Haworth, Catherine (2014) "Wallowing in Latin glamor": inter-American politics, Hollywood film music, and the 1940s femme fatale. In: Music and the Moving Image IX, 30th May - 1st June 2014, New York University. (Unpublished)

Hollywood's depiction of Latin America shifted dramatically in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In addition to the continuing socio-political ramifications of 'Good Neighbor' policies, the entertainment industry was more specifically targeted as a source of pro-Latin propaganda by a government keen to stress Allied collegiality in the years around World War II. The cantina girls, banditos and 'greasers' of earlier cinema were gradually replaced with more cosmopolitan, cheerful, and specifically musical characterisations of South American identity. Although still problematically reductive, the evolution of these stereotypes undermines existing theorisations of Hollywood's construction of musical Others, an issue that becomes particularly pertinent when considering the frequently Latinised femmes fatales of the 1940s crime film. Here, issues of cultural and ethnic identity intersect with those of gender and sexuality in unruly female characters who are musically positioned both as fetishistically contained and engagingly resistant.

The cross-generic thriller The Leopard Man (d. Tourneur, 1943) exemplifies this complex relationship between cultural politics and musical representation through its repeated focus on Clo-Clo, a castanet dancer working the New Mexico nightclub circuit. The film’s appropriation of 'Latin' musical signifiers articulates its conflicting depictions of gendered, sexual, and ethnic identity, highlighted in Clo-Clo's virtuosic musicality and her dual positioning as seductive temptress and carefree Latina. Diegetic performance not only demonstrates Clo-Clo’s charismatic appeal, but is also used to justify her victimization at the hands of an emasculated and culturally imperialist murderer – an intensification of narrative tensions between ‘local’ and ‘tourist’ cultures that violently neutralizes the threat of the femme fatale.

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email