Ephraim Katz, an erudite writer, journalist and filmmaker devoted his life to gather the information for his exhaustive book, The Film Encyclopedia, which defines film noir in a profound and detailed manner. Katz defines film noir as a term used to describe films with heroes and villains who are cynical or disillusioned. In other words, he describes all characters in film noir negatively. Katz goes on to say that within film noir night scenes, deep shadows, tense nervousness, and oblique choreography abound.
The 1940s film “Double Indemnity”, characterized as film noir, universally abides by the criteria set by Katz and thus is a perfect depiction of film noir. There are abundant amounts of night scenes, deep shadows and oblique choreography in the movie, as well as disillusioned and cynical characters. ?“Double Indemnity” is a flashback dictated by Walter Neff, a skilled insurance agent. The movie begins with a tired and nervous Walter in agony from a gun shot, walking into his desolate office well after office hours. The first scene is highlighted by smoke from Walter’s cigar, and the darkness both inside and outside Neff’s office.
Shortly after entering his office, Neff begins his narrative. For a brief period of time, the movie strays from all characteristics of Katz’s definition. However, the story picks up quickly and the dark tones and night scenes dominate the movie. Even when it’s night outside, Neff turns off the lights in his house and the scenes go on in the dark. These seemingly irrelevant actions add a lot of suspense to a relatively uneventful movie. Moreover, the few scenes with action, such as the murder of Phyllis Dietrichson take place at night in complete darkness. The characters in the movie are delineated through their cunning and ingenious actions. Barton Keyes, Neff’s co-worker and a claims adjuster, is accentuated as a clever “detective”, one that can spot the tiniest clues in an insurance claim. When the audience is first introduced to Keyes , he is shown as a cynical character, doubting a claim filed by a truck owner. Later on in the movie, after Mr. Dietrichson’s demise, Keyes suspects the supposed accident to be a murder -even though there is no substantial evidence for his suspicion. Similarly, Neff is also very pessimistic. When Mrs.
Dietrichson first converses with Neff about accident insurance for her husband, Neff grows shady about Mrs. Dietrichson’s motives. His suspicion is confirmed when Mrs. Dietrichson asks Neff to not mention the policy to her husband. Keyes the protagonist, and Neff the antagonist are both distrustful of the people around them. Another aspect of film noir is oblique choreography of action. In the concluding moments of Neff’s narration, Neff kills Mrs. Dietrichson. the scene is shot from a weird angle. The picture on the scene seems to be one as viewed from the window of the room.
When Mrs. Dietrichson gets shot, all thats visible to the audience Neff’s back, and part of Mrs. Dietrichson’s face. Furthermore, when Neff, dressed as Mr. Dietrichson, jumps off a moving train to make it seem as if Mr. Dietrichson died in a train accident, the jump itself is not clearly visible to the audience. The moment when Neff jumps off the train, the camera changes the angle resulting in an obscured view of the jump. The change in angle almost makes one of the most crucial parts in the film seem irrelevant although the audience knows how significant it is.
This obscurity and change in angle brings the audience on the edge of it’s seat, as it tries to figure out what happened in the crucial scene. One of the most unique characteristics of film noir is it’s use of deep shadows. In DOUBLE INDEMNITY all indoor scenes are filled with dark and uncanny shadows. For example, every scene shot in Neff’s house, is shot with the lights turned off. No matter what Neff is doing, he has the lights in his house turned off. Consequentially, wherever Neff is in his house, he casts a shadow. Thus, when Neff is planning Mr.
Detrichson’s murder, the black suit and the uncanny shadow of Neff add to the tense situation. Furthermore, the door to Keyes’s office is made of glass that’s not see-through. Whenever, someone stands across the door, he or she, casts an arcane and creepy shadow. DOUBLE INDEMNITY, a thrilling and suspenseful movie is a perfect depiction of film noir, as defined by Katz. It has cynical and disillusioned protagonists and antagonists. Moreover, it has an ample amount of night scenes and fully adapts the styles and techniques of film noir. This suspenseful movie is an ideal example of film noir.