Blonde vixen Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2.
Basic Instinct 2 (opening this week) understands some pretty basic facts of moviegoing life—we love our actresses hot. The sexy thriller that returns Sharon Stone to the scene of the, well, crime (if crimes involve interrogation in a white dress) proves that as much as Oscar may enjoy actresses in decidedly more realistic roles, audiences have no problems with good old-fashioned sizzle. Check the excitement for Gretchen Moll as legendary ‘50s pinup Bettie Page in the upcoming The Notorious Bettie Page — a film that’s sure to ignite Bettie fever all over again when it is released on April 14. So in honor of modern Sharon and retro Bettie, I’ve come up with my list of top ten steamy performances from cinema’s top sex sirens (five classic, five relatively new)—ten women who aren’t just “the bomb” but, bomb-shells.
ELIZABETH TAYLOR, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Playwright Tennessee Williams knew all about the simplicity of dysfunctional Southern sexiness. After all, his work inspired the cinematic images of macho Marlon Brando hollering “Stella!” in his ripped white tee shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire and, a certain Elizabeth Taylor slopping around in a form-fitting white slip in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Well, she wasn’t exactly slopping—more like slinking. Taylor’s Maggie --“The Cat” of the title -- is a sexual animal unfulfilled by her disinterested hubbie (which must have been torturous for her, given that her husband is played by Paul Newman). Liz proved again why she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. Smoldering more than that hot tin roof, Taylor devoured her role with such gusto, that to quote another Tennessee Williams tale Baby Doll, she made us all “fuzzy and buzzy.”
JEAN HARLOW, Bombshell (1933)
Before Marilyn, this down-to-earth, tough-talking but entirely sweet “Girl from Missouri” was the original platinum blonde -- and more importantly the original bombshell. Why? Well, tell me, what other actress has two films, Platinum Blonde and Bombshell named especially for them? Bombshell, directed by Victor Fleming, is a sensational bit of Hollywood satire with a game Harlow cheerfully making fun of her swaggering, sexy persona and the nutty people surrounding her orbit. And who can forget co-star Franchot Tone’s smitten declaration: “Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I'd like to run barefoot through your hair!” It doesn’t get anymore blonde-tastic than this.
MARILYN MONROE, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
I know a lot of men who, believe it or not, really do prefer brunettes. And I know quite a few who’d choose the, uh, healthy gal Jane Russell over her comely co-star Marilyn Monroe in their duo-bombshell picture, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Fine. But as much as I love Russell, I have to go the more popular route and choose Ms. Monroe as the stellar example of va-va-voom. MM’s character, a gold-digger with a heart of gold, radiates humor, innocence, sexiness and a surprising amount of smarts. And though her breathy voice and diamond-loving-manner should convey a vapid persona, director Howard Hawks allowed the former Norma Jean to show off more pluck and charisma than ten dumb blondes combined. Especially when she sings the legendary, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”—one of the greatest bombshell moments in the history of cinema. A true gem.
RITA HAYWORTH, Gilda (1946)
“Men fall in love with Gilda and then they wake up with me." So said (in real life) the gorgeous “Love Goddess” Rita Hayworth with a melancholy disappointment that seemed to mark not only her career but her tumultuous and finally, tragic life as well. But she was right—with that thick auburn hair, luminous dark eyes and exotic/mysterious appeal— everyone wanted Gilda. It’s simply one of the most beautiful, most scorching-hot film performances ever. Exhibiting both her vulnerability and siren-like sizzle, not to mention her talented dancing and a way with a dress, the noir Gilda (co-starring Glenn Ford) is lovely Rita’s milestone, peaking with her famed performance of "Put the Blame on Mame", clad in that legendary strapless black satin dress and long gloves which she suggestively rolls off and throws to the crowd. And Hayworth is so sexy yet so classy that she makes a bump-and-grind absolutely venerable, almost an art form.
BRIGITTE BARDOT, And God Created Woman (1957)
Pouty French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot created a near sexual revolution simply through the swivel of her hips and some perfectly timed bongo drums in And God Created Woman. Directed by her then-husband, Roger Vadim (who would go on to marry other world class beauties including Catherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda), the 50’s film was way ahead of its time by foreseeing the sexuality and youth quaking naughtiness of the 1960’s. BB threw the 50’s for a loop with her exotic, sun-kissed face, full lips and long unkempt mane of blonde hair—running along the beach barefoot and sometimes naked, she was a lioness. The film created a sensation, with the Catholic Church condemning the young star while intellectuals as esteemed as Simone de Beauvoir wrote odes to her. Which is so very French.
KIM BASINGER, L.A. Confidential (1997)
At fifty-something years of age, Kim Basinger is still stunning. And while I almost chose her famed performance in the cult hit 9 ½ Weeks, a movie that brings new meaning to the term “food fight,” I had to go with her vampy yet poignant role in Curtis Hanson’s fantastic L.A. Confidential. As a call girl made to look like Veronica Lake, Basinger is immediately siren-like, with her slinky ‘50s gowns, flaming red lips and peek-a-boo hairstyle—she’s a Vargas pin-up come to life. Though Oscar seems to love beautiful gals de-glamming (see Theron, Charlize) they had no problem with Kim remaining gorgeous. Her bombshell-a-licious performance garnered Basinger her one and only golden boy.
SALMA HAYEK, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Sometimes small moments make large, long-lasting impressions. Such is the case with Mexican hottie Salma Hayek when she emerged, writhing and with a snake in the vampire zombie flick, From Dusk till Dawn. You could practically hear mouths drop to the floor when the actress (who would go on to more critically acclaimed performances like Frida) performed her dance (all five minutes of it) with a 10 feet long albino boa constrictor. Did I mention she was a vampire? Somehow this made her even more attractive.
HALLE BERRY, Die Another Day (2002)
Sure, she had already won that Academy award for playing “pained and plain” in Monster’s Ball. But put her in a Bond film, add a bikini and allow her to channel that other unforgettable Bond girl Ursula Andress by emerging from the water in all her Venus-like splendor and you’ve created another marvel of magnificent exquisiteness. Oh yeah, and she kicked butt. But who remembers that?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON, Lost in Translation (2003)
Scarlett may have been searching for her young self in Sofia Coppola’s reflective, touching Lost in Translation, but she needn’t worry about her looks. Those were pretty much sealed as sensational in the film’s opening shot—something that could be also called the “underwear angle.” And that’s all I really need to say about that.
ANGELINA JOLIE, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Angelina is such a desirable object of amour these days that it’s tough to pinpoint exactly which performance would be labeled her bombshell moment. Since her Oscar-winning splash as the best-looking psycho this side of Jessica Lange’s Frances wasn’t exactly a blowsy bombshell performance, I’ll have to pass on Girl, Interrupted. But her video vixen Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider franchise, shows off Jolie as international sex goddess. Or rather, super-hero sex goddess. Though pillowy- lipped and super model gorgeous, Jolie has re-defined the bombshell for the millennium as a babe so beautiful but so skilled (in various martial arts, plus swimming and kick-boxing)you name it), you definitely would not want to endure her wrath. Clearly, this is why she’s been cast as a character known as “A Dame to Kill For” in the eagerly- anticipated Sin City 2. Angelina’s one for the ages.
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