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First Advisor

Robert Burgoyne


This dissertation explores the representations of the female detective figure and the female criminal in early American and French crime films within the context of social and technological modernity related to the increase of women working outside the home, the advent of communicative technology, early innovations in transportation and the increased accessibility and openness of the modern city. More significantly, this discussion seeks to consider the similar and divergent reactions to the New Woman as a product of modernity in the cultures of two major powers in the global economy and global film industry, France and the US, and it aims to understand the greater implications that the female detective and female criminal represented in terms of the possibilities and limitations of women's economic and social freedom in the early 20th century.

The first chapter looks at the motifs and character traits that define the American female detective figure. I also consider her place within the crime film genre and in popular cinematic culture as a figure of fascination rather than female empowerment. The second chapter examines the French female criminal in French crime films as a significant commentary on modern society in contrast to the American female detective. This figure also underscores a narratological and aesthetic difference between films produced in France and Pathé films produced in the US and the French film companies' struggle to maintain a presence in both the American and French markets during the First World War. In the third chapter, I chart the marketing of the American female detective as an adventure heroine whose athletic qualities represented a more child-like and instinctual reaction to the dangers associated with modernity. The final chapter discusses the revision of the French female criminal as either a woman whose actions are influenced by her emotions or who is erased entirely from the promotional materials.

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