She-Villains on the prowl
She-Villains on the prowl
I glory in being heartless and wicked. I want people to whisper when they see me, 'The worst woman of all.'
I want to steal husbands and see the deserted wives weep and clutch their children to their breaking hearts.
I want to lure millionaires and drag them down until the soul within them dies. (You can sing that one.)
I want the lured millionaires to lose home, fortune, position and friends.
I want their wives to be obliged to take in sewing and washing. I want their children to cry for food and be cold.
I want to see these millionaires be reduced to the bread lines through my doings and mine alone.
I want to see people shudder when they they look at me.
Because if I can do all these things successfully, I shall usually be sure of a job in some picture as The screen's greatest vampire. -- Dagmar Godowsky, 1924
The motives for their dastardly deeds may be different from their male counterparts. Sometimes gender doesn't seem to make that much difference when you look at the villain's motivation and actions. These days when a woman reaches a certain age, she might have a Croning Ceremony, taking back negative connotations of the term, and looking forward to the years ahead.
There's one type of character that I hadn't thought of as a villain but my research identified her as such: The Vampire or Vamp of the 1910s and 1920s. This character was played in different incarnations and in so many films. She wasn't always identified in reviews/articles as the villain. It comes back to how you define a villain. "The girl can't help it," or "She's just drawn that way," can only get you so far.
Bela Lugosi and his vampire character, Dracula are on the AFI, American Film Institute list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of all time. That film came out in 1931. A vampire is said to drain the life force out of his or her victim.
Here are some quotes and interview excerpts from the 1920s both talking about vamps and flappers and by the actresses who played the characters, themselves.
Miss Godowsky expands on earlier quote.....
"Normally and personally I am a kind-hearted average woman who with other average women would squirm at the things that I professionally desire to do. But if Nature made me the vampire type and I want to do in pictures that for which I am best fitted by Nature why shouldn't I want to be the best of the type?....
"Many actresses think it good publicity to decry the type of role they play best to demand that they be given 'wider opportunities for the display of their versatility.'.... Honestly if I met a woman half as wicked as some I have portrayed well, I wouldn't even invite her to tea."
-- Dagmar Godowsky, 1924
|Theda Bara as Cleopatra and Fritz Leiber as Caesar|
"Quietly and secretly they have gone on their way, luring the hearts of men from the paths of righteousness and duty leaving destruction in their wake, sowing the seeds of discord and distension wherever their shadows have been cast."
"My methods are very quick. I never waste time. When I see what I want I go after it and usually I get it." Virginia Pearson
"I rely on my personality and dress. Take your time is my motto. I practice no tricks." Mme Olga Petrova
"'Theda Bara the greatest of vampires: 'I cannot tell you anything,' she breathed. 'For I am a mystery even to myself. Never understand yourself for if you do not no one else will be able to understand you either and there is nothing in this world that attracts as a mystery does. .. To prevent the contingency of my ever understanding myself I have hired an excellent corps of publicity writers. They turn out new stories about me every day.'"
"Final visit to pretty Charlotte Burton. 'I am the sulky type of vampire. Men say there is murder in my eye. ... I am the thunder and lightning, the brooding clouds of summer. I am harsh and violent. If I don't get what I want I yell. There's nothing like a good yell to bring them around.'
"You see there is no formula. Either you are born a vampire or you are not, that's all."Theda Bara began making films in 1914. By the early-mid 1920s women were already starting to bob their hair distinction between the vampire and the flapper was being discussed. Were vamps on their way out? Or were they just morphing into something new?
Nita Naldi talks about the screen vampire....
"Consider what goes to make a screen vamp. You never heard of a blonde vamp, did you? No the screen vamp is a brunette, preferably with Latin blood flowing in her veins. The Latin type is a flaming contrast to any other. It is her inheritance the warm-eyed woman with her passionate response to moods, her sophistication, her sparkling yet subtle appeal to the opposite sex. That is her inheritance from the climate in which she and her ancestors were reared."
|Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi Blood and Sand|
"Now if there isn't a lesson to this I don't know where there could be a lesson especially as I suffer the consequences of my love-lawless deeds. The law of compensation plods to the certain ruin of the vamp provided she doesn't reform which in a picture she most assuredly cannot do. So again I say a vampire is an asset and not a liability to society."
In Blood and Sand Naldi, as Doña Sol bites Juan Gallardo's (Valentino) hand. He calls her a snake, a serpent from hell. "One moment I love you, the other I hate you!"
Is the devil a woman?
"Yes and a thoroughly good one thinks Kay Johnson, the Madame in Madame Satan (1930)
"Of this I am convinced, that if the devil is a woman she is not wicked and bad but a good woman who is thoroughly idle, mischievous rather than malicious, more blundering than wicked and more stupid than evil. For from such women all the troubles of the world are spread.
"A bad woman would be too obvious a mask for the Devil, who is insidious.... If such there be mark my words she is wearing apron strings with the happiness of some struggling, nagged male dangling from the ends. For the Devil is not a lady of free love. She is not that generous.
"The Woman-Devil is an immaculate housekeeper. Not because of the joy of neatness but because she may make her home a private hell for her husband. In her hands the dust-cloth is far more treacherous a weapon than the pitchfork as she wipes away the casual cigarette ash and 'tidies' after the comfort-seeker.
"Though she smiles often there is no real humor in her soul. She does not go to see risque shows or read improper books but she is fast to concoct fiction that will blast a reputation over her afternoon bridge table."
The Vampire is being replaced by the Flapper
A 1923 article says it's the women movie-goers who are making this happen.
"At first women were captivated by the vamp because they thought she could teach them how to wield new power over men. But then women discovered how dangerous it was for the men themselves to see this power operating in such a highly talented non-union manner and they immediately turned against the vamp and boycotted all pictures in which she did business. ...
"No man really desires protection from feminine machinations. Just what will be the fate of the flapper, now that she has supplanted the old-time vampire, no one can tell. It is all in the hands of the gods and the women fans.
"Perhaps she will be tolerated because is without the exotic mystery and the cryptic wizardries of her older duskier sister. Time alone will bring the answer. Personally I think she is more dangerous than the goggle-eyed, punk-burning, chaise-lounging vamp of yore."
Perhaps one reason the vamp is seen as a villain is a spoken or sometimes unspoken suggestion that the male of our species is powerless against her predatory ways. This makes her the 'bad guy.' If he couldn't resist, it could set up an exciting cat fight between the wife and the interloper, but that's leaving out the free will of a mature grown man.
"Isn't there some way of finding out what a man is in his everyday life before giving him all of yours?" Wine of Youth clip, 1924 Pauline Garon likes them both
Interview with Perfect Flapper Pauline Garon
"What, I ventured is the essential difference between the flapper and the young
"'Let me see....' Pauline continued eagerly, 'The young lady is to the flapper what marriage is to an engagement. You know an engagement full of love and excitement and expectancy and marriage is just marriage - and the end of everything!'"
"Is it true, I ventured that flappers have gone out of style?"
"'Flappers,' announced Miss Garon, 'will never go out of style. The fact is they were never in style. They've always been and always will be - like love and bills and eternity - you know. Of course they may not continue to wear the outward signs of the flapper fraternity - galoshes, giddy ties and grey hats; but the flapper heart will beat as steadfastly - I think I coined that one myself - as steadfastly under rags or royal raiment as it does under the baggy sports blouse. Bless them! I'm talking too much, aren't I - am I not? How about a demi-tasse?'" ...
"So the idea of being a perfect lady does not hand you a thrill?"
"Again the cute shrug of the shoulders as she said, 'It's disgusting. I do not want to become a lady until I've passed my sixtieth birthday and even then I hope I'll have left to register a kick. My goodness look at the time. Did I talk so long?'"
"As I rose to go Pauline whispered, 'Let's have tea next Tuesday. I really haven't had a chance to say anything to you.'"
"And then off flapped filmdom's flappiest flapper."
-- Pauline Garon The Perfect Flapper 1924
AFI's 50 Greatest Film Villains of All Time
Where movie villains come from:Villain Nationalities in Early American Films; How did some of the movie stereotypes start?
Croning Ceremonies for Women 50-60 aging with pride
Sources not listed above....
Film Fun 1917
Motion Picture 1923 and 1925
Motion Picture Classic 1930