Film Review: Double Indemnity


The overall feeling of Double Indemnity is “dark”. The film only has couple shots in the daylight of outdoor. Most of the shots are indoors or at night. In the first scene, it is the view of the street; it is mainly composed with vertical line. Since the car was driving in zigzag route (the driver was injured), the oblique movement of the car creates the chaotic feeling of the scene. Throughout the film, a lot of indoor shots apply shadow effect, especially the blind shadow.

The perspective of the story is from the protagonist’s flashback. “I” is the storyteller, confessing the crime that “I” has committed to “my” coworker of the insurance company. But in general, the story is chorological. In the midst of the confession, the protagonist expressed what he felt at the moment as well.

In film noir, one of the important elements is femme fatale—an attractive woman who is good at manipulating people, especially men, to achieve her personal goal/ambition. Phyllis is the femme fatale. In both of the film and novel, although she cannot conduct the plot because of the technical process, she manipulates the men to work for her. In the novel, the drama is even more complicated and elaborate that she is involved in series of murders. The female protagonist is dominant but manipulating behind scene. The male protagonist looks smart and spontaneous, but he is actually the puppet and passively controlled by the fatale. I think the film is successful to portrait both of the male and female protagonists. The scene that two of them first meet each other, the female in the upstairs (low angle shot) and the male in the downstairs (high angle shot), symbolizes the positions of the two characters in the plot. It is like a queen appointing her subject to work for her. The hazy close-up shots of Phyllis make her look soft, charming and innocent. But she looks stand out and occupied in each of her scene. Maybe because her beauty and disposition in front of the camera convey this kind of feeling to the audients. In contrast, Neff is usually in the shadow or blend in the environment. He looks helpless and inferior. There are some close-up scenes to portrait the ankles of Phyllis when she is walking down the stair with elegant high heels. I think these shots are from Neff’s point of view. He is sexually attracted by Phyllis.

The hard-boiled detective in the novel is Neff’s coworker, Keyes. He is prudent and capable as depicting in both of the novel and film. At the same time, he is not a welcomed figure because of his hot temper and perfectionism. However, the different endings make him look so different between the novel and the film. In the novel, Keyes finally knew everything and explained to Neff about what all the story about. He is also crude and cunning, because he designed a plot to make Neff killed by Phyllis so that he and the insurance company do not need to bear any responsibility. However in the film, I can see the brotherhood between Neff and Keyes.

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