As previously started, the first year MFA Actors at CalArts start with a section devoted to Film Noir and consequentially have a lovely summer list comprised of books and films of the genre. Which brings me to Double Indemnity (1944), the staple film for the genre that defined many of the characters seen in other films of the genre. Though my husband disagrees, I enjoyed Double Indemnity much more than The Maltese Falcon, though I can’t really put my finger on why. I enjoyed the performances of both leading actors, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, however stylized the acting remains. MacMurray had great body worked as he draped himself over the furniture in a cat-like manner. Usually the body work of this genre is more clear and specific in the female actors, but MacMurray really stood out in this regard.
Perhaps this film was more successful in my eyes because I was a bit more willing to give in to the genre, not desiring the realism that I often find so powerful and surrendering to the style of Film Noir? To me, it wasn’t as clear who was “good” or “bad” in this film as it was in Maltese. Was the leading male a good guy who got caught in the web of the Femme Fatale? Or was he flawed to begin with? Giving over far to easy to the scheming of the beautiful Phyllis (Stanwyck)? Stanwyck’s Femme Fatale felt much less obvious, there is something sad and miserable about the character so her actions feel perhaps more justified? The performance felt less predictable, as did the plot turns. One of many reasons Double Indemnity is considered the staple and preserved in the National Film Registry.
The film is highlighted with strong male narrative exposition in the standard rhythm/speech pattern of other films in the genre. Short, clipped, sections of speech with almost a moderate heightened diction roll of the tongues of the actors at rapid pace. The film came with a catch line that was a tad over-used and I’m not sure I understand the purpose of it either, but either way “straight down the line” appeared again and again. Phyllis attached herself to this particular phrase, as if it were the only thing linking she and the sly detective romantically and otherwise.
The presence of alcohol in the film could be seen as a clear indications of the social historical conflict surrounding this beverage through the 20’s, 30’s and into the early 40’s, it was still seen as a moral indicator and didn’t become more socially acceptable until the 50’s with the emergence of cocktail hour. The alcohol consumption is also associated with specific characters.
Okay…this is all very dry, did I like the film? Yes. Am I yet in love with the genre? No. I find this a challenging genre to get moved or motivated by, specifically because so many characters are hiding something or turn so quickly. I don’t know if there is anything redeeming about the style. The visual aesthetic is quite beautiful, the way these film makers captured lights, shadows, smoke and fire is quite impressive and really transports you to a different world. Yet, I still feel the urge to keep these characters at arms length and am not interested enough to know them further.
Also…its most certainly a man’s world.
The Big Sleep is next…and as it is Becall, I know I shant be disappointed.