From Day 2: Everything Noir – CATHERINE TRAMMELL  ( Sharon Stone )  “Basic Instinct”

New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music is curating a program ( The Vertigo Effect ) and Basic Instinct is one of the movies shown. After reading your blog, I decided to revisit the movie to see if I thought it held up. Especially up on the big screen.

It holds up well.


“She’s brilliant.  She’s evil!”

I love Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammell. I haven’t seen a femme fatale as self-possessed and in control as she. She is the mistress of her fate. She beds who she wants ( male or female ) without apology. She’s in lust, in love, sympathetizes…or at least is non-judgmental to murderers ( Dorothy Malone for one ) and shows a complex variety of emotions throughout that I found believable.

A good friend of mine is in total disagreement with me in his opinion of Stone and this film in general:

  • She’s not attractive
  • She’s a twisted male fantasy
  • As a thriller, it has much to learn from Hitchcock

I disagree with him on every point, though who can’t take some pointers from The Master, huh? ( I love the nod Paul Verhoeven gives to “Vertigo” when he has Stone dressed a la Kim Novak, in all white, and her hair in a French roll ). I find Stone quite an attractive woman. And if her Catherine IS a projection of a male’s twisted fantasy, he hasn’t created a woman who he bests and comes out on top of ( pun intended ). This is not John Wayne dragging Maureen O’Hara over hill ‘n dale ‘n manure in The Quiet Man.” If this man has created a fantasy, he’s “created” a woman who is smart as hell smarter than everyone. He’s “created” a woman not afraid of the patriarchal structure of Authority. Yes yes, the interrogation scene…and it is one that’ll go down for the ages for that “obvious” reason. But I found the overall interrogation scene one of the most powerful scenes in film because Catherine Trammell uses the power of her sex and the power of sex on her 0WN terms; not in terms of vulnerable weakness ( a ‘Marilyn’ baby doll ) but in terms of strength.

She stares them down.

“I’d have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill him the way I described in my book. I’d be announcing myself as the killer. I’m not stupid.”

She doesn’t blink…or bat her eyes. The cops in the scene don’t know WHAT to do with her. AND can do nothing WITH her.  The counterpoint female we have is Jeanne Tripplehorn as Michael Douglas department-appointed shrink. As professional as she is, she seems a tad weak and ineffective. Her ‘blurred lines’ is to fall in love with Douglas…a fatal mistake.


I watched “Basic Instinct” on the big screen with a packed crowd. No one laughed (except for the appropriate chuckles), the theatre was quiet and respectful. To be fair, I made the movie prove itself to me; maybe something I missed waaay back would jump out at me. The plot connected the dots ( to me ). All the supporting characters seemed to pan out as  recognizably human ( my favorite big teddy bear George Dzundza makes my pulse race, and I love his down-home “tweety bird” and “shit / shinola” remarks ). And Sharon Stone…well, she is still as defiant, sexual, contemptuous, dismissive, vulnerable, sardonic, straight-forward, manipulative, deadly and beautiful as she was in 1992. Some say villain. I say hero.

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  1. A few years ago, I finally read James M. Cain’s novel of Mildred Pierce, which was the basis for this movie. The Mildred character is quite a bit different and, as written, would never have fit Crawford. (I’m trying to think of an actress from that period who would have matched Cain’s conception–maybe Claire Trevor from the 1930s, but a little more polished.) Veda’s a hard case in the novel also, but on a somewhat different plane. Here are two paragraphs from the novel’s plot synopsis on Wikipedia:

    When Mildred discovers her daughter’s plot to blackmail a wealthy family with a fake pregnancy, she kicks her out of their house. Veda, who has been training to become an opera singer, goes on to a great deal of fame as Mildred convinces her new boyfriend Monty (a young man who, like Mildred, lost his family’s wealth at the start of the Great Depression) to help reconcile them. Unfortunately for Mildred, this means buying Monty’s family estate and using her earnings to pay for Veda’s extravagances. Mildred and Monty marry, but things go sour for her: Wally, her partner in the restaurant business, has discovered that her living like a rich person has dramatically affected the company’s profits. He threatens a coup to force her out of the company. This causes her to confess to her ex-husband Bert that she has been embezzling money from her company in order to buy Veda’s love.

    Needing some of Veda’s money to balance the books – and fearing that Wally might target the girl’s assets if they are exposed – Mildred goes to her house to confront her. She finds Veda in bed with her stepfather. Monty explains to Mildred that he’s leaving her for Veda, who gloats that they have been planning this all along. Mildred snaps, brutally attacking and apparently strangling her daughter, who now appears incapable of singing and loses her singing contract.

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