Top 7 Femme Fatales

Hollywood didn't create the femme fatale, though it certainly made her known to millions, starting with the original "vamp," Theda Bara, back in the silent-movie days, and progressing right through the film noir era to deadly modern seductresses like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct or pretty much every character Christina Ricci has ever played, from Wednesday Addams on.

But the irresistibly magnetic female who tempts men to their doom dates back further than the invention of film. It reached its apotheosis in the unforgettable crime novels of James M. Cain - author of Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce - who, though dead these past 35 years, has a brand new book, The Cocktail Waitress, hitting bookstores on September 18. In honor of Cain and his latest lethal lady, here's a primer on femme fatales through the ages...