Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Double Indemnity

This is a great old fashioned noir, in which boy meets girl, and girl beguiles boy into committing murder with her. Let's just say it's a classic for a reason. In a device that was probably over-used in noir films, Double Indemnity is told in flashback, as a haggard Walter Neff (Fred MacMurry) dictates his confession to Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). This, as well as the metaphor of train tracks, gives the film a heightened sense of fatalism. From the outset, we know that Neff is doomed. And since he is telling his own story, it is saturated with grim foreboding.

"I didn't get the money, and I didn't get the girl."

"Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help me. I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man. "

Naturally, much is made of the relationship between Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), but the relationship between Keyes and Neff is equally interesting, if only because it marks an early version of bromance. Also, their chaste relationship forms an interesting parallel to one between Dietrichson and Neff. While Dietrichson is betraying Neff, Neff is betraying Keyes. As played by Robinson, Keyes exudes a gruff and completely endearing morality. Perhaps the worst aspect of the morass Neff finds himself in is it necessitates misleading his friend.

I like how Wilder uses physical groupings to highlight certain tensions. Here Walter Neff is visually trapped within the frame between Keyes and the one witness to Neff's crime.

I also love this sequence of shots, in which Dietrichson is trapped behind the door to Neff's apartment. The depth of field in these frames creates a really beautiful effect that seems to reduce the characters to one plane, while physically separating them. They seem to exist in a fragile balance on the screen. Once again, Neff is trapped between two major forces--the total morality embodied by Keyes, and the temptation embodied by Phyllis Dietrichson.

Well played, Barbara Stanwyck. Something about this shot tickles me:

And my favorite scene.

"No, I never loved you Walter--not you or anybody else. I'm rotten to the heart. I used you, just as you said. That's all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn't fire that second shot."

"Neff: know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell ya. 'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.
Keyes: closer than that, Walter.
Neff: I love you, too."

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