Double Indemnity – Femme Fatale

Since we talked mostly about femme fatales in class, I focused mainly on the one introduced in last week’s film, Double Indemnity. We described a femme fatale as being beautiful, one who leads the main character into danger, and feigns naivete or weakness to hide manipulative goals. Phyllis Dietrichson had all of these characters and then some.

In the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to her with nothing on but a bathrobe. She doesn’t try to hide her seductive nature, even with Walter Neff, a stranger, in the house. Later on, she starts making Walter as well as us – the audience – feel for her as she talks about how lonely she is and how worried she is about her husband. Phyllis uses this pity to gain the insurance agent’s trust. When she hints at the idea of a scam to get insurance for her husband without him knowing, Walter catches right on, and leaves, distraught. She, of course, comes back all innocent to apologize and kisses him to regain his trust. The woman knows this agent is her only chance to get what she wants and she cant let him get away that easy. Once she does gain his trust back, she immediately changes her story to say that her husband abuses her, and leaves her alone constantly. Apparently, she cares nothing about him now. When Walter decides to help commit the murder Phyllis agrees with no hesitation; “straight down the line”.

After the crime is successful, Walter becomes more and more paranoid and guilty as time goes on. Deep down he still has a heart and killing someone is eating him up inside. Phyllis, on the other hand, feels no remorse or guilt at all. She goes on just wanting to be with Neff like nothing happened. Eventually when Walter thinks they’re going to get caught, he tells her that they need to pull out and forget the money. Phyllis then completely changes character and drops the innocent, sweet girl act. She becomes conniving, wanted to bring Walter down with her if he doesn’t go through with the original plan. Another man she supposedly “loves” and she’s ready to betray him at the drop of a hat. When Walter finds out about her “meetings” with Nino, he decides to back out and frame them instead. Phyllis hears his plan and points a gun on him. We see that she has grown somewhat attached as she cannot pull the trigger. This makes it even more saddening when he eventually has to shoot her and turn himself in, as we know they both loved eachother by the end.

This shows another great film noir convention as it can create characters that we can feel sorry for but also possess ambiguous qualities. Qualities that we typically relate to the “bad guy”. They can be either the antagonist, protagonist, or both depending on the audience’s view.

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