Double Indemnity

This was the first time I’ve ever seen or really heard of this film. After it finished I didn’t really feel amazed or surprised as much as the previous films shown in the class. Citizen Kane showed me how much work can be put into creating a grand environment for a film. Not even one environment but a whole other world that is centered around one character. With the overwhelming sets, amazing make up work for the aged characters, performances and the camera work that enhanced the experience in watching the film. Also in M, that film presented how a story can capture a political message and still be incredibly entertaining and suspenseful. These two early films stood out to me as being something that I didn’t expect to feel so modern while watching. Double Indemnity on the other hand didn’t blow me away compared to the other films. I’m not sure if I should compare the films but they all do present a form of film noir, in my opinion. Dark themes of murder and death, visually they use dynamic lighting and a familiar cinematic style that all seem to resemble noir. Or at least the first films that were made gave inspiration and influence towards the noir genre.

That is where Double Indemnity began to be more than just a film to me. I realized that this film inspired many of the next noir films for future generations with specific angles, story elements, lighting style and more. The beginning mysterious entrance of a character we know nothing about, that is injured or hurt in some way, beginning to narrate to us what has happened. That is something that modern movies use to begin to tell their story, where the ending is what we see first. Films that use this technique are Slumdog Millionaire in a way, or Forrest Gump. More importantly, the suspense and mystery grows with the audience as the story unravels. In a writing standpoint, the narration helped tell us what happened and developed the main character slowly by seeing it through his eyes. One of the issues I had though, was that I don’t think his character was really developed enough. To me he was still a heavy mystery even by the end of the film. His sudden turn to loving Phyllis, even calling her baby and embracing her in his arms with a passionate kiss, was too unusual without enough reason. He seemed to accept the illusion of her love and played her little game. His character appeared smarter than that but was pulled in. A big issue I had was seeing a wedding ring on his finger.

There's a wedding ring on his finger. Why?

The film was shot with so much dark shadows around, that anything reflected by the light became noticeable. A wedding ring on the main character confused me the most. Every time I noticed it, it threw me out of the story. I don’t recall anything about him being married or a widower. I could begin to hypothesize that he did have a previous love who died and maybe Phyllis reminded him of her. This would also explain why he blindly agreed to take on such a risky operation. His actions seemed very illogical as I watched him go with the plan and put himself in such a bad situation when his job is to predict who is a safe client for insurance. It’s a very puzzling part of the film that kept distracting me from the rest of the story.

Besides him, the rest of the characters seemed a little underdeveloped as well. The daughter didn’t completely get understood until the ending where it is revealed how she sees her stepmother. The boyfriend and the husband as well weren’t developed as much either. It seems that the story reflected heavily on Walter and Phyllis, but Keyes became more of an important character towards the final act. This made the movie seem small and not in it’s own world like M or Citizen Kane. I would assume that the second world war had been a big reason on why Double Indemnity felt like a smaller budgeted film with the limited characters, not many locations and a lot of black on the screen. So much seemed covered up in shadows, I would understand doing that method if I had a limited budget in the production value. But for visual style, I guess it was meant to set a dark mood to express the war’s impact on the country.

Overall, the film was pretty well done. I still have some issues with parts of the film but it is the seed of many amazing movies, so I can appreciate it for that.

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One Response to “Double Indemnity”

  1. Hi Greg,
    This is Ryan Wharton, and I agree with what you said, however, Double Indemnity did revolve around Stanwyck’s “femme fatale” role. Have you ever seen Mildtred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford? Same thing in that one, although there is an ex-husband, a lover, and two daughters, the film revolves around her character, so the others, with the exception of her daughter Vita, played by Ann Blyth, the other characters are underdeveloped. Perhaps it was finally a chance for actresses to “star” rather than play a supporting role in film. If you want to see a great film noir movie, check out “The Big Clock” with Charles Laughton and Ray Milland.

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