Day Seventeen of Noirvember: Favorite Femme Fatales – Part 1

Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson

I love a lot (obviously) about film noir. And one of the things I love best about these films is the deadly, duplicitous dames commonly known as femme fatales. You know – the ones who use their wiles to get their way. The ones who have an uncanny, innate ability for spotting the perfect man who’s ripe for manipulation. The ones who don’t let anything – or anyone – stop them from achieving their less-than-upstanding goals.

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the first in a series of my favorite femme fatales – more to come in future posts! (And watch your step – spoilers lie ahead!)

Phyllis Dietrichson

Number one on my hit parade is from my favorite noir, Double Indemnity (1944), which tells the tale of a Los Angeles housewife who teams with an insurance agent to bump off her husband and collect a $20,000 insurance payout.

Love this hat.

Phyllis, played by Barbara Stanwyck, was sexy, intelligent, and ruthless. We don’t know how much thought or effort she’d given to murdering her husband before she met insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) – even though we find out later that she may have been responsible for the death of her husband’s invalid first wife, for whom she worked as a nurse. But we DO know that within scant minutes of Neff’s visit to her home on insurance business, the wheels of Phyllis’s devious mind started to turn, and she was already trying to figure out how to use Neff to her deadly advantage.

One of my favorite characteristics about Phyllis was her absolute fearlessness – her calm under pressure. During the entire time that she and Walter were carrying out the murder of her husband, from accompanying him to the car where Neff was hiding in the back seat, to dumping his crutches on the railroad tracks near his dead body, she was cooler than the other side of the pillow. You’d have thought she was doing nothing more taxing than taking a trip to the local grocery store.

Bad to the bone.

She’s similarly unflappable when she visits Neff’s insurance office (wearing that SMOKING black hat and veil) and more than holds her own when confronted by the news that her husband’s death was no accident and she’s not entitled to a payout. Even when she learns that her lover (er, FORMER lover, to be accurate) is planning to kill her, she doesn’t bat an eyelash. “Suppose you stop being fancy,” Phyllis tells Walter when he approaches her with a string of clever innuendo. “Let’s have it, whatever it is.” At no point does Phyllis demonstrate that she is anything less than in control of the entire situation, even after Walter lays out his plan to kill her and frame her new lover for the crime – even when Walter starts actually setting the stage for the murder by shutting the window and closing the curtains.

Even though her last-minute glimmer of humanity turned out to be her undoing, Phyllis was a badass to the end.

Join me tomorrow for Day 18 of Noirvember!

 

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 18, 2018.

7 Responses to “Day Seventeen of Noirvember: Favorite Femme Fatales – Part 1”

  1. My description for Phyllis is “scary.” I like yours much better.

  2. Fantastic post. Phyllis is really an awesome character. Sure, film noir is never generous with female characters, but they are nonetheless fascinating characters.

  3. Hoo boy- she was cold.

  4. […] Day Seventeen: Favorite Femme Fatales (Part 1) […]

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