"It Might Sound like Music to Her...": Inter-American Politics, 'Latin' Scores, and the 1940s Femme Fatale The Leopard Man

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


One of the most distinctive characters associated with 1940s Hollywood crime films, the femme fatale is usually theorised as expressing anxieties about gendered roles and identities in the period around World War II. The soundtrack plays a significant role in the construction of her criminal and sexual immorality, drawing upon stereotypes surrounding the use of popular and 'non-Western' musical styles to position the fatal woman outside Hollywood norms. Although highlighting otherness most commonly acts to fetishise and contain, the femme fatale’s difference can also be celebrated as a means of resisting dominant ideologies and as a site of pleasurable audience engagement with subversive female characters.
Underpinned by developments within inter-American relations (the ongoing effects of ‘Good Neighbor’ policies and efforts to stress Allied collegiality during the War), Latin musical signifiers act as a particularly flexible representation of the dual nature of female difference during the 1940s. A complex musical articulation of subjectivity is crucial to the positioning of Clo-Clo, the female protagonist of The Leopard Man (d. Tourneur, 1943), whose castanet performances evoke the Hollywood archetypes of both the femme fatale and the carefree musical Latina. Musical performance is used not only to demonstrate Clo-Clo’s charisma and appeal, but also to justify her victimization at the hands of an emasculated, culturally imperialist murderer. The soundtrack is central in The Leopard Man’s construction and containment of female agency, highlighting interconnected issues of cultural, gendered, and ethnic identity whilst challenging existing models of ownership and inaudibility in the classical score.
Period18 Apr 2013
Event titleBritish Association for American Studies 58th Annual Conference: Head West
Event typeConference
Conference number58
LocationExeter, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational