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Adopted from James M. Cain’s novel by Raymond Chandler and directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity is a film noir representing one of the highest levels of urban crime dramas. The film was developed at a time when film noir movies were gaining immense popularity, making it one of the best film noir to date. Casting of the film came at a time when women were just homemakers and had an obligation to be faithful to their husbands and be morally upright. Phyllis Dietrichson, a dissatisfied wife, starts an affair with Billy Wilder, an insurance agent. They decided to kill the husband so that they can get his accident policy. However, she also ends up losing her life after the lover discovered she was having an affair with someone else.
Men have continuously been portrayed as obsessive, brooding and cynical in film noir movies, which mistreat and disrespect women by virtue of their power in the society; however, the struggles these characters go through mostly end up in failure.
At the time of the film the role of women in the society was that of menaced to woman. One of the features of any film noir is that when the main character is a woman, men torment her both physically and psychologically mostly for love and sexual interests. In the film, Dietrichson, the husband to Phyllis, objectifies her sexually both in her position as a wife and in comparison with other characters in the film. Dietrichson marries her, not because of the person that she is, but because of her beauty. He has little respect to her as a person and does not care to provide for her when he dies. He says that all his wealth belongs to his daughter Lola because she is his blood, but does not give a damn about Phyllis. He, thus, insures his life in Lola’s name, so that in the event of his death she will get everything while Phyllis will get nothing.
Men are protagonists as portrayed in film noir; they are obsessive, abusive and cynical. They have little regard for women and consider them as objects to be shown around. Dietrichson describes Phyllis as more desirable than his old ill wife. He feels that she serves as a pleasant replacement. However, he does not elevate Phyllis to the level of divinity she deserves. He says she is still an object he desires to possess, control and have power over. It is not surprising to note that he is not the only male character to view her as an object. The narrator, Walter Neff, verbalizes how the males should perceive Phyllis. His eyes are drawn to her tempting anklet, tight fitting clothes and her curvaceous figure. The camera trails his lustful stare. Walter gets attracted to her, not because of her compassion or admiration but out of lust.
Phyllis is aware of the power of using what she has to get what she wants. Though she accepts limitations of the society that all the power rests in the hands of men, she knows she has her weapon to work against men’s power. She objectifies herself in the way she dresses to reveal her body shape, she uses jewels to accentuate the legs and even how she moves. She turned herself into a man’s fantasy so that the lustful, powerful men can give her whatever she wants. This helps her to get Neff into her trap of killing her husband to get the accident policy rewards.
Like many film noir movies, Double Indemnity has fatal ending. Neff and Phyllis succeed in killing her husband, but the investigator, Keyes, is not convinced that the death was an accident. From his investigations he concludes that Phyllis with an unknown accomplice killed her husband. He, however, does not suspect Neff because he is a colleague and a close friend of him. In an attempt to save himself, Neff kills Phyllis after finding out that she was dating her stepdaughter’s man behind his back. Neff sustains serious injuries when Phyllis was shooting him before he has pulled the gun away and killed her with the same gun.
The lighting of the film was dark, gloomy, the room with rotten interiors coupled with dirty seats. This was to help the audience to have a feeling of the lurking beneath the facade and try to figure out who was capable of committing murder.
In the 1940s, film noir movies came into existence at a time when women were under the spell of men who had all the power in their hands. Men viewed women not as human beings but as sex objects and part of their possessions to be shown around. This pushed women into developing survival tactics as portrayed in the movie. Women were taking advantage of their looks and appearances to get what they wanted from men. However, this has fatal consequences when men feel used by women. The consequences of these actions are usually fatal, resulting to death of not just men, but women as well.