Saturday, July 14, 2007

Double Indemnity: First Viewing

In preparation for my first Film Noir class next week, I will be watching the classic, Double Indemnity (1944). I have already seen this film but it was some months ago and a refresher seemed necessary. Why watch this film again? Why not, I ask? For any of you who are repeat viewers, you will understand that each viewing of a film is its own unique experience. Minute subtleties overlooked on the first pass, reveal themselves during a new viewing. Sometimes even after 100 viewings of a favorite film, I will be surprised to discover something new and the feeling is equivalent to finding a $5 bill you didn't know you had. Plus repeat viewings are a way for us to intertwine an important movie into our lives. To badly paraphrase deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, single moments cannot be grasped, so to experience something one must repeat it; either the experience itself is repeated in the same form or in a similar form or the memory of it plays in one's mind.

Repeat viewings have always fascinated me. There are certain films that I feel lend themselves to that continued experience. As an experiment, I will document my reactions to each viewing of this film and will finish with a final round up of what I learned from my class. These are my impressions on my first viewing. Elapsed time does not help with my memory so I will only draw on what sticks out in my mind the most.

  • Naughty Fred MacMurray - Most of you know him as the detective gone bad in Double Indemnity (1944) or the sleazy, womanizing boss in The Apartment (1960), but my mind's image of Fred MacMurray is quite different. To me, he is the loveable and charismatic actor of so many romantic comedies and dramas from the '30s and '40s. The rich but loving boyfriend of Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (1935), the morally righteous lawyer married to a pathological liar in True Confession (1937), or the poor lovestruck suitor who has to compete with an even more endearing wheel-chair bound Ralph Bellamy in Hands Across the Table (1935). To see him be a little bit bad in this film was confusing yet very exciting.

  • The Wig - It stands out. Even director Billy Wilder thought it was a bit ridiculous. Yet one couldn't envision Barbara Stanwyck in the role of the conniving femme fatale without the curly, blonde wig. It's severe but she's severe. It's over the top, but she's over the top. It just works. And also there is something that happens to a woman when she goes blonde. Like Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953), they go a little bit bad, or in Stanwyck's case a whole lot. However, this is all coming from a brunette who has a serious case of blonde-envy.

  • Secondary Romances - They work. Period. I love them and oftentimes I find them more interesting than the primary romance. In this case, the forbidden love between rich daughter Lola and Nino who is poor and rough around the edges. Very intriguing.

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