Updated: Mar 25, 2020
"I snapped the cigarette at the gutter. A quarter-mile ahead, the dome of Old Bailey pressed flat against the sky, and above its dome a gilded goddess weighed justice in her scales. It had been a night for goddesses. This one was catching the moonlight in gaps between scudding clouds, flashing off and on like a sign in Piccadilly." SHAMUS DUST Chapter 26
Part Three of SHAMUS DUST is called A Night for Goddesses. Goddesses of a different kind, as it happens, but even so, when I was re-reading it recently it put me in mind of Sarah Churchwell’s marvelous BBC Radio series Five Screen Goddesses.
You’ll have your own ideas about who makes the cut from the silver screen’s finest. Professor Churchwell’s - I think in no special order - are Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck. It’s a fascinating take, and for follow-up (and symmetry) there’s her Five Screen Gods series. Guess who?
Now while the cast of SHAMUS DUST doesn’t include a screen goddess exactly, it does have a devastatingly cool cherry-redhead who once lit up a handful of forgettable B-movies, then makes close acquaintance of a deluxe club owner and royal of the rackets. How that works out for her is the story of SHAMUS DUST.
It was the cherry redhead who got me thinking in turn about the many very fine, but less well-known screen actresses of 40s and 50s films noirs. They might not rank in the goddess stakes with a Katherine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck (who does?), but they do turn in some knockout performances, make some very special movies and look fabulous in those dresses!
Here’s a starter gallery - my own tribute to the goddesses of lesser-known films noirs.
Left to right, top to bottom - Lizabeth Scott, Jane Greer, Peggy Cummins, Rhonda Fleming, Alida Valli, Claire Trevor.
For their movies, of course, there’s TCM’s Noir Alley slot, hosted by Eddie Muller:
And here’s a link to Sarah Churchwell’s radio series: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08hlgd1/episodes/player