrative and semantic analysis. Such contents of the selected movies as psychological and physical qualities of female characters, their roles in the society, exposure to violence, etc. will be examined to classify the film texts. And the semiotic analysis will help to reveal the structures of meanings associated with female representations in various genres and epochs.

The Early Hollywood and the Golden Age

Overview

To a certain degree, every person has a similar perception of a typical Hollywood film, and it is possible to say that most of these perceptions and notions originate from the motion pictures created between 1917 and 1960, the period that is commonly known as the classical Hollywood cinema. When thinking about the early American films, most people inevitably recall the aesthetics of glamour, clear-cut narrative logic, cause-and-effect structure, closed endings, and so on. In a certain way, the classical movies do not distinct from each other that much. As Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson (2005) state, ‘Hollywood cinema sees itself as bound by rules that set stringent limits on individual innovation’ (p. 2). However, the strict regulations in storytelling and the overall standardised film form largely differ the classical Hollywood cinema from other epochs and movements. It is also true to say that these distinctive features do not relate to the artistic and creative area of film production alone but are significantly influenced by the social-political factors as well.

When the cinema industry commenced developing, the emotional appeal of the motion pictures, their effects on the human psyche, and potential to challenge the traditional moral order was of the major concern of cultural and religious conservatives (Koppes 2012, p. 64). To prevent the undesired social reforms, the censorship was needed. Thus, since 1934, the U.S. motion pictures were controlled by the Hays Office – it started to regulate the boundaries and perimeters of the cinematic space and censored everything that directors wanted to show and imply in their pictures. As stated by Doherty (1999), ‘Hollywood’s vaunted ‘golden age’ began with the Code and ended with its demise’ (para. 2). The legacy of Hollywood’s golden era is substantially defined by the Code and, what is especially important for the given study, the cinema created during the classical period reflected the conventional social values of that time.

Freame (n.d.) states that the mainstream ideology during the first half of the 20th century in the United States was the idealisation of the family and its promotion as a source of protection from the dangers of the outside world (para. 6). The lifestyles of the American citizens of all ages were mainly family-oriented. They perceived the family as a positive thing. At the same time, Freame (n.d.) notes that the concept of the nuclear family constituted the core of the American national identity. Therefore, it was associated with both the social and cultural values.

The given social-cultural code of behaviour found its place in the popular culture and the cinema, in particular. Moreover, it was directly correlated with the representation of women in movies. Since the conventional feminine gender roles – mother and wife – are essential to the preservation of the family institute and the national ideology as such, women were encouraged to stay at home, while men – to work and support them. The imposition of censorship and the limitation of female representations in the classical Hollywood cinema was one of the methods to do so. In order to understand the given phenomenon, we will analyse narrative structures and semantic content of some motion pictures created during the pre-Code and the Hays Code period, and reveal how the female characters were treated in them.

Image of a Victorian Woman

Blaser (1999) observes that since the early 1920s, the classical Hollywood cinema ‘depicted a very narrow range of acceptable family relationships and rigid gender roles within the family’ (par. 6). Based on this, in those films, one may find a clear distinction between the traditional feminine and masculine gender roles. When speaking of the representation of females, Benshoff and Griffin (2011) state that the heroines of the early, pre-Code Hollywood cinema were frequently represented as good, Victorian middle-class women characterised by virtuousness, purity, compliance, and vulnerability (p. 10). And, since the traditional social roles of women are closely associated with the domestic work and nurturing, films often included the theme of family creation.

Many classical Hollywood movies promoted the basic ideas about romance, love, and family and, in this way, they endorsed the values embedded in the dominant culture of those times. The common film narrative in various genres, e.g., musicals, comedies, melodramas, and so on, depicted the romantic relationships between the characters. And the marriage usually was the only outcome of their relations. In its turn, the marriage turned lovers into fathers and mothers or, at least, implied it.

How Green Was My Valley (1941) directed by John Ford is one of the movies depicting the life of the archetypical middle-class Victorian woman. The main female characters in the picture are Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and her mother, Mrs Morgan (Sara Allgood). They both take a subordinate position to males. While all men in the family work as miners and actively participate in the development of their local community, both Angharad and Mrs Morgan work at home and fulfil the traditionally feminine duties. In many scenes, one may see how women serve the drinks and food to men or silently stand by while they discuss important issues.

The visual representation of the female characters in How Green Was My Valley signifies virtuousness and modesty closely associated with the Victorian understanding of femininity. Although Angharad is a young and attractive woman, viewers do not perceive her as a sexual being. The long dress with the loose skirt and full sleeves covers her body completely. Like all other women in the film, she frequently wears a white apron at home. The lack of distinctive features in the females’ garments make them look similarly and, in a certain way, may even remind viewers of maidservant uniforms. Overall, the visual representation which excludes females’ sexuality and accentuates their functional roles creates a generalised picture of womanhood in the Victorian sense.

An important narrative event in the movie that emphasises the importance of family and accentuates the lack of females’ autonomy is the romance between Angharad and Mr Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon), a new parish priest. The characters quickly fall in love, yet the relationship has come to an end because they are heavily criticised by the public. The young woman gets married to another man although she does not love him. It is possible to say that her marriage is also a form of compliance with the conventional perspective on women’s role in the society. At the same time, her relations with Mr Gruffydd are passionate and suggest that a woman may have sensual desires. Nevertheless, the given view on the womanhood contradicts the Victorian model. As Benshoff and Griffin (2011) state, in the conventional worldview exploited in the early classical Hollywood, it was forbidden even to presume that a female may have sexual interests. Thus, by making the romantic connection fail, the filmmakers manage to control the ideological boundaries and keep the plot within the accepted norm. Additionally, it is possible to say that Angharad’s inability to make her choice and be with the man whom she loves points at her dependence on the society which prioritises masculinity over femininity. The analysis makes it clear that the life of a good Victorian woman is largely controlled by men. The role of Angharad is one of the examples illustrating that the classical Hollywood endorsed the patriarchal view on gender roles and privileged masculinity over femininity by associating the former with greater social significance.

Image of an Independent Woman

According to Blaser (1999), in the classical Hollywood cinema, females were allowed to be heroic merely ‘within the boundaries of their proper sphere’ (para. 7). It means that sometimes they could resist the interests of male characters, yet they usually did not pose a serious threat to them or the status quo of the dominant ideology. The researcher observes that despite the temporary resistance, women in the classical American cinema always endorsed the ideals of traditional family by accepting an appropriate gender role and submitting to the man (Blaser 1999).

The described situation pertains to the main character of All That Heaven Allows (1955), Cary Scott (Jane Wyman). Cary is a widow who falls in love with her gardener, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). Ron is much younger than Cary and, moreover, he belongs to a different social-economic group. While people in Mrs Scott’s circle are interested in prestige, wealth, and success, Mr Kirby considers these things unimportant and prefers a simple life. The struggle in the characters’ relationships starts when Cary’s acquaintances and children do not accept Ron. Some of them even spread the vicious gossips around the city and, as a result, the woman decides to break up with her beloved. However, later Cary makes a heroic gesture – she resists the criticism and hostility of the public. It happens when Ron gets into a severe car accident, and she decides to abandon her past, and live with him for the rest of her life.

As we can see in the example of Cary Scott, in the classical Hollywood movies, women’s interests and orientations were limited. Although in All That Heaven Allows, the representation of the female character deviates from the Victorian model, i.e., her behaviour is more autonomous and less dependent, the narration still revolves around the family values and the traditional form of the male-female relationships.

Despite the widespread employment of the mainstream ideology pertaining to gender roles during the first half of the 20th century in Hollywood, the classical films, nevertheless, provide some examples of nonconventional female characters. One of them is Mademoiselle Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich) in the pre-Code Morocco (1930). Amy Jolly is a singer who performs in the nightclub frequently attended by the soldiers of the French Legion. From the first scenes, viewers understand that she is an independent person who does not need males’ support and does not seek their company. At the same time, she attracts men both visually and psychologically. For instance, during the first performance, she wears a men’s suit, uses the attributes of masculinity, and behaves accordingly, e.g., she smokes, kisses a woman, and so on. Such a behaviour emphasises her sexuality. Then, during another performance and while selling the apples to soldiers, she wears the open costume and behaves seductively yet distant. Amy Jolly does not surrender to her admirers that easy, but after all, she falls in love with Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), a soldier. In the final scenes, Tom is placed in another unit and leaves the current location with other soldiers. Although the relationships between him and Amy were complicated, when the woman finds out that Tom loves her, she decides to follow him across the desert.

The character played by Dietrich is complex and unconventional in many ways. However, despite the apparent noncompliance with norms pertaining to the traditional gender roles, by the end of the movie, she reveals her feminine qualities. As stated by Blaser (1999), during the classical period, the independent female characters frequently renounce their independence through love to the hero, disclose their soft-heartedness, and show that the heavy makeup hides a ‘normal’ woman in a traditional sense (para. 10).

Another example of an independent woman in cinema is Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn) in Christopher Strong (1933) by Dorothy Arzner who was the only female movie director during the golden age. The text of the movie challenges the conventional perspectives on gender roles in many ways. First of all, Cynthia is portrayed as a strong and successful young woman. She is a famous pilot and a record breaker. The representation of a passionate, socially active, and professional woman who serves as a source of inspiration for others was rare in the classical cinema.

Another deviation from the tradition in Arzner’s movie is in how the potential romantic rivalry between women is treated. Cynthia falls in love with Mr Strong (Colin Clive), a married man. Ultimately, Lady Elaine Strong (Billie Burke), his wife, finds out about their affair. However, Cynthia and Elaine manage to develop a close friendship which then largely defined the outcome of the film. According to Britton (1995), it was one of the major qualities of almost every Hepburn’s characters that when she plays a role of a woman’s rival in relationships with a man, she inevitably becomes her friend and always chooses to give up the romance and lose the beloved rather than hurt another woman (p. 156). When Cynthia finds out that she is pregnant, she decides not to tell Christopher because of the fear that he will divorce his wife for this reason. Instead of damaging the life of her female friend, she commits suicide by taking off the oxygen mask when flying in the plane at a high altitude. She loses consciousness, and the plane crashes. In the next shots, we see the paper title which states that a monument to the English woman who died breaking altitude record is going to be unveiled.

Although the sacrifice made by Cynthia, as well as her passion for flying, and renouncement of romantic rivalry, can be regarded as feminist features, the plot of the film is, nevertheless, put in the patriarchal discourse as, in the romantic relationships, the heroine and Mr Strong tend to adhere to the conventional gender roles. He asks Cynthia not to fly anymore because he is concerned about her safety. In this way, Mr Strong takes a position of a protector – a traditionally masculine role. It seems that in their relationships, there is no place for the heroine’s passion and, probably, by developing this conflict, Arzner tried to point at the current situation in the society where a woman was not allowed to have the life beyond the family bounds.

It is suggested that the very nature of the themes touched upon in Christopher Strong determined an unhappy ending. Perry (2012) claims that the arc of the plot neither could approve these themes nor support their continuation and, for this reason, the only outcome for Cynthia was the death (para. 9). At the same time, Blaser (1999) states that the independent and strong female characters in the classical Hollywood films never created any significant social disruption and rather showed their loyalty to traditions and the status quo in one way or another (para. 11). While Dietrich’s Amy prefers to follow Tom Brown across the desert and forget about own independence, Hepburn’s Cynthia decides to sacrifice life in order to save the home and the family of others. Through their choices, both women demonstrate their obedience with the conventional values – marriage and family. Therefore, no matter how strong or independent the woman may appear in the classical Hollywood films, either way, she will communicate a pro-family message (Blaser 1999, para. 12).

It is possible to conclude that, in the classical Hollywood movies, the punishment, e.g., death or surrender, etc., of a woman who refuses traditional gender roles was used as a method of promoting the mainstream ideology and censoring of the unwelcome behaviour. The given technique was especially often implemented in directing the plot in noir films. Femme fatale is the best example of the rebellious and noncompliant female character. Her acts in the movies are controlled through various forms of punishment. However, since the representation of femme fatale and the noir movement as such present a vast topic associated with a significant number of gender and feminist issues, we will discuss them in greater details in the following chapter.

Femme Fatale in the Classical Hollywood Film Noir

Overview

During the 40s, one of the main types of female characters in Hollywood cinema was femme fatale. It was the time when such cinematography movement as film noir was thriving. The American femme fatale of the classical period is usually represented as a vamp destroying men who fell in love with her in a cold-hearted manner. Such a woman uses her sexuality to manipulate men and, in this way, achieve her goals: wealth, independence, or both. She rarely falls victim of her feelings but merely pretends to have them like heroines in films The Lady from Shanghai (1947) or Double Indemnity (1944).

The nature of femme fatale is dualistic. On the one hand, she refuses the traditional feminine gender roles in order to contend with men in their world. Her aspiration for liberty is manifested in the desire to be equal to men and independent as they are. In this way, femme fatale is endowed with masculine qualities. For this reason, in films noir, women often use such traditionally masculine attributes as cigarettes or guns. On the other hand, femme fatale carries out her plans secretly by manipulating males. When rejecting the role of mother or wife, she, nevertheless, agrees to remain an object of desire. Many aspects of mise-en-scene in films noir including framing, lighting, and especially costumes assist in creating an aggressively sexual image of femme fatale. When viewed through the eyes of a male protagonist, she frequently represents as a passive object of desire. Although such a form of female representation is considered stereotypical and closely associated with the objectification of women, it seems that the sexuality of femme fatale becomes one of her strengths rather than a weakness. The tendency for the objectification of beautiful females presented in the patriarchal social structure plays into the hands of the woman – men do not acknowledge her as a source of actual danger, and it helps her to weave intrigues without being noticed. Therefore, it is possible to say that the classic femme fatale confronted the mainstream ideology which dominated in the society during the 40s and 50s, the ideology in which every woman had a subordinate position.

The increase in the appearance of bright femme fatale characters in the classical Hollywood cinema is not accidental – it was a response to the changes that took place in the structure of the social order, the family institute, and the post-war allocation of gender roles. While before the World War II women were traditionally regarded as home-keepers, during the national mobilisation, women started to play a key role in manufacturing and production (McEuen 2016, p. 2). Nevertheless, many people regarded this change of gender roles as a threat to the family institute which was sacralized in the American culture for a long time (Hanson 2007, p. 4). Hanson (2007) notes that after the war, mass media and public figures put pressure on those women who did not want to return to the previously established social order and traditions. A result of the given situation was the crisis of gender self-identification among females. Moreover, active emancipation was regarded by men as a threat because they did not want to lose the dominating social role. Based on this, it is possible to say that fears and concerns which followed the changes in feminine social roles in the United States found their reflection in film noir.

Confrontation to Traditions

Femme fatale actively protests against the gender role which the society imposes on her. According to Huber (1991), gender stratification, i.e., a strict division between male and female social roles, was initially based on the reproductive function of the woman. By rejecting this gender role and using own sexuality to achieve personal goals, femme fatale in film noir presents a severe threat to the traditional patriarchal order. In this type of movies, women do not pay a passive role; they actively participate in the story development. Masculine aggressiveness and aspirations for power and independence are combined in femme fatale with the provocative sexuality. Bright makeup, tight-fitting clothes, high heels, and so on – all these attributes point to the fact that femme fatale does not fit the traditional social establishment in which a woman should always look and behave like and virtuous wife and mother.

At the same time, the woman who challenges the mainstream social ideology, in which the institute of marriage and family is the central element, should inevitably be punished. Such an outcome in the movies of this genre was required by the Hays Code which forbids to neglect amoral deeds in movies. Moreover, it was dictated by the very nature of Hollywood genre cinema that, for a significant time, reproduced and affirmed the basic social values on the screen. For this reason, femme fatal always fails to realise her intentions. She either becomes imprisoned or dies and falls victim to the murder. In rare cases, the characters submit to the preassigned gender role and find consolation in the company of men like in Gilda (1946) by Charles Vidor.

Janey Place (1998) states that the modern pop-cultural myth not merely reflects the dominating ideology but also mirrors the archetypes which do not fit in this ideology. In this way, the myth about femme fatale first allows the expression of the ideas about the sexually aggressive woman but then destroys them. Femme fatale, as an unacceptable social element, is controlled through the inevitable destruction. Based on this, it is possible to say that the image of femme fatale may be an expression of men’s fears of emancipated women who do not want to take the subordinate positions.

The Male Gaze

In the majority of the classical Hollywood movies, the male character is placed in the centre of narration. For this reason, the female characters are often seen through the eyes of the protagonist. It seems that the camera frequently replaces the male gaze by concentrating on an attractive face or body of the heroine. According to Mulvey (1999), the concept of the male gaze is interrelated with visual pleasure in classical cinema. It refers to the manner of cinematic looking created by means of the narrative structure that focuses on both the actions and the look of the male character (Mulvey 1999, p. 836). This type of narrative supported by the camera work contributes to the making of an exclusively masculine visual pleasure, i.e., viewers see the action through the eyes of the male protagonist.

The view on the woman as on the object is sometimes accentuated through the concentration of attention on the separate parts of her image or body. For instance, after the first encounter with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) in the film Double Indemnity, the protagonist, Walter Neff (Fred McMurray), cannot stop thinking of the bracelet on her ankle. In this way, the subjective perspective of the main character turns the femme fatale from a living person into an unrealistic fantasy. However, the perception of the woman as a surreal object of desire contradicts the active and destructive acts of the heroine who presents herself to the man as a prize while confidently playing her own game. By objectifying the woman in such a way, the character underestimates the power of her personality and the threat it poses to his life. In Double Indemnity, the given situation ultimately leads to Walter’s death.

Researchers frequently characterise the classical Hollywood films noir as men’s fantasy because the overall tone in the movies is usually set by the male characters (Place 1998, p. 47). However, when speaking of femme fatale in film noir, she is not always subordinate to males. She rather represents a very influential element in many movies. Moreover, along with men’s fears, female characters in noir cinema could manifest the desires of American women as well. For instance, Cowie (1993) states that the fantasy about the dangerous feminine sexuality equally pertains to men and women (p. 136). Like any taboos, the image of femme fatale seems very attractive to people of both genders. Based on this, this type of female characters does not just mirror men’s fear of losing own advantageous social position but also reflects women’s dreams about power and liberty. At the same time, the imminent defeat of femme fatale may symbolise that those dreams will probably never come true.

Visual Representation

When analysing femme fatale in film noir, it is impossible not to mention her visual representation on the screen because the style in film noir may frequently be even more important than the content. The camera always follows the movements of the female characters. It is concentrated on her, while the man is shown in a more passive and static manner. The heroine can frequently be captured from the low angle. It emphasises her dominating role. For instance, there are cadres in Double Indemnity in which the gaze of the protagonist is directed at the heroine standing on the top of the stairs. Additionally, the face of the femme fatale may be shown in the shadows. This technique aims to demonstrate the dark intentions of the woman. Moreover, femme fatale can often be captured when looking at her reflection in the mirror. According to Place (1998), this visual split of the character may symbolise her duplicitous, treacherous, and untrustworthy nature (p. 58).

The manner of dressing becomes an important attribute of the femme fatale image. The women wear tight-fitting and predominantly black or dark-colored garments, and bright makeup. These stylistic elements not merely help to reveal some inner qualities of those women but also accentuate their aggressive sexuality and, in this way, set the overall tone for gender relationships in film noir.

In The Lady from Shanghai, Orson Welles achieves a strong visual effect in the representation of Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth). Formally, the heroine belongs to modernity like any other femme fatale in noir. She is the wife of a successful lawyer; her style conforms with her status and time of setting, as well as her position inside the narrative structure of the film. The very title of the movie makes the figure of Elsa more mysterious and exotic as viewers perceive her as an alien from another world. By implementing the camera movement and lighting, Welles creates an archetypical image of femme fatale – the woman whose ability to charm and conquer men looks almost like magic or witchcraft. The madness which enveloped the male character when he encountered Elsa and which he mentioned in the off-screen text for several times contributes to this magical image of femme fatale. At the same time, Elsa’s cold eye, the absence of emotions, and the face which often resembles the frozen mask make the heroine look like a creature from another world rather than an aggressively attractive woman prone to flirt. This feature differs Elsa from many other classical femme fatale images. The close-ups used in The Lady from Shanghai demonstrating the female character’s face which lacks even the smallest hint of emotion creates the distance between Elsa and viewers. In this way, the power of femme fatale in the movie is not rooted in her physical attractiveness but rather in the psychological appeal. With the help of montage and mise-en-scene, Welles visually endows the image of Elsa with an allegoric and symbolic meaning. For instance, in the scenes where she sings laying in the swimsuit on the boat, her image may remind viewers of sirens, the mythical half-women creatures leading sailors to death. This comparison is especially significant when taking into account the fact that the main character, Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles), is a seaman. In the final, the face of the heroine is reflected and split in a countless number of mirrors without letting spectators understand where the ‘real’ Elsa is. This shot makes viewers question whether Elsa exists at all or she is just a myth and the fantasy created by the main character.

Problems of Gender Equality

According to Adkins and Lury (1996), the category of power is one of the core factors defining current differences in social roles of males and females (p. 209). Edawards (2015) supports this statement by suggesting that the masculinity associated with domination, strength, and similar identity features contribute to preservation and promotion of inequalities between males and females (para. 1). Therefore, the analysis of how such gender constructs as power and domination are reflected in the relationships between men and femme fatale characters in cinema may help to understand the social position of the woman in the American society in the midst of the 20th century.

Despite the fact that femme fatale are intelligent, charismatic, and strive for independence, the relationships between men and women in film noir are never shown as equal. There is a continual fight for control over the situation between the male and female characters. Gilda may serve as a bright illustration of this idea. In the movie, Gilda (Rita Hayworth) first dominates over Johnny (Glenn Ford) – she uses his feelings to provoke jealousy in him. Later, after the marriage, Johnny starts to assert own authority and power over her by controlling every step the woman takes. In response to unfavourable circumstances, she challenges him again – she performs a seductive dance in front of a crowd and provokes the rage in the main character. Closer to the final scenes, they reconcile with one another, and only then the opportunity for equality appears. The example shows that femme fatale can be a victim of a man who dominates over her, and she can make attempts to change the situation. However, she never succeeds in affirming herself as a full member of the men’s world. It means that despite a radical approach to the theme of gender relationships in film noir, the genre remained the product of the time when the majority of women could not claim equal status with men.

The issue of gender inequality is one of the central to gender representation in cinema. The analysis of the classical movies reveals that during the first half of the 20th century, the majority of people saw the conventional gender system and the patriarchal perspectives embedded in it as an undeniable value. However, some time later, movie directors obtained an opportunity to criticise this tradition more. In the following chapters, we will analyze the attitudes towards the place of women in the society during the post-classical period in the example of the New Wave films.

The American New Wave

Overview

The New Wave was a revisionist time in the U.S. cinema. The term refers to the period from the late 60s to the early 70s, marked by significant changes in both the cinema industry and the overall social structure. According to Smith (2010), ‘the Hollywood New Wave overlapped with Second Wave Feminism, or the Women’s Liberation Movement, in the United States’ (p. 5). Since the early 1960s until the 1980s, American women commenced an active struggle for liberty and equal rights in multiple spheres of life. At that time, a lot of feminist organisations were established in the country, and the emancipation movement became widespread and obtained the legal support. However, although women demanded political and social changes, they neglected the situation in the world of cinema (Smith 2010, p. 5).

The representation of women in the Hollywood New Wave cinema remained limited and largely stereotyped because the majority of films were directed by men and almost all protagonists in the scripts were males. However, the end of censorship in 1968 allowed directors and screenwriters to address most topical and disturbing subjects in their works. As stated by Kirshner (2013), almost all commercial Hollywood films during that time were created by a new generation of filmmakers who strived to detach from the classical legacy and views on movie making, and it primarily implied the unbiased and disillusioned depiction of reality and its flaws (pp. 4-5). Thus, in this chapter, we will analyse such New Wave movies as Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1968), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), and Taxi Driver (1976) in the discussed social-cultural context, and evaluate how female characters were represented and treated in those films.

Woman as a Victim

Representation of woman as a victim is a common gender stereotype in Hollywood cinema. Such form of female representation indicates at the vulnerability of women and, at the same time, emphasises their dependence on men. The movies Taxi Driver and Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (also known as I Call First) by Martin Scorsese both address the issues of women’s objectification and victimisation from slightly different perspectives. The protagonists in both films are males, whereas females play the secondary roles.

In Who’s That Knocking at My Door? the protagonist, J.R. (Harvey Keitel), meets a nice and beautiful Girl (Zina Bethune) on a ferry. The young people fall in love. However, the romance comes to an end when the Girl tells J.R. that she was once raped by her ex-boyfriend. The conflict is rooted in the hero’s inadequate views on female sexuality and the overall gender-based double standards embedded in the worldview of many people. On the one hand, J.R. likes to spend time in the female company and engage in sexual intimacy with them, in particular. On the other hand, he considers that a good woman can only be intimate with her husband and, therefore, he tries not to rush with the Girl. It is apparent that he divides women into the decent ones and the prostitutes. Thus, when the Girl tells him about the rape, he does not accept the idea that she was a victim of a man’s aggression and thinks that she provoked the incident by her own behaviour.

Although Scorsese represents the Girl as a victim, it is hard to say that the character is stereotypical. Rather it is possible to presume that the use of this stereotype is meaningful and underpins the criticism on the conventional ideas about gender roles. Scorsese masterfully reveals the controversies associated with the patriarchal ideology in which the Victorian female ideals adjoin with the endorsement of promiscuous behaviour in women. Scorsese suggests that in men’s perception only two entirely opposite views on womanhood exist – a woman can either be a material for the marriage or a source of entertainment. There are no other options in between. And J.R.’s dilemma proceeds from this unacceptance of natural female sexuality.

By not giving the name to the female character in Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Scorsese created a generalised image representing all women. Due to this, we not merely see the Girl as a victim of male’s aggression, but all females as victims of the social structure and archaic views on women’s sexuality. The world depicted in the movie is violent, dangerous, and irrational. We see men fighting and enjoying violence a lot. For instance, in the scenes in the middle of the film (37:00-39:00), J.R. and his friends are at the party. One of the men finishes his drink, pulls out the pistol, charges it, and points it to the company. While he is aiming at the heads of the friends, they continue laughing. Finally, the man with the pistol grabs one of the guys and brings the weapon close to his temple. It is apparent that the former enjoys the fear and vulnerability of the latter. Other men hide but continue laughing. In another scene, the same company of drunk men attacks and insults a girl who was kissing in the separate room with one of their friends. Moreover, in the opening scenes of the movie, we see the same men fighting as well.

While the image of the Girl represents the woman in general, J.R. and his friends may be regarded as an example of micro society – perverted, violent, and deluded. Miliora (2004) suggests that Scorsese probably attempted to reveal that, behind this aggressiveness and violence, men try to hide emotional vulnerability to feeling threatened about their masculinity (p. 147). And since the biggest threat comes from the idea of women’s independence and dignity, male characters in his movies frequently demean and abuse females.

In Taxi Driver, the female character, Iris (Jodie Foster), is represented as a victim of unfavourable circumstances and social environment as well. Travis Bickel (Robert DeNiro) is the protagonist of the film. He works as a taxi driver and, in his eyes, the New York city is full of filth and scum. He meets Iris, a young teenage prostitute while working a night shift – she jumps in his car and asks to save and drive her away. At first, Travis hesitates, and Iris is taken away by her pimp. However, some time after, he decides to kill the pimps and rescue her.

From the protagonist’s perspective, Iris is shown as a confused girl who does not clearly understand the severity of her situation. In the dialogue with Travis, the heroine says that she can quit prostitution any time and the only reason why she did not do it as yet is that there is no place to go. However, it is likely that the real cause is that she is psychologically manipulated by ‘Sport’ Mathew (Harvey Keitel), the pimp, who tells Iris that he loves her and depends on her.

Yates (2007) states that Iris represents more than just a weak under-age victim; she may point at the potentials beyond the traditional patriarchal views on feminine roles (p. 86). In the scene where the characters have breakfast together, Travis says that girls should live at home with parents. In response, Iris asks him if he ever heard of women’s lib. This question suggests that, in Iris’s opinion, her situation is a form of independence and a personal choice. However, as the dialogue progresses, the girl’s emotional dependence on Sport becomes apparent. Iris also says that she would like to live in one of the communes in Vermont. It means that she was thinking about quitting yet it is possible to presume that her complicated relationships with Sport prevented her from doing so.

The analysis of two movies reveals that victimisation of women is a result of the misbalanced social structure in which gender inequality takes one of the largest parts. Victimised women in the New Wave cinema are represented as the natural product of their environment. At the same time, the society itself seems perverted and cruel. However, even in those New Wave movies in which women’s representation is not associated with direct exposure to violence and manipulations, female characters become largely affected by the unfavourable circumstances in which it is almost impossible for them to assert own dignity

Issues of Freedom and Independence

In the late 70s, movies depicting the stories and revealing the topical social issues from the females’ point of view started to appear. The movie about a dutiful housewife who decided to pursue her dreams after the death of the husband directed by Martin Scorcese is one of them. Smith states that the film provides ‘mid-1970s portrayal of feminism through a young single mother, in the style characteristic of the Hollywood New Wave’ (p. 9). Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a movie about women and for women. Thus, the major interests of the American female population are reflected there to a large extent.

Alice (Ellen Burstyn) is a feminine type of character represented as a sexual and socially active being. In the begging of the movie, viewers see Alice as a married 35-year old woman who loves her husband, Don (Billy ‘Green’ Bush), and her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), but is unhappy in the marriage. After Don dies in the car accident, Alice tries on a role of an independent woman and a single mother who wants to find her place in the world. She moves to another city with Tommy and decides to work as a singer because singing is the only thing she can and wants to do. However, the path to self-realization turns out to be challenging. Although at first she managed to find a low wage job as a singer at the bar, she soon entered into the relationships with a highly demanding and violent man, Ben (Harvey Keitel). As a result, not only the career but the lives of Alice and her son were endangered, and they had to leave.

On the one hand, the movie can be regarded as a critique on the institute of the family as it demonstrates how unsatisfying and constraining it may be and, on the other hand, it demonstrates the degree of women’s dependence on men. Many women in the midst of the 20th century, were expected to be housewives and mothers. To fulfil their gender roles, they had to give up their dreams for creating the family like Alice who was a singer before she got married to Don. The movie covers the problems of violence as well. Alice’s affair with Ben, who had a wife and a daughter and who considered women inferior, believed he could neglect their interests and decide what they should and should not do, demonstrates how detrimental the relationships with men may be when they violate their basic human rights.

The conflict in the movie arises on the junction of the heroine’s attempts to be an independent single mother paving a way towards her dream and the inability to fulfil those aspirations without the man’s support. Although Alice ultimately finds a loyal person to lean on, it is apparent that the desire for self-affirmation in the society and the realisation of her dream are the priority for her. It is possible to say that the female character mirrors the dreams of every American woman during the second half of the 20th century.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore integrates the values of the Second Wave Feminism, i.e., the rejection of bipolar gender system. In the following chapter, the further evolution of feminist views and their place in the contemporary Hollywood cinema will be discussed.

The Modern Hollywood Cinema

Overview

In the literature, the term ‘contemporary Hollywood cinema’ comprises all motion pictures produced since 1960 (Smith 1998, p. 5). However, for the convenience of this research, the given term will refer to films created after the late 70s when the New Wave came to an end. Overall, like the New Wave movies, the later post-classical American films are associated with the reduced use of the classical norms and standards related to narration structure, mode of production, style, aesthetics, and so on. According to Smith (1998), the modern era is characterised by greater uncertainty comparing to the earlier times because the present-day market requires a wide range of differentiated and more specialised products (p. 7). In other words, to be profitable, movies should target diverse population groups and meet their expectations and preferences.

It is possible to say that, due to the need for differentiated cinema products, as well as due to some social factors, women’s representation in the contemporary cinema has slightly improved. Nowadays, one may find a greater range of female characters who are not necessarily put in the patriarchal system. According to the recent statistics, in the top watched films released in 2016, women constituted 29 percent of protagonists; 78 percent of them had an identifiable occupation, and 45 percent of those characters were demonstrated in their work environment (Women and Hollywood 2016, para. 6). Additionally, in 2016, women comprised 4 percent of movie directors, 11 percent of writers, and 19 percent of producers (Women and Hollywood 2016, para. 1). Although their representation is significantly smaller comparing to males, the statistics indicate the positive shifts in gender representation as before 1960s women were pushed out of the industry and remained under-employed as movie directors and script writers (Li 2014, p. 304).

It is possible to assume that the positive changes in female representation in the U.S. commercial cinema are substantially correlated with the principles and goals of the Third Wave Feminism started in the 1990s. Researchers state that the movement aims to empower women in multiple spheres of life including politics, business, and other previously inaccessible areas of performance (Iannello 2010, p. 71). Overall, the Third Wave Feminism focuses on female leadership and further diversification of gender roles. According to Iannello (2010), while the Second Wave feminism strived to develop a collective consciousness, the New Wave feminists are individuality-oriented (p. 71). Nowadays, to be a feminist means to embrace diversity in all its forms including the demographic, cultural, and sexual one. Overall, the signs of the encouragement and promotion of diversity as a primary social value can be found in the present-day pop culture and female representations in Hollywood cinema.

Woman as Leader and Professional

‘Third-wave feminists seek the individual opportunity to explore, experiment, and focus on their own personal and career development’ (Iannello 2010, p. 73). The theme of individual leadership can be found in many modern Hollywood films including Erin Brockovich (2000), Fargo (1996), and Nothing but the Truth (2008). Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is a biographical motion picture depicting the story of a single mother on the way towards becoming a successful lawyer and an advocate for the human rights. Erin works as a clerk in a law company. Although she has no formal education in the sphere of her new performance, she persuades the manager to allow her to investigate the cases of Hinkley residents who suffered multiple diseases for the undefined reasons. Throughout the investigation, she finds out that the residents were heavily exposed to toxic wastewater discharged by a large gas and electric enterprise. Despite the lack of substantial support from her colleagues at the initial stage of the case development, Erin’s commitment, confidence, and humanistic approach made others believe in her and ultimately led to the payment of large monetary compensations to the victims.

Erin Brockovich is an example of a strong female leader. At the same time, the character is complex and comprises multiple gender roles. She is a mother and a girlfriend. She also does not try to deny her femininity and sexuality. It can be observed in the fashion of her dressing – Erin prefers open and tight-fitting garments. For instance, she may wear a miniskirt and a deep cleavage leather top at work, and it not only draws attention to her but makes the colleagues dislike her and consider her unprofessional. Erin’s appearance, abruptness, and defiance of authority are the major reasons why other more educated people do not take her seriously at first. However, the heroine’s persistence, belief in justice, and self-sacrifice proved them wrong.

The character comprises both masculine and feminine qualities. She is compassionate yet able to stand up for herself and others. She seems vulnerable in her romantic relationship, yet she does not prioritise it over the work. Whereas her visual image may at first provoke the stereotypical associations, her inner qualities negate these stereotypes and reveal the complexity of the woman’s nature. She is beautiful and attractive, yet independent and ambitious. The strength of her personality is fully revealed when she has to work hard to support her family. Erin’s ambitious nature characterises her as a liberal feminist (Nurlaila 2009, p. 5). In her denial of authority and males’ domination, one can see the struggle for gender equality and fight against gender biases.

The combination of masculine and feminine features may be found in Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a chief of police and one of the leading protagonists in Fargo. Marge and her husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch), are the middle-aged couple waiting for a baby. While the pregnant Marge goes out every day to investigate the violent crimes, Norm stays at home and does the domestic work. Such a reciprocal exchange with conventional gender roles in the characters’ relationships and family life is shown by Coen brothers with wit and irony – they exaggerate clichés and play on contrasts (Luhr 2004, p. 43). While Norm is represented as a caring and thoughtful person whose main occupation is painting, Marge is a reasonable leader in charge of a police unit. At the same time, although the heroine feels at ease outside the area of traditional womanly activities, she remains entirely feminine. Therefore, it is possible to say that there is a clear feminist message in Coens’ representation of Marge.

The character’s close connection to her husband is the major indicator of her femininity. For instance, Hanrahan and Streans (2009) note that the heroine’s interests do not stray far from the interests of her mate (p. 102). For instance, in the scene where she arrives at the crime scene and investigates the bodies, between the case, she asks her partner, Lou (Bruce Bohne), if the fishing store is already open because she was thinking of buying tackles for Norm. This example can be regarded as a sign that, for Marge, her family is one of the biggest priorities. Nevertheless, it does not affect her professionalism and quality of work. In fact, it seems that among all her colleagues, she is the most competent and knowledgeable. In the final scenes, Marge finds the criminals’ shelter and approaches them alone without a hint of apprehension. She takes one of them by surprise when he tries to get rid of a body. Despite the horrifying scene unfolded before her eyes, Marge does not panic or hesitate even a moment and quickly catches the murderer. Marge’s actions are always precise, and it is impossible to detect in her the signs of weakness, disturbing emotions, vulnerability or other qualities which are frequently associated with women especially when they are pregnant. Hanrahan and Streans (2009) describe the character as the ‘moral center of the movie’ (p. 104). The moral value of her actions is reflected in both her attitude to the husband and the professional duties. Her mindfulness helps Marge to move always in the right direction throughout the movie and is clearly manifested in her detective skills. And it is possible to say that this high level of professionalism and reasonableness in the heroines’ behaviour is depicted through the feminist lens.

In Nothing but the Truth, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale), an ambitious journalist, writes an article about the reasons that led to the conflict between the USA and Venezuela. She uses the confidential information provided by the source from the CIA. The government regards it as a leak and places Rachel to jail until she reveals her sources. The conflict between Rachel’s desire to fulfil the professional duty and keep the name of the source in secret, and her personal interests, i.e., family life and freedom, reveals the strength of the character. Although she is endowed with feminine qualities and shows commitment to family and her son, she chooses to behave professionally and, in this way, she deviates from the conventional gender role.

In the movie, Rachel is criticised for the choice to keep the confidentiality of the source by people surrounding her. For instance, her husband considers that family is less important than work for her. Her lawyer also tries to persuade her to give up. Nevertheless, she prefers to be imprisoned rather than show herself as an unprofessional and untrustworthy journalist and in, this way, reduce trust to female journalists as a whole. Thus, the character comprises both masculine and feminine features, and her behaviour can be considered the manifestation of the Third Wave feminist values.

Stereotyping

Although it is possible to find some improvements in gender narrative structure in cinema, stereotypes are still widely used in the representation of female characters in Hollywood. According to Hyde (2013), one of the dominant stereotypes pertaining to gender refers to how single men and women are portrayed. He claims that while the majority of single men are represented as ‘carefree, happy, free to act, unencumbered, satisfied with his life’, single women are usually shown as ‘neurotic, bitter, hardened, unhappy, unfulfilled’ (Hyde 2013, p. 32).

One of the examples of this contrast in portraying single males and females is Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Alex (Justin Long) in He’s Just Not That Into You (2009). Gigi is a young girl looking for the long-term relationships. She dates different men, but they do not seem to be interested in her. In search of a mate, Gigi becomes neurotic and desperate – she may sit near the phone for hours waiting for the call and overthinks every move. When she falls in love with Alex, who was her friend at first, she tries everything to draw his attention and please him. At the same time, Alex and other men with whom she dates appear to be more relaxed in the relationship with women, rational, and logical.

Most of the female characters in commercial Hollywood cinema are shown as submissive, weak, and beautiful. As stated by Hyde (2013), they are frequently either ‘preoccupied with attracting men or being attractive to men’ (p. 32). These qualities can be observed in many films with secondary female roles. For instance, in Conan the Barbarian (2011), Tamara (Rachel Nichols), a descendant of the Acheron wizards whose blood may help Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), the villain, to unleash the magical power, is rescued by Conan (Jason Momoa). Although Tamara significantly influences the way the plot unfolds, the female character is represented as dependent and weak; she cannot get out of the unfavorable circumstances by herself. There is also a romantic connection between Conan and Tamara, but it is possible to say that, for him, she is just a mean for personal self-realization or the fulfilment of own goals including the revenge to Zym. A similar situation may be observed in almost every movie where the female character plays a secondary role.

The representation of women as attractive objects of desire in possession of men leads to the commodification of beauty. From the common perspective of a male protagonist, a woman that worth attention is always visually perfect: fit, fashionable, groomed, and so on. For instance, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) in American Hustle (2013) appear in the movie in open and seductive clothes. Even during the meeting with a diplomat, Sydney wears a costume with a deep cut in the front. Although the film setting is the USA in the late 70s and during that time the society became more open about the female sexuality, it is unlikely that a woman could wear such an outfit during a formal meeting. The example shows that image is a vital component in the representation of female characters in commercial Hollywood motion pictures but, when exaggerating sexuality, it contributes to gender stereotyping.

Overall, it is valid to say that the representation of women in cinema has evolved since the early Hollywood era. Nowadays, there are much more movies in which females are included in the leading cast. Nevertheless, the identified gender stereotypes in the contemporary cinema point that the signs of the patriarchal ideology are still present in Hollywood.

Conclusion

The quantitative reviews of female gender images in different periods of Hollywood cinema reveals that women’s representation varies from one period and genre to another. Overall, several female gender types in the reviewed films can be identified. The first one is the masculine-hypersexual type (e.g., Elsa in Double Indemnity). Such heroines have masculine qualities and are frequently represented as equal to men. Sexuality, which is mainly expressed using attributive support, presents one of the few feminine qualities of the woman. Nevertheless, the objectification of female body and concentration on sexuality contributes to the stereotyping of characters.

The second type can be described as androgynous. It refers to women who have some qualities traditionally associated with males and who fulfil socially important functions equally to men (e.g., Marge in Fargo). At the same time, such characters may also have feminine features including the ability to listen, to comfort, and to support. The sexuality of an androgynous female is not showed off; it is neutral. The next type is the feminine one. It refers to those characters who predominantly have feminine qualities. There is no emphasis on the social performance. However, such women are often represented as creative personalities who seek self-realization in a particular local sphere of life (e.g., Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore).

There is also a great number of female characters in Hollywood cinema who predominantly have feminine features highlighted by openly expressed sexuality. The heroines of this type do not usually play significant social roles and, moreover, they are rarely to lead in movies. Such women typically appear next to the main male characters and complement him in one way or another.

Based on the identified types of female characters, it is possible to assume that the representation of females who take leading parts in cinema may significantly differ from those women who play secondary roles. It is also possible to say that the major stereotyping of women is associated with secondary female characters because they mostly meet the feminine gender type in which the woman and her sexuality are objectified. At the same time, in movies where women represent as main characters, the space of gender representations is broader. In such films, women may be depicted as full members of the society who have aspirations for self-realization while staying entirely feminine (e.g., Erin Brockovich). However, the major gender stereotype which can be found in Hollywood cinema throughout the time and which is still correlated with female film heroines is the enforced sexuality and the pursuit of marriage or romantic relationships as the primary goal in life.

As it was mentioned in the introduction to the dissertation, cinema plays an important role in the transformation of masculine and feminine gender roles in the contemporary world, and the processes linked to the formation of gender identity in individuals. Therefore, the issue of fair and realistic representation of genders is of great importance.

Nowadays, people, and especially the young ones, may watch movies several times a week and, therefore, they are exposed to the influence of the cinema. Commercial films can be regarded as a form secondary socialization which – it triggers individuals’ acquisition of role-specific knowledge, directly or indirectly related to occupation (Rosengren 2000, p. 142). It means that the messages conveyed through cinema affect personal understanding of social roles and individual position in the society. Of course, movies do not take an exclusive part in the process of secondary socialization. Nevertheless, we argue that it is one of the most significant technologies of gender construction.

The study shows that since the end of the classical period, the representation of female characters has changed and the patriarchal view on the feminine gender roles, to a large extent, has lost its relevance and significance. Although gender stereotypes are still present in the commercial Hollywood films, and the ratio of male-female leading casts remains misbalanced, modern filmmakers seem to show a greater awareness of current gender inequalities and attempt to integrate core feminist values into their works. It is possible to conclude that the further diversification of female characters, increase in the number of female leading roles, and provision of equal opportunities for women’s employment in the industry are needed to minimize the risks associated with the development of inadequate perceptions of gender in viewers and foster a sound attitude to diversity and deviations from the conventional gender system in the society through fair male and female cinematic representations.

Filmography

  • Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (USA, 1974, dir. M Scorsese)
  • All That Heaven Allows (USA, 1955, dir. D Sirk)
  • American Hustle (USA, 2013, dir. DO Russell)
  • Christopher Strong (USA, 1933, dir. D Arzner)
  • Conan the Barbarian (USA, 2011, dir. M Nispel)
  • Double Indemnity (USA, 1944, dir. B Wilder)
  • Erin Brockovich (USA, 2000, dir. S Soderbergh)
  • Fargo (USA/UK, 1996, dirs. D Coen & E Coen)
  • Gilda (USA, 1946, dir. C Vidor)
  • He’s Just Not That Into You (USA, 2009, dir. K Kwapis)
  • How Green Was My Valley (USA, 1941, dir. J Ford)
  • Morocco (USA, 1930, dir. J von Sternberg)
  • Nothing but the Truth (USA, 2008, dir. R Lurie)
  • Taxi Driver (USA, 1976, dir. M Scorsese)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (USA, 1947, dir. O Welles)
  • Who’s That Knocking at My Door (USA, 1968, dir. M Scorsese)

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