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I Found It At the Movies: 1944—Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)

I Found It At the Movies: 1944—Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)

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Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1944: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)

What don’t I like about this film? It’s one where everything seems to be in exactly the right place for me. If I were making a film noir and putting together a checklist of some of the elements usually associated with this type of film, here’s how I would break down Double Indemnity:

Femme fatale: Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, perhaps my favorite femme fatale in the history of film.

Voiceover narration: Like a few of my other favorite voiceovers (the voiceover in Shoot the Piano Player being at the very top of the list), Fred MacMurray’s helps tell the story, but even more importantly, it allows us at times to get into the head of our protagonist.

Non-linear script: The movie begins with at end and then tells the entire film in flashback. Along with Carlito’s Way (I’ve read that Wilder’s film was a major influence on De Palma), this is my favorite use of the device in the history of film.

Moody score: Miklos Rozsa immediately thrusts us into this dark world and then periodically reminds us of the inevitable with one of my favorite scores in the history of film noir.

Fatalistic ending (Spoiler!): The story, so well-written by the way, takes us where we don’t want to go but know we can’t avoid. This movie accomplishes the task as well as any I’ve ever seen in the history of film noir.

What moviemakers can learn: When setting out to make a genre movie, start by looking at the movies that have best handled the different tropes within the genre. That way, you can know the foundation of the genre and evolve it by knowing where it has already been.

Other contenders for 1944: It’s nice to be back on a year where I don’t have quite as many gaps. The one major film from this year I still need to see is Raoul Walsh’s Uncertain Glory. I love Double Indemnity so much that I really can’t say any other film is a close runner-up. However, there are a few other films from this year that I also really like: The zany Preston Sturges films Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Fritz Lang’s wonderful noir The Woman in the Window, George Cukor’s Gaslight (one of my favorite films dealing with marital paranoia), and yet another excellent Howard Hawks entry To Have and Have Not.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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