Haworth, Catherine (2011) She must be quite a dame...: Music and the femme fatale in 'Out of the Past'. In: International Conference on Music Since 1900, 28–31 July 2011, Lancaster University. (Unpublished)

The femme fatale is one of the most distinctive characters associated with 1940s Hollywood crime films, and is usually theorised as expressing anxieties about gendered roles and identities. The soundtrack plays a significant role in the construction of the femme fatale's criminal and sexual immorality, and frequently draws upon existing stereotypes surrounding the use of popular and 'non-Western' musical styles to articulate her difference. Although highlighting otherness most commonly acts to fetishise the femme fatale, this difference can also be celebrated as a means of resisting dominant ideologies and as a site of significant audience engagement with subversive and unusual female characters.
This paper explores these issues in relation to 'Out of the Past' (d. Tourneur; c. Webb, 1947), a film that both reinforces and challenges traditional theorisations of the relationship between cinematic representations of female criminality and music. The soundtrack makes extensive and audacious use of the popular song 'The First Time I Saw You' at various levels of the diegesis, and this motif is used to highlight the dual nature of Kathie (Jane Greer) as the narrative's femme fatale and its romantic female lead. Music engages with complex and often shifting issues of gendered representation, agency and subjectivity in 'Out of the Past', and poses a challenge to the notions of ownership and inaudibility that underpin dominant models of orchestral scoring.

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