Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Double Indemnity (1944)

That was all there was to it. Nothing had slipped, nothing had been overlooked. There was nothing to give us away. And yet, Keyes, as I was walking down the street to the drugstore, suddenly, it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy Keyes, but it’s true, so help me, I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.

Double Indemnity (1944) Dir: Billy Wilder

I reckon this possibly my favourite Noir movie. Barbara Stanwyck is perhaps the definitive Fatale; she plays an arch manipulator, so skilful in her estimations of the men in her life that she has to do (or say) very little - she just lets them spin like tops around her until they all fall down.

The screenplay was by Raymond Chandler, adapting the James M. Cain novel. Chandler wasn’t a fan of Cain; although the plot remains pretty much the same, the dialogue is clearly Chandler’s work - especially the exchanges between Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who plays the central role of a lovestruck cynic so well.
The movie starts at the end, which I always enjoy - here, MacMurray narrates what happened into a primitive dictaphone. This foreshadows events, so we know from the outset it won’t have a happy ending. The power of the story is what happens in between.

A (relatively) more recent example of this narrative technique is DePalma’s Carlito’s Way, where a bleeding-to-death Carlito (Al Pacino) wearily dreams of a tropical retreat he’ll never get to see (his flagging eyes see it on a travel poster instead) and works his story back from there.

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