I read, yesterday, that Ann Savage, who created one of my three favorite film femmes fatales – Vera of the noir masterpiece, Detour – died on Christmas Day, at the age of eighty-seven. By all accounts, the actress, whose most recent screen appearance occurred in 2007, in the highly regarded Canadian feature, My Winnepeg, was a far cry from the vicious Vera, the hitchhiker who proves the undoing of perennial loser Al Roberts (Tom Neal).
There's Barbara Stanwyck's steely Phyllis Dietrichson of Double Indemnity, Jane Greer's cold-blooded Cathie Moffat of Out of the Past, and Ann Savage's savage Vera: the Femme Fatale Triumvirate. Though no less lethal than her noir sisters, Vera is the only one among the deadly three to display any vulnerability. She is the crudest; unlike Phyllis and Cathie, she has no intriguing, beguiling veneer – but ultimately she arouses sympathy, even as she inspires repulsion.
Al Roberts in Detour:
That took me by surprise and I turned my head to look her over. She was facing straight ahead so I couldn't see her eyes, but she was young, not more than twenty-four. Man, she looked as if she'd just been thrown off the crumbiest freight train in the world. Yet, in spite of this, I got the impression of beauty. Not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about when you're with your wife, but a natural beauty, a beauty that's almost homely because it's so real.
Ann Savage was indeed "not more than twenty-four" when she played Vera. Nice acting, kid.