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Phyllis Dietrichson (Nirdlinger in the novel) is the deuteragonist/main antagonist of James M. Cain's novella Double Indemnity and its 1944 and 1973 film adaptations. She's a beautiful, shrewd, predatory and dissatisfied femme fatale housewife who decives Walter Huff/Neff into assisting her with murdering her husband for his savings.

In the 1944 production, she was portrayed by the late Barbara Stanwyck. In the 1973 made-for-TV remake, she was portrayed by Samantha Eggar, who also portrayed Samantha Sherwood in Curtains.

Why She Rocks

  1. Barbara Stanwyck (1944 film) is completely at the top of her game as this magnificently beautiful femme fatale, pulling off what's easily one of her best performances.
  2. Even though she's an archetype, like the 1944 film's other two central characters -- in her case, she's a black-widow blonde who wanted to kill her husband for the insurance money and needed an expert to help maximize her profit -- she seems deeper and more complex than the usual noir protagonist. Aside from the graceful performance, she seems to form a love triangle with Walter and Keyes.
  3. She shares incredible chemistry with Walter Neff with combining dialogue between the pair that absolutely crackles, even with the Hays Code in effect.
  4. Through her time she nearly always stays cool, collected, never showing a conscience, scruples, or pretty much any feelings other than greed and frustration.
  5. She's without a doubt one of the most iconic femme fatales ever created, and rightfully so as she's fulfills nearly all the requires for a femme fatale (being mysterious, duplicitous, subversive, double-crossing, gorgeous, unloving, predatory, tough-sweet, unreliable, irresponsible, manipulative and desperate). In fact, her beauty is a major factor in how she's able to deceive a lot of the movie/book's male characters -- such as her husband, and Walter Neff -- most of which treated her as a tool, not caring about her problems or even her smarts. She accepts the limitations of society, that official power is all in the hands of men, and she also accepts that she has her own weapons to work with. She is very aware of her own sexuality and of the effect it has on susceptible males, and uses her charms for her own selfish ends.
  6. Despite her dirty intentions against her husband, it should be noted the neither side is particular innocent. Phyllis clearly has no true affection for her husband, especially when she begins plotting his murder hoping to get his insurance money. Although it's also obvious her husband's reason for marrying her after the death of his first wife was for her good looks and not because he genuinely cares about her, or respects her as a person. as shown by her complaints and putting his daughter's well-being over hers to the point where the daughter would get everything when he dies and Phyllis would be penniless.

Trivia

  • Phyllis Dietrichson came in 8th place in the Villains category on AFI's 100 Heroes and Villains countdown.
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