Sunday, June 6, 2010

Double Indemnity (1944)

Old fashion kissing was more akin to a head butt than a smooch.

Film Noir is a genre that, like it's darkly lit scenes, is shrouded in mystery. Somewhere between the cinephile's elitism, the common man's ignorance and the scholar's overly complex definition lies the truth. While I may not be an expert on the subject, I feel like Double Indemnity might be the right place to start looking. I have great respect for the film, but Double Indemnity isn't exactly my idea of thrilling cinema. While the film is probably the quintessential Film Noir, that bodes poorly, in my eyes, for the genre.

Let's make this simple. A particularly nasty bitch dupes an insurance salesman into helping her off her husband to commit insurance fraud. Things go poorly. Nothing more than that needs to be said. The film stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the leading roles and is written and directed by Billy Wilder. The film was generally well received in it's time and has gone on to become a critic and fan favorite. It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, in 1945, but didn't win any. The film generally makes lists of greatest american movies and is considered to be one of the most important Film Noirs ever made. While the movie is undoubtedly important, it didn't exactly wow me.

It's hard to put my finger on why I didn't love Double Indemnity, but a few things stick out as places to start looking. I didn't find any of the characters terribly compelling and the movie felt significantly longer than it really was. The characters, while well portrayed, just didn't interest me. Our main characters feel quite unmotivated overall. I don't buy into Walter being so in love with Phyllis immediately that he would agree to kill her husband. Maybe if they had a torrid affair first, which the production code of the time would have prevented anyway, I would have believed it a little more. While this might not be the movies fault, I can't let it slide entirely. The other issue I had was pacing. Wilder tends to make movies with a slower pace, but this time it bothered me a lot more for some reason. These things said, Wilder's direction is excellent and there are moments of brilliance in the dialog that keep the movie afloat despite the problems.

Double Indemnity is a movie that deserves to be on a list of movie to see. It's a highly influential work and one that isn't a total disappointment to watch. While my preference may lie with Wilder's comedies, Double Indemnity is still a pleasant viewing experience. I'm not an expert on the subject of Film Noir, but my experience has led me to the opinion that I prefer Neo-Noir films, such as Chinatown, greatly to the older movies. This may just be my inexperience with the genre talking, but only time will tell.



The Floating Red Couch said...

RE: old fashioned kissing -- finally, someone had the balls to say it.

Squish said...

You may find Brick, L.A. Confidential and The Perfect Sleep to be you cup o Noir then, as they're Neo to the max.

Alfindeol said...

I've seen LA Confidential and I did like it quite a bit. Brick is also on my list of flicks to see.

I had to say it. I'm torn between buying into the raw passion of it or really put off by the fact it looks like it hurts.

The Floating Red Couch said...

I like to think that all of the actors in the 40's were secretly gay and didn't want to have anything to do with it.

But its probably that people who tongue kiss on screen would be considered pornographists or worse Communists