4 “Good Girls” of Film Noir

I do not particularly care for the term “Good Girl,” because it feels rather condescending toward the guardian angels of film-noir. In fact, on closer research, I’m not even sure if it’s a widely accepted term. However, they are the ones in stark juxtaposition to the femme fatales, acting as the beacons of light leading their men away from the path of destruction. As such, their roles should certainly not be discounted and here are four such women from four classic film-noir.

1. Anne Shirley in Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Taking her stage name from the plucky heroine out of E.L Montgomery’s perennial classic, Anne Shirley’s Ann Grayle is the one character of high moral standing in a film clogged with all sorts of undesirables. Even our protagonists Phillip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is cynical as all get out and Grayle’s seductive stepmother (Claire Trevor) cares more about her jewelry than her marriage.

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2.Jeanne Crain in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Leave Her to Heaven is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it is an obvious example of noir that is atypically shot in color. Furthermore, Gene Tierney gives the most chilling performance of her career as Ellen Harland. However, Tierney’s turn would not be so deathly icy if it were not for Jeanne Crain’s angelic role as her sister Ruth. The polarity of the roles, Ellen’s conniving smile, crossed with her sister’s utter sincerity makes the film work far more evocatively.

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3.Coleen Gray in Kiss of Death (1947)

Of all the “Guardian Angels” the late great Coleen Gray (who passed away last year) was perhaps the sweetest, kindest, most precious example you could ever conjure up. Her role as the faithful Nettie, tugs at our heartstrings. Though she doesn’t have a femme fatale counterpoint, the crazed Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) more than fits the bill.

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4.Marsha Hunt in Raw Deal (1948)

Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal is a film that revolves around a man (Dennis O’Keefe) incarcerated in prison with a girl (Claire Trevor) on the outside ready to help him get out any way she can. But it’s the social worker Ann, who we first gravitate towards because she is the righteous one trying earnestly to reform Joe. It is his evolving character, after all, that is at the core of this one.

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5 thoughts on “4 “Good Girls” of Film Noir

  1. I find the same issue with naming the woman who supports the protagonist against the femme fatale or who waits in the wings being kind and honorable. When married, I use “good wife” in part bc the roles tend to be one-dimensional and thankless for the actress. I like “guardian angel” or just “noir angel” for these types, now you bring it up. And I think we should not ignore the “working girl” characters we see in noir, who is neither good wife/angel nor femme fatale but helpful and plucky — e.g. Ella Raines in Phantom Lady, Lucille Ball in The Dark Corner, and the reporter (whose portrayer’s name I am forgetting and too lazy to look up) in Whispering City.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your insight and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. I actually really enjoyed Coleen Gray in Kansas City Confidential because she seemed different from the usual “stereotypes.” Characters like Ella Raines as the “working girl” is another good distinction I hadn’t actually thought about. I most recently saw her again in “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.”

      Liked by 1 person

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