Classic Hollywood Cinema- Film Noir Essay Example

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2Film Noir

Film Noir Research and Double Indemnity film analysis


There is an in-depth analysis and research that has been undertaken on Film Noir concerning about the family.  Spicer (2002). of 1944. A big range of films showed the insecurities and tensions of that time. Classic film noir was developed in and after the Second World War whereby they took advantage of the after war suspicion, anxiety and pessimism. In this essay one of the films in the Film Noir collection is featured Double Indemnityboth of 1944 and Murder and Maltese falcon, My sweetFilm Noir which means black cinema or film began with film critics from France who saw that most of the films on crime from America were black, dark and downbeat as they were released to theatres in France after the war. Among them was the 1941

Double Indemnity was directed by Billy Wilder and it is a 1944 Film Noir made in America. It was co-written by Raymond Chandler and Wilder and the production was done by Joseph Sistrom and Buddy DeSylva. The script found its basis on a 1935 novella by James M. Cain which goes by the same title. The novella appeared in Liberty magazine as a serial with eight parts. The stars in the film are an insurance salesman Fred McMurry, Barbara Stanwyck who is a provocative housewife wishing for her husband’s death and Edward Robinson who adjusts claims to discover phony claims. The title double Indemnity is a term referring to a clause in insurance policies which double payout if death occurs accidentally.

Research on Film Noir

How does the pro-family message come out in Film Noir?Research question:

  Spicer (2002).Just as the other conventional films from Hollywood it has been argued that Film Noir goes a long the common pattern whereby good women are rewarded while those considered to be bad are punished. In Film Noir the punishments and rewards for men and women are very serious. Characters that play their roles properly and willingly survive to the film’s end. Those characters that refuse to play their roles properly die in violence or are jailed. On certain rare occasions the films have Hollywood happy endings in case a relationship or family which was under a threat or torn apart as the story unfolds gets restored finally. In the mean time critics that get a conservative message within Film Noir say that the films tend to endorse the family not just in the content of their narrative but also in the visual style within them which shows a negative contrast the traditional family life world and the Noir world

The wife that becomes independent by murdering unavoidably dies violently. She receives a death sentence by a film in support of the status quo represented by law against the crime of murder. Film Noir affirms the social order that is dominating and warns those who want to cause it disturbance. Phillips (2010).Dead reckoningand the lady from Shanghai, Out of the past , Postman always rings twiceAccording to Claire Johnson Film Noir tends to reinforce the status quo family of male domination by removing those characters that pose a threat to the established order especially women. She says that Noir films such as Double Indemnity of 1944 mostly show transgression against that family that has discontented wife who ends up murdering their husbands. Instead of placing a doubt on the nuclear family the transgressors who are female are there to be destroyed. This pattern repeats itself in Film Noir like

As a moral lesson Janey Place concurs that Film Noir is out to destroy the woman if she is independent. Those male characters ensnared by her spell and the audience are meant to benefit from this lesson. The ideological working out of the myth about the need to control the sexual strong woman is done through a demonstration of the dangerous power she has and the frightening results thereof and then having to destroy it. Film Noir stresses the risk represented by independent women to men when they cause them temptations of venturing on temporary basis beyond family safety. The female characters in Film Noir show that they are independent through sexual means as they use sexuality in manipulating the men instead of putting it to submission under the moral code of a traditional families controlled by their husbands.

(1950) whereby the attempt of a hero to run away from the family causes graver consequences.D.O.A In this movies John is cynical and bored because of family life and tries to look for excitement. When he launches out of his family he lands into danger when he starts relaying with Mona. A similar lesson is in   Naremore (2008).Their being sexually independent is a threat to the men as well as relationships in the families close to them when they offer a bad alternative to be taken up by the traditional family. The woman who is sexually independent reinforces the status quo family since by her actions the hero gets to learn where his proper place is. Thus in such a film as ‘Pitfall’ of 1948 based on Nina Leibman’s observation the errant husband finally understand that the nuclear family is the only safe and appropriate place for women and men

Aziz (2005).Frank Bigelow takes a vacation away from town so that he can break free from the grasp of his fiancée and have a single final sexual fling. He finds out that he has been ‘killed’ by some poison that is incurable. According to Debora Thomas the film has a clear link between the murder and infidelity of Bigelow. He rejects marriage and dies as a result. When Frank tries to get another woman in the bar his drink is exchanged with a poisoned one. Although in Film Noir the characters suffer heavy punishment due to their untamed behavior a number of films tend to take an approach that is totally different to the reinforcement of status quo. The visual representation of characters in Noir films as well the surroundings of the characters tend to give support to the nuclear family as they disapprove discontented husbands and independent women

Film analysis

The story

Walter Neff an insurance salesman who is smooth talking gets enchanted by a very beautiful lady Phyllis Dietrichson at her home when he goes to renew her husband Dietrichson’s car insurance. Phyllis and Neff get attraction for each other and then they plot to kill Dietrichson after an accident policy is set up with a clause for double indemnity. Barton Keyes who is the close friend and boss of Neff insists on investigating Mr. Dietrichson’s death with accusations being leveled at everybody but Neff. Lola the step daughter to Phyllis is also involved since she suspects the death of her father as Nino Zachetti her boyfriend also gets entangled in the crime Naremore (2008).


The main characters are Phyllis and Neff and in the movie they appear flat and round. Their flatness is caused by their stereotypical attributes which cause them to appear predictable. Neff the salesman for insurance has a quick tongue that releases man alone hard boiled language such as Candy while Phyllis has some sexiness which appeals with immediate danger. These characteristics appear frequently in Film noir where there is the femme fatale and a man that is disconnected and the two have a quality which rounds them out with unpredictability. Neff can match his crimes but one cannot pin down his motivation. By proxy he is a protagonist since he committed the crime but confesses it through Keyes. Phyllis is a type of fatal bombshell although it is not clear about the level of her madness. She looks ruthless and smart and plays Neff as she pleases Aziz (2005). Neff is provoked to take the action he takes and therefore she turns out as the major protagonist. Keyes, Lola, Nino and Mr. Dietrichson and the other characters are flat and minor. Lola comes out as semi rebellious girl who is innocent and sweet. Keyes acts as the poster boy who catches insurance fraud and his straightforward truth seeking stance make his reactions and actions enjoyable and predictable.

Plot of the movie

. Neff sounds hurt and he tells the story with a struggle. There is a flash back in the movie to 1938 May when Phyllis and Neff met for thee first time when Neff was routinely visiting Mr. Dietrichson’s house for an insurance policy renewal. The flashbacks take place in a chronological order with Neff coming in with the present story. The plot appears through the eyes of Neff and because of this we don’t see any scenes in which he is involved directly. Any information that is offs screen gets to Jeff through the other characters but those actions are not captured on camera. The story comes to the audience through his perspective which makes his story and narration to be maintained.Gene (2010)The Double Indemnity beginning title displays the silhouetted image of a man with crutches moving to the audience. The slick streets in the city have a car that careens down on the road which stops outside the Pacific All Risk Insurance company. Walter Neff comes out of the car and heads to the building into his office where he starts to record a confession to Barton who is his boss and friend

Movie Setting

While part of the story’s interior were shot inside studios the bigger part of the film was most likely shot at the location. Cost may have been a major cause for this. Small budgets would require that the film be shot on location instead of building elaborate sets. Problems with shooting on location among them lighting don’t matter since most of the shooting is done at night and the realistic lighting which was applied in most of the inside scenes. It is important as the movie begins to see the outer part of the home of Dietrichson in order to know that the characters are of the high social class compared to Neff who has a small apartment furnished in a simple way. There is a contrast between the meticulous market and the insurance office with streets of the city and the train tracked that are shadowed.

Satellites and Hubs

As this takes place Phyllis meets with Nino to make use of her skills of deception to make him jealous and angry with Lola and Neff. He can deal with the two getting Phyllis off the hook and free to use all the money alone. Keyes turns out to be the other satellite in which his sense for fraud and being close to Neff allows him to be a character with almost the full ability to unravel the main plot. The hub story makes Neff and Phyllis get into sunset having a lot of money but due to satellite stories it looks that there exist several factors involved and Neff and Phyllis are not succeeding in their plan. Aziz (2005).The greatest relationship between Phyllis and Neff is the Double Indemnity Hub. These two meet and begin a relationship, they plot and carry out murder and try to escape responsibility. Satellite events bring enrichment to the story by increasing motivation and complexity in the characters. Lola Dietrichson is Phyllis step daughter and is relating with Nino Zachetti a man who does not have the approval of her father. At the death of her father Lola discloses to Neff that she believes Phyllis took part since she thinks that when Phyllis was nursing her mother she took part in killing her. Because of this Neff decides to be with Lola to ensure that she tells nobody of her being suspicious of Phyllis

. When they opt to murder Neff gives the instructions and he goes on with these instructions in the train station ands market as he seeks to continue exercising his influence over Phyllis. Characters are contained and somehow cut off as it appears visually. Phyllis appears first to the audience in a towel although the banister cuts her off on her waist and creates bars on her body. Gene (2010)All through the main hub created by Phyllis and Neff there exists many motifs which serve to reinforce their habits and character traits. Phyllis appears ‘fixing herself up’ on and out of the screen when winding up her dressing, retouching her make up or even trying to see how a hat fits her before the mirror she is preoccupied with the way she looks because she draws the power she has over Neff from this. Neff tries to dominate his situations constantly. When he meets Phyllis for the first time he goes directly to language and almost picks up lines

These bars also come about due to venetian blinds with shadows in which the body is. In the market we see a maze whereby characters do not appear full length and are cut off physically. On satellite stories we see Keyes as a person with a cigar all the time who looks for a match and gets it from Neff who lights it with his hand. You can wonder what happens to Keyes in the absence of Neff. This visual aspect is seen many times in the movie and as the end comes there are reversed roles as Keyes becomes the one to light the match for Neff which confirms that there may never be another interaction between them.

Nondiegetic and Diegetic Elements

The story shows us a very realistic world in Double Indemnity especially in the diegetic elements. The events and characters all appear through the eyes of Neff. Hollywood adds the non diegetic music in the background which heightens the audience’s emotional response in a very classic way. At various parts of the movies there is an emphasis that the music makes on what cannot be seen by the audience although the characters can see it. For example there is the music that plays when the camera is focused on Phyllis at the time when her husband is murdered by Neff.


There is very effective use of narration in Double Indemnity. Walter Neff is the one telling the story. However it does not come as what Neff thinks but he records the story so that Keyes can have to listen to it later. This makes the audience listen to the narration and also a character is set up who will have the narration directed to him Aziz (2005). This appears as a good way a narration can be made meaningful because behind it there is a purpose.


In conclusion the essay has focused on Film Noir and specifically on the Film Double Indemnity. The research in the essay is a bout the message that comes out in support to the nuclear family establishment. Film Noir can be translated to mean black cinema. It has a number of films one of them being double indemnity on which the analysis in this essay has been based. It came after WW II and many of its films emphasize on the value of the nuclear family. The theme of the nuclear family unit has been illuminated in the research in this essay. It was found that many of the Film Noir films tend to end with a punishment for the women who are violating the nuclear family principles as those who maintain their stay in the family are rewarded. The dissatisfaction of husbands and the misuse of the woman’s sexual power to gain independence and ensnare men is condemned and severely punished. These films and especially double Indemnity are worth watching because of the moral lessons that can be drawn from them. Both men and women have something to gain especially those who have no regard for strict family values and discipline.


Aziz, J. B. (2005). «Future Noir», chap. in «Transgressing Women: Investigating Space and the Body in Contemporary Noir Thrillers». Ph. D. dissertation, Department of English and Creative Writing, Lancaster University

Double Indemnity. Produced by Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Sistrom and directed by Billy Wilder. 107 min. Paramount Pictures, 1944. DVD.

Gene. P. D (2010). Some Like it Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 54

Mulvey, L. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, in Film: Psychology, Society, and Ideology, (handout), p. 838

Naremore, J. (2008). More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, 2d ed. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.

Spicer, A. (2002). Film Noir. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education

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