Saturday, April 16, 2011

Classic Movie Marathon Day 1: Double Indemnity

 Welcome to Day 1 of the Classic Movie Marathon. One movie down, 11 to go. Up next is Gaslight (1944).

Well, hello there, film noir, I have missed you in my year long vacation from classic movies. And let me be the one to say this: noir just doesn't come any better than Double Indemnity. It has everything: murder, intrigue, good guy gone bad for the love of a woman, adultery, a suspicious kid, an evil stepmother, Edward G. Robinson, trains, anklets and a really dodgy blonde wig. How did it take me so long to watch this one? This is like, one of my favourite movies ever now.

In 1944, the themes of murder and adultery were a little bit frowned upon because of the Production Code, so Double Indemnity was definitely something different. Watching it now, it's easy to see that this movie has clearly influenced murder stories, and rightfully so - this will always be one of the greats. And it didn't even win any Oscars, out of the seven nominations it scored. Barbara Stanwyck went another year without a win, even though her performance is one of the best female performances I have ever seen. From the moment we first see Phyllis Dietrichson, dressed only in a towel, looking as cool as ever even though her wig (chosen by director Billy Wilder to make her look 'phony') didn't quite suit her, we know she means business. She has such charm, which she uses as a weapon against Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), even though she's really quite fickle. If she's around her family, especially her step-daughter Lola (Jean Heather), where she appears to cut off all affection. That could be said for the way she acts around her husband (Tom Powers).

Stanwyck's acting is simply brilliant, as she works her way out from under the weight of that wig, and is complimented by the costuming and cinematography. Notice how she always wears floaty and loose clothing? I think that just suggests what kind of her character she is. She doesn't want to be constrained by anything, whether it be clothing or her husband. She just wants to be a free woman - with a bit of cash - and has to wrap something, or someone, around her to get exactly what she wants. I also loved the way the camera would have her in the centre, and she'd look perfectly evil with her sunglasses shielding her eyes away from question. I swear, in one scene where she is plotting her husbands murder, I can see Stanwyck's eyes reeling Neff in. That makes the pairing of her and MacMurray even more exciting...they are the perfectly mismatched murderers. He becomes the backbone of the story as he is the narrator, and the story is told through a series of his flashbacks. I found it hard to sympathize with him, though, since he was stupid enough to fall under the spell of Mrs. Dietrichson, but I did feel as if he didn't deserve what was coming to him at the end.

The dialogue in this movie is whip-smart, and frequently quite funny considering the subject at hand. The narrative structure is well placed, and it always keeps you watching. It turns a corner and there is new information being unfolded...this movie just keeps unfolding until it had a hundred creases. The camerawork and direction from Billy Wilder is flawless. He makes good use of darkness and shadows, doorways and windows, close ups and wide shots. He captures the true meaning of film noir, an intricate story shrouded in stylish dark surroundings with a romantic strain to match. Noir is in fact one of my favourite genres, and Double Indemnity is certainly the best classic noir I have ever seen.

What I got:


  1. Phew, so glad you loved it as I did too! I thought you'd love it, but when I started reading (until the second line I guess), I did wonder there, but for only a second!

    Can't wait for the next review! Have you seen Out of the Past? (Sorta random question there, but it is noir related.)

  2. Sounds great, I'll have to see it sometime!

    Excellent review Stevee!

  3. Cherokee - Ha, this movie was indeed amazing.
    I haven't seen Out of the Past. Can't get a hold of it. Hopefully I can find it soon though!

    Jack - You must see it one day! Thanks!

  4. This is easily one of the best noir films ever made, exuding the great atmosphere which made the genre so iconic.

    I don't think it's my favorite noir and I don't count it among my personal favorites, but it's certainly a film I admire a lot and one I always enjoy rewatching.

  5. The atmosphere in this film is simply amazing, that's why it succeeds so much as a noir.


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


Related Posts with Thumbnails