During one of our Media lessons, we had the opportunity to view one of the very many classic noir films. It was chosen to watch 'Double Indemnity', a film based on a hard-boiled novel of the same name by James M. Caine. The film itself is a 1944 American film noir, directed by Billy Wilder. A previous post in the blog gives a brief analysis of the film, but after having watching it I will be discussing a lot more key characteristics from my point of view.
To begin with, I will outline the representation of four of the main characters involved;
Walter Neff is a very slick salesman. He is successful, tall and handsome yet still single. He is the one falling for the femme fetale, Phyllis, and like many people in the film he smokes cigarettes (even whilst he is dying on the floor!) He talks in fast, short sentences which makes us feel as though he is a very smart man; continuing to think this when we realise he is the one to plot the death of Phyllis' husband. However, come to the end of the film we realise he is used; not so smart as we had initially thought.
The first we see of Phyllis
Phyllis Dietrichson gives us a first impression of blond beauty; a lovely wife to a man and is introduced half naked in a dressing gown, showing her natural beauty. However, as Neff begins talking we realise she is suffering in the marriage and is maybe slightly abused. We see her as a lady who has ended up in the wrong hands and the audience feels for her and wants her to have a better life; with Walter! As we work our way through the film we begin to realise that she is not what initially thought; she is the femme fetale of this production, very manipulative. She is using Walter throughout the film, but he is so in love with her that he can't bring himself to see that she is actually evil. She is unkind to her step daughter, Lola, who is a lovely girl and doesn't deserve to be treated as such. She willingly kills her husband and from what we see of her, it would not be surprising is she had killed before that! Overall, a horrible character but makes Double Indemnity a Noir.
Lola being driven by Walter
Lola Dietrichson is the step daughter of Phyllis. We know that her step mum does not treat her well, but Lola is an innocent, young brunette. Her mother had passed away, of which he new one has no care for. Not only that, Phyllis takes her father away from her too by murdering him. In the scenes she is involved in, she is often crying and upset; she is not living happy with the way her parents are. She wants to date Nino, to her father's disgust, but it is shown that she is happy when she is with him.
Keyes in his office
Barton Keyes is a short, intelligent man. He is Walter's friend and employer and smokes just like Walter. Walter is often seen lending a light to Keyes cigarette, however, come to the end of the film as Walter is dying on the floor, Keyes gets a light and ignites his final smoke. Throughout the film, we notice that Keyes always has a good instinct. We know what he doesn't, yet he always seems to know that something isn't right. He says it's down to his "little man". We have an example of this in practise when he almost married a girl until the "little man" told him to check her background. Low and behold his instincts were correct and although he remains a single man he was happy of his decision. He is a sincere man, with a good heart.
Atmosphere is key to Noir. Being a classic noir, Double Indemnity is quite pessimistic the whole way through. From the very beginning we hear the confession of Walter about the murder and the whole story is a flashback of this grim event. From this point we already know the rest of the film to follow will not have many happy events; a very common characteristic which has an extraodinary effect. As we know the end of the story at the beginning, we start to piece together all the information we get to help recognise how this came to happen. We already knew that the ride would be bleak, and Double Indemnity certainly was.
Lighting helped towards the unsettling atmosphere; it used many of the conventions traditionally used for Film Noirs. There is a lot of use of venetian blinds and there are shadows the entire place with different uses; sometimes to hide something, other times to mark evil in some people. As the film was made in 1944, it is black and white; this easily helps us to separate the black from the white, and makes shadows look more scary and creepy. We are not used to living life in black and white, and when we see it on screen with all these odd shadows, it can some times make us feel uneasy, which is exactly what we want from this Film Noir.
All in all, Double Indemnity definitely deserves being classed as a classic Film Noir. It contains all the codes and conventions needed, and it is presented in a way to really give that pessimistic feel.