There is a sequence that surrounds the film in which Neff, wounded and perhaps dying, makes his way to the insurance office and dictates the story constituting the rest of the film into a dictaphone. This is a key noir feature, that the story is placed in the past by narration, thus giving all the action an inevitability because it has already taken place. Director Billy Wilder uses the same technique in Sunset Boulevard (1950), with the added fillip that the protagonist who narrates does so from the grave. It is apparent in Double Indemnity, however, that Neff has at least one foot in the grave from the beginning of the film.
Placing the action inside Neff's head, as it were, adds to the tension of the moment because he can express his fears to the viewer and create fears before they materialize. The scene where the witness from the train comes to the insurance office is an example, for Neff signals the viewer who this man is, should the viewer have forgotten, and justifies the fears that flit across his face throughout the rest of the sequence as the man may or may not recognize him. In this type of film, the protagonist may think he is in control of a situation, but in fact he is never in control. When he is with Phyllis or carrying out her bidding, she is in control. At other times, the swirl of circumstances over which he has no power are in control. As soon as he is committed to the crime, Neff is lost in a sea of uncertainties, coincidences, and growing danger.
Phyllis is the femme fatale who often inhabits the film noir universe, a character type revived to good effect in Body Heat (1981). Wilder has her come down the stairs toward Neff when they first meet, and the fact that she is so much above him in the scene indicates both differences in social standing and her immediate power over him. In Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott makes only cursory use of the woman as illicit lure, though it is no accident that...
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