Mysterious, double-crossing, gorgeous, unloving, unreliable, manipulative are all adjectives that are used to describe the femme fatales in classic film noir. She is often the main incentive for the protagonist in film noir to commit crimes and cause him to make an ambitious choice that would eventually lead to his downfall and unpleasant fate (Dirks). Despite the characteristics that conventional femme fatale should possess, Phyllis in Double Indemnity directed by Billy Walder, Pat in Raw Deal directed by Anthony Mann, and Cora in The Postman Always Rings Twice directed by Tay Garnett are examples of femme fatale that are unlike the traditional female roles in the films. Although some of them possess the majority of her traits, the contrast and irony are also apparent in the females in classic film noir.
Double Indemnity is one of the film noir masterpieces that follows and has the majority of film noir characteristics. The film portrays a sense of melancholy, pessimism, moral corruption, evil, and guilt with advance filming techniques at its time such as low-key lightings, skewed camera angles, deep shadows, and settings at empty streets or gloomy interior to suggest the tone of the movie (Spicer127).
The females and especially Phyllis, the femme fatale in Double Indemnity also has an important role on the well respected reputation of the film. Phyllis is one of the most if not the most standard characteristics of femme fatale among all the film noir movies. She is a gorgeous looking woman with blonde hair and a seductive curvy body but an evil and immoral character who would do anything for money (Wadler). Her first encounter with the anti-hero of the film, Walter, displayed her beauty and her ability to attract Walter with her appearance and seductiveness. The camera focused on her legs as she came down from the stairs wearing gold ankle strap heels. Walter watches her with eyes of desires and longing as she buttons up her dress and puts on her lipstick (Walder) Viewers can tell that Walter is instantly attracted to her as she was walking down. She then starts her plans to receive the insurance money and the double indemnity by deceiving Walter. She tricks Walter into believing that she needs his help to kill his husband so she can be with Walter. She manipulats him by telling him about her failing marriage and unhappiness which eventually led Walter to help her kill her husband, Mr. Dietrichson. Another scene that shows Phyllis' extreme ability to manipulate is when she plays the victim in a meeting with Keyes. Her facial expression and body language was able to convince the viewers that she is the victim of her husband's murder (Dirks). The final scene of Phyllis and Walter together in Phyllis' apartment shows her true intentions for money and evil. She admits to how "rotten" she is, she said "I never loved you, Walter, not you or anybody else. I'm rotten to the heart. I used you as you said. That's all you ever meant to me."(Dirks) Phyllis displayed the traditional traits femme fatales have up until this point. She is gorgeous, seductive, deceitful, manipulative, ineffective by emotions, and corrupted.
Despite the many convention femme fatale roles that are present in Double Indemnity, Phyllis shows a different side of her that is not the typical femme fatale character. After attempting to kill Walter by shooting him once at the end of the movie, she was not able to fire the second shot. Phyllis shows her weakness and emotional side when she said "That's all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago when I couldn't fire that second shot. I never thought that could ever happen to me.", "I'm not asking you to buy. Just hold me close."(Dirks) She is showing the traditional corrupted and heartless femme fatale until the very end. Phyllis defies this model at the end of the movie by showing her emotions and weakness which makes people wonder if she is as evil as she was meant to be.
Raw Deal is a unique film...
Bibliography: Dirks, Tim. "Double Indemnity". 1996-2005 © by Tim Dirks
Dirks, Tim. "Film Noir". 1996-2005 © by Tim Dirks.
Dirks, Tim "The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)" 1996-2005 Tim Dirks c.
The Postman Always Rings Twice. Dir. Tay Garnett. Perf. Lana Turner, John Garfield.
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