Saturday, January 5, 2019
Noir Watch: Double Indemnity (1944)
Format: Noir Alley TCM on DVR
Viewing: Unknown. 4th? 5th?
Whole books have been written about Double Indemnity (1944), so I'll keep it brief while the more scholarly pursue it's winding journey through the souls of a couple of grifters. And Eddie Muller's intros and outro's were, as ever, insightful, knowledgeable and refreshing.
From time to time I'll pause in wonder at what was going on in Hollywood during WWII. This movie was made at the same time as - and lost out at the Oscars to - Going My Way. But as much as we think of day-to-day life during WWII as halted as all minds turned to the war, somehow in the middle of D-Day and everything else, this movie rolled out.
It's also the film Muller and others point to as the start of noir, which I used to find suspect as so much hay has been made about America's appetite for crime movies like this deriving from , but the past few viewings, I've really cottoned to the notion. Of course, based on a crime novel from an author operating pre-war, just as Hammett had been decades before and Chandler had been writing his novels as Hitler was rolling across Europe. If I've agreed, it's because I understand movies happen after books and for a much larger audience, and this movie represents the break from the Hammett detective movies and takes us into the arena where we watch the criminals at work, watch people we're kind of rooting for get in over their head. And what a pedigree! Wilder directing and writing, Raymond Chandler partnering with Wilder in the infamously tension-fraught writing sessions that resulted in one of the tightest, punchiest screenplays to ever hit the theater. And, of course, based on James M. Cain.
I will also say this - every time I watch this movie, watching Stanwyck's performance, in particular, and everything her character does, changes for me - sometimes I'm convinced she's as bad as they say, and other times I think Keyes is the only one not floating lies and mistruths. Phyllis is a fascinating character, seen mostly through Walter's eyes and a bit like grasping at vapor - was she really there with him straight down the line? Or did she run a con inside a con?
I like not knowing.
Anyway - seemed like a good movie to start the year off right. I think I'll pledge to watch more Billy Wilder this year.