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Old 12th November 2020, 04:37 AM
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MacBlayne MacBlayne is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: The Edge

It's November Noir, so I'm going to watch a few classics. Starting with...

Double Indemnity

A car careens through the streets of nighttime Los Angeles. It's so dark outside that by the time you'd notice the headlights, it's too late. Eventually, it halts before the Pacific Insurance offices. A figure in a long coat and hat unfolds from the car, and lumbers into the building. The night staff welcome him as a Mr. Neff, and show pause at his appearance. He shuffles into the closed office of one Edward Keyes. He struggles out of his coat, to reveal a shoulder soaked in blood. He sweats as he lights a cigarette, and turns on the desk recorder. He begins his confession.

And so begins the start of the Film Noir genre. Billy Wilder's classic film of seduction, fraud, and murder was not the first to traffic in such genre conventions, but it paved the way for all its follow-ups. To this day, we still see its influence on thrillers.

Miklós Rózsa's dark ominous score shifts from the traditional. Scenes of embrace are virtually silent, while violence and meditations of murder are accompanied by sinister tones. Of course, this highlights the characters' exteriors. This isn't a story of love, but of lust and excited passions. Fred MacMurray is perfect as the charismatic dope Walter Neff, who falls for Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson. Neff doesn't love Phyllis for who she is (he doesn't even know her), but is enamoured by her physical presence. Phyllis is more than happy to lead him on, showing off her anklet whenever she can.

What's rather interesting is how, despite being the femme-fatale, Phyllis is not the one who plans the murder. Oh, she certainly admits to fantasising about killing her husband, and her past suggests shadiness, but she never suggests it. It's Walter who devises the whole plot, and even plans a way to make a profit from it. Needless to say, it all goes awry.

It's during the climax that both reveal their true selves to each other. Phyllis shows herself as scared, stupid, and confused. Walter is vicious, vindictive, and stupid. The brutality of this scene is almost like Wilder's greatest joke. Instead of the true love ending, we get some of the coldest violence of the era.

The world of Double Indemity is one of suffocation. John Seitz's photographery frames Walter through Venetian blinds, and barred windows. He is a man trapped, with no exit in sight. As the film progresses, the lighting gets darker and darker, to the point that I swear I saw the Devil staring back at me.

Adding to the stifling atmosphere, is the rapid-paced dialogue, courtesy of Wilder and crime writer Raymond Chandler. There are some incredible lines in here ("I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man."), and it does say a lot about Walter's descent. At the start, Walter is unflappable, and quick at delivering comebacks. Later, he is slower to respond, and his speech is more curt. As good as MacMurray is at delivering Chandler's lines, Edward G. Robinson owns it. He speaks faster than any rapper, which makes his almost mute performance at the end all the more devastating.

If I have any criticisms, it would be the fast pace at how Walter falls for Phyllis and commits to crime. Granted, the Hays Code meant Wilder couldn't include a sweaty sex scene (although he implies it), I think a two minute trip to the zoo or cinema would have helped.

Nevertheless, this is a fantastic film. The script, score, performances, and cinematography are timeless, and the ending is one of the greats.
"We're outgunned, and undermanned. But, you know somethin'? We're gonna win. You know why? Superior attitude. Superior state of mind."
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