Analysis of the Film Double Indemnity: A Classic Film

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Double Indemnity: A Classic Film Noir Masterpiece

Double Indemnity is a classic film, noir masterpiece, thriller about adultery and murder directed by Billy Wilder. The movie designates a great water mark of the 1940s film of the metropolitan criminality performances in which men who are covetous and feeble are seduced and ensnared by a wicked woman in the middle of the modern cities (Schickel 9). Barbara Stanwyck seduces an insurance representative named Fred MacMurray into killing her husband to gather his accident policy. The killing goes as prearranged but after the passion of the duo's chills, each become distrustful of one another's intentions. The strategy further becomes complex when the boss of MacMurray named Edward Robinson, who is an excellent insurance detective takes over the inquiry. Demonstrated in flashbacks from the viewpoint of MacMurray, the movie changes with cruel determinism as every character is seen to meet what seems to be an ordained fate (Schickel 19). The objective of this paper is to assess various aspects of the Double Indemnity as a classic film.

Historical Context of Double Indemnity

Most critics and film historians point to 1944 as the time of film noir, and it was this era when Double Indemnity was premiered. The film describes the corrosive portrait of greed among the middle class of Los Angeles in the 1940s (Wilder 34). As World War II was coming to an end, The United States was optimistic and prosperous. The couples were reunited, and troupes returned home ready to marry and start new lives. Besides, the United States was becoming particularly conservative especially when it comes to women. With the wartime witnessing an increase of number of female in the labor force, women were becoming menace to the male-controlled system that necessitated men to be the main source of income and women to be caretakers (Wilder 35).

Therefore, in the 1940s, motherhood was made a matter of nationwide rule by antifeminists hence likable to conventionalism (Wilder 36). In Hollywood, the threat was manifested as a post-war phenomenon of film noir. Within these narratives that the film Double Indemnity fits, women were subject to malignant backlash. In the film noir, the female protagonist who always causes the downfall of the male protagonist is always punished. What the female protagonist is punished for is usually due to her deceitful tricks. But as a result of her agency in sexuality and lack of attention to her motherly and wifely responsibilities (Wilder 38).

Film Genre and Style

The genre of the film is known as noir because of its iconic setting of big cities such as New York, bars, offices and the film is not different from other motion pictures. The film begins with Walter in his office at the insurance company building (Schickel 29). The story of the film is told in flashbacks, and the audience hears the Walter's voice-over them throughout the film. Through this, the audience have the chance to be in shoes of Walter and experience the chain of events that compelled him to be in a terrible situation that is displayed at the start of the film. As the film progresses, the audience have the chance to make up their mind whether they would have done a similar thing such as assisting Phyllis to murder her husband (Schickel 32). The structure of the film is broken down to numerous main scenes, and every scene tends to contrast with another. For instance, the beginning scene, alter driving through a red light and misses a collision with a truck. The scene contrasts with other calmer scenes where Phyllis and Walter are seen flirting when they first meet. Through the contrast, specific scenes can be obvious, and that makes them more memorable (Schickel 32).

The style of the film comprises several elements such as editing and mise-en-scene with the major one being lighting. Chiaroscuro is used to complement depth to the characters and make the audience question the morality of each character. The confusion of the audience on whether which characters are protagonists and which ones are antagonists gives the film a richer and a deeper meaning (Wilder 45). The harsh contrast in lighting signifies the battle between good and evil which emphasizes suspicion and enigma. The traditional shadow that is induced by the low-key lighting similarly creates the same effect. Lighting is seen to develop key points around the story and the protagonists in the film noir. The lighting hides the characters from the sight of the audiences, thus wrapping the plot in secret crimes and enigma. Double Indemnity supplements this with an extra layer of complexity as illumination is shown to reveal the hidden vices among the characters (Wilder 49).

The main objective of the genre is to entertain the audience in numerous ways and to induce feelings and thoughts at that particular time. The cinema has always been about new and diverse experiences and therefore all film genres need to do this. Film noir induces a myriad of feelings from hatred towards the antagonist and the relief that protagonist has saved the situation to nail-biting suspense. The sequence incorporates a large range of thoughts and feelings which would have been felt by the audience at the time. What marks the film out from other film noirs is the sense among the crazy of real human heartbreak. The film is not all about the violent showdown that concludes the passion between Phyllis and Neff (Wilder 56).

Observation to Specific Scenes

Great dialogue in a movie always makes a great scene, and that is seen clearly in the movie when Neff, who is an insurance salesman come across Barbara who is a wife to one of the Neff's clients. When Neff first enters his client's house, he has an opportunity to get acquainted with Phyllis, as Neff is seen at the bottom of the stairs and Phyllis is seen at the top wrapped in towel. Neff proceeds to the living room waiting for Phyllis to dress up (Wilder 57). When Phyllis enters the room, Neff reverses a bit about the insurance but then the conversation takes another turn. Each character is trying to top the other in their dance of seduction. Phyllis has to play hard to get because if she immediately falls into Neff's arms, he would be suspicious of her motives. However, this is the first approach of Phyllis to incorporate Neff in her plan to kill her husband (Wilder 58).

Another scene that has many bright lights and camera, sound, and lighting is the murder scene from the movie. In this scene, low-lighting is used to give Walter as a character a dark and suspicious side. The sidelighting is used to supplement a chiaroscuro contrast to his face hence demonstrating his moral instability. Through this, there is an increased tension among the audience as they can start to be suspicious when something negative is about to take place soon. In this particular scene, there are a few mise-en-scenes (Wilder 63). The example is the smart suit that is worn by Walter which indicates intelligence and wealth, which are the key aspects of the film. The setting in the scene comprises Venetian blinds behind Walter, and some are seen on the left side. The medium shot of the camera is used to display not only the face of the Walter's character but the top half of his body as well.

Through this, the audience can see the posture of the character, who in this scene gives ideas of his strength over Phyllis who he is about to murder. The sound of the scene includes background music, dialogue between Phyllis and Walter, and two gunshots. At the beginning of the scene, Walter asks Phyllis if he can shut the window as he claims that he does not like the music that is coming from inside. However, the reason behind this gesture is that perhaps he did not want gunshots to be heard by anyone (Wilder 65).

The notion of the scene is heavily based on gender as Phyllis, in her dress with sidelighting to demonstrate her contrasting morality, is shown at the start of the scene as the weak, timid one, sitting relaxed in her chair (Wilder 65).


The film shows several themes which include love, adultery, sexual desire and question of morality, murder, betrayal, and wealth. The themes precisely murder and love and instant connotations that rush through the audience's minds as soon as they encounter the genre of the film, which is noir. The themes portrayed in the film are used to interest and attract large numbers of people presenting aspects of reality through the actors (Wilder 68).

The theme of greed is evident in the characters like Walter. As he wants to be with Phyllis and does not care whether she is married. Walter is willing to look past her negative motives for her husband as long as he has the insurance money. Walter already works for an assurance company, which in a way facilitates his desire to acquire money from them. The theme of sexuality is manifested when Phyllis objectifies her body, using it like a missile of destruction.

Greed is also inherent at the end of the film because when the immoralities of Phyllis and Walter are revealed, the insurance company decides to send them out of the country (Schickel 34). The approach is meant to save their reputation because the negative social opinion is likely to hurt them when they return. There is also guilt on the aftermath of the murder. Walter feels oppressed by the incident and aware that he killed an innocent man, and he turns physically ill being possessed with these thoughts. The theme of guilt is relevant to people who act wrong in the society because after doing something paranormal such as murder or theft, an ordinary person must be later disbursed by some regrets as a result of guilt.

Works Cited

Schickel, Richard. Double indemnity. British film institute, 1992.

Wilder, Billy, and Raymond Chandler. Double Indemnity: The Complete Screenplay. University of California Press, 2000.

September 25, 2023




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