Robert De Niro’s thumb and Lesbian Noir

By Evangeline Jennings

Words can mean whatever you want them to mean. One word we talk about here is Noir. I prefer to think of it as a feeling, a taking off point, and an inspiration rather than a strait-jacket or a discipline. But I was talking with Madeline Harvey about her recent Jessica Rabbit piece and she got me thinking about my own introduction to Noir.

Truthfully, it was Robert De Niro’s thumb in Juliette Lewis’s mouth that first turned me onto Noir. Pun intended. I must have been fourteen the first time I saw Cape Fear. It struck me as a tremendous and gripping movie with way more than merely fifty shades of grey. Right, wrong. Good, bad. Truth, lies. Freedom, prison. Justice, revenge. Nothing was black and white. And the sexual tension enthralled me.

I don’t know how I’d react to Cape Fear today – possibly I should watch it and see – but I still remember the shocking primal thrill when she opened her mouth for his thumb that second time. And the subsequent anti-climax when they kissed.

My first exposure to Noir on the printed page came only a little later, I think, courtesy of a writer called Mary Wings. Her (originally) Boston-based accidental investigator Emma Victor up-ended the hard-boiled stereotypes with radical feminism, women’s shelters, tofu, and cats. In She Came Too Late, Emma Victor worked at the Woman’s Hotline, drank in her local lesbian bar, and would have worn her hair in an orange Mohawk if she could only have summoned  the nerve. She had – as I recall – exciting sex with a well-muscled lady doctor, and of course, she also solved the crime.

Emma Victor take a seat on my lovely red sofa

I don’t know why Emma Victor started out in Boson – maybe that was where Wings was living at the time, but in the second book in series, She Came In A Flash, she’d moved to her natural home, San Francisco, where her initial fight against “Fetus Fanatics” turned into an adventure in cults, brainwashing, and drug-dealing. At some point in the series, Emma becomes a licensed Private Investigator but the ethos remained consistent – politics, women’s issues, biker dykes, and murder.

All five of the Emma Victor books are still available. They helped make me the mixed-up mess of mixed messages I am today. Enjoy!

She Came Too Late (1987)

She Came In a Flash (1988)

She Came By the Book (1995)

She Came in the Castro (1998)

She Came in Drag (1999


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