Vera, Detour

Forgive my untimely absence – I was busy with a First Aid course… certainly useful, as I make it my business to know as much about life and death as I can. Another bit of housekeeping – now on Twitter: Let’s be twitter-friends, have a few laughs.

ImageNow back to the matter at hand, the incomparable Ann Savage as Vera in Detour. Ann Savage, born Bernice Lyon, screen-tested at Columbia, took a few minor roles, and ended up being paired with Detour co-star Tom Neal in 1943 for what appears to be the largely forgettable Klondike Kate – an early entry in the career of Mr. Gimmick himself, William Castle. (Who would, of course, go on to bring the world many great 50s-60s drive in horror classics and that Joan Crawford axe murder movie. Party on, William Castle.)

By the way, I feel it pertinent to mention, when Ann Savage wasn’t destroying the screen as Vera, she looked like this.

ImageSavage and Neal would go on to share the screen several times, though never again matching the raw power of their anti-chemistry in Detour. Ann Savage would go on to dismiss many of her other roles as “mindless”, noting that actresses were often scenery in stories devoted to male characters. As Vera? She’s something else. When she shows up the in middle of the film, it’s pretty clear that if they lock horns, she’ll devour him.

ImageI’d hate to see a fellow as young as you wind up sniffin’ that perfume Arizona hands out free to murderers!

In between spitting out some of the film’s best one-liners, getting piss-drunk and sexually agressive, chain-smoking and uttering clench-jawed threats, Vera’s femme fatale fashion is as sparse and as gritty as the story itself. So what does your typical hard boiled girl, after falling off the crummiest freight train in the world, wear for a day of hitchhiking? Black pencil skirt, nubby knit white sweater, collared blouse, envelope purse. Add your own gormless, ineffectual sap, and keep in mind that hitching rides won’t exactly help you keep your schoolgirl complexion.

Later in the film, Vera slaps on some warpaint and gets dolled up in this black evening dress. She asks Al if she rates a whistle. She sure does. The popularity of shoulder-pads in the 1940s was to be expected – as women entered the workforce and took on stronger roles in a male-dominated society, the soft bias-cut styles of the 30s gave way to the power silhouettes of the 40s – strong shoulders, nipped waists. The 40s look has always served the femme fatale well – and in Vera’s case, we’ve got the 40’s fatale trifecta – sharp shoulder pads, bat-wing sleeves, and a gigantic broach at the bust. It’s an awesomely intimidating look, so dress with care.

ImagePersonally, I favor the flouncy nightgown and peignoir sets of the 50s, but for an all-night, shacked-up-in-an apartment bender, you can’t beat a simple terrycloth robe and a hair scarf. Lubricate liberally with alcohol and innuendo.


‘Til next time, keep it cordless.


Kathie Moffatt, Out of the Past


“I never told you I was anything but what I am. You just wanted to imagine I was. That’s why I left you. Now we’re back to stay.”

Kathie Moffatt steals money, wracks up a respectable body count, threatens lackeys, and double crosses with the best of them. She lives with fellas while reminaing quite unmarried, manipulates anyone in her midst, and looks terrific in white. In a shoot-out, she chooses to shoot back – even while out-numbered and out-gunned… without breaking a sweat or losing composure.

Just how good is Kathie? After stealing $40,000 ($427,164.65 today) Ex-lover Whit purportedly doesn’t care about the money – he just wants her back. Unlike some femme fatales, she’s not escaping her dead-end domestic life (in fact, we know very little about her life prior to her relationship with Whit, and, subsequently, Jeff), she’s not a victim of circumstance, and she’s not looking to settle a personal score. She’s simply looking out for number one, and it’s unclear whether she has any use for either man as anything other than a tool for personal gain, self-preservation, or merely a distraction.

Jane Greer has said in interviews that Jacques Tourner gave her minimal direction – asking her if she knew the term “impassive”, and saying “First half of the film…good girl. Second half… bad girl.” Witness:

The interest – dare I say, excitement, that registers in her eyes prior to the shooting is some of the most emotion we see that isn’t for the benefit of someone else.

“I didn’t know you were so small.” “I’m taller than Napoleon.” “You’re prettier, too.”

Taller than Napoleon? Indeed, and save a few hot-headed murderous decisions, possibly a better tactical strategist.

Life Lessons from Kathie Moffatt:

1. Do not understimate the power of a  pure white dress. Practical for summer and meals without red sauce, disarming for when your gambling ex-boyfriend sends a flunky out to report on your every move (if you’re lucky, he’ll be Robert Mitchum)… Girl in white walks out of the sun into a little cafe next to a movie house….What’s she up to?

imagesCA1PHAHOAnswer: No good.

You’re wonderful Kathie. You’re magnificent. You can change sides so smoothly.

2. Buy in, don’t sell out. Kathie effortlessly (and arguably sociopathically) works whatever angle suits her agenda in the situation. It could be concluded that Kathie is the worst of the three – Jeff is more or less honorable to the last and even swarmy Whit has a displaced sense of loyalty. Critics of the femme fatale (calling her wholly an invention of the patriarchy – imagine that!) point to her utter lack of noble attributes. Be that as it may, it’s worth noting that she’s just a much better scoundrel then they are.

Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer Out of the Past (1947)

3. If your surivival comes down to making deals with a morally ambigious good guy, best to see that he won’t ultimately suffer a crises of conscience – or in this case, the gnawing realization he’ll never overcome the magnititude of his past, as he may decide that the only solution is an unceremonious murder-suicide by police checkpoint.

‘Til next time, hold on tight to your 40 grand… and don’t trust honest guys.