03 May 2011
"I couldn't hear the sound of my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man!"
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade with a cigarette and the maltese falcon. . . The image that comes to mind for many when the term Film Noir is mentioned.
A non-toysoldierly post today I'm afraid everyone! Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the first day of May Term, and I'll be teaching my course on classic Film Noir, something to which I always look forward. Lots of reading, viewing of different films, and discussion -- to say nothing of student papers and projects -- over the next few weeks, but it's always interesting and thus a lot of fun.
We kick off with Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) tomorrow at 10am. This particular movie is one of the best examples of the genre/style/school, which typically makes quite an impression with young viewers these days given its emphasis on story, plot, and character development in complete and utter contrast to many of the more contemporary films they know. That is to say it, Double Indemnity, is not chockablock with endless car chases, explosions, fight scenes, and jiggling nude, or semi-nude starlettes who happen to be the flavor of the month in Hollywood and the popular consciousness at the moment.
Another feature that makes Double Indemnity so enjoyable almost 70 years on is the acting of its three stars, Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. This particular film, unlike many others of the genre, was an 'A' release, so it wasn't limited by finances to less than stellar actors or half-built sets that had to be disguised by low lighting and shadows. That and the movie's ending is almost totally bleak, which, to my mind, is THE deciding factor in whether a film is truly 'noir' or just a melodrama that features a few visual trappings of film noir, for instance shadows cast by Ventian blinds onto a wall behind an actor or actress.
Finally, the title of today's post comes from a line uttered by Mr. MacMurray's character, insurance salesman Walter Neff, during his confession into an old dictaphone machine. I won't tell you anymore than that since I don't want to spoil the film for those who have not seen it. But, to say I'm excited about beginning the course is an understatement. If you haven't seen Double Indemnity, buy, rent, or stream it forthwith and buckle in for a wild ride. It will knock your socks off.
Barbara Stanwyck, as Phyllis Dietrichsen, and Fred MacMurray, as Walter Neff, in a scene from Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944).