Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Doctor and a Bloodhound...and a Cop and a Judge and a Jury and a Father Confessor All In One

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like what makes film noir is so specific, that it makes it hard to find sometime. In our class discussion after watching Double Indemnity, we discussed other movies that could be classified as film noir. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen any of the movies mentioned (though I had heard of a few), which made me doubt my ability to recognize film noir. Therefore, I was hesitant to voice my thoughts on movies that might be considered as such. So, film noir involves dark themes, a femme fatal, an already corrupted lead who becomes even more so. Why then is it so hard for me to recognize? Perhaps I see it, but then question whether it is truly film noir because I don’t believe I have a full grasp on the characteristics it entails. 

I agree with most of our class in that Mr. Keyes is arguably the coolest character in the movie. What attracts me to him was his wittiness, his ability to solve a case before anyone else, and his refusal to slip over to the dark side. Even lighting-wise, Keyes is kept pure; his office is always well lit, and his face never falls under shadow when he speaks, unlike the characters of Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson. He is a smart man, and has this gut feeling (literally) when something about an insurance claim isn’t right. I guess you can’t say Keyes in completely admirable. He deals with money, and his job is to separate the real claims from the phonies to prevent having to give away any more money than absolutely necessary. So, Keyes positive qualities are not built from his desire for justice or to help to common good, but rather to save his business money and earn him a bigger paycheck. But I’ll consider this excusable, especially when FURTHER corrupt people surround his character.

The character of Phyllis Dietrichson especially stands out in this movie, because her character introduces a new direction taken for female leads. Unlike female characters in the movies we have already viewed, who are desperate without a man, needy, weak, and beautiful, Phyllis is both beautiful and dangerous. The defining quality that makes her different is independent. Throughout the movie, as she woos different men and convinces them to do her bidding, she is planning on getting rid of them one way or the other. Ultimately, she plans to end up alone with a ton of money. I’m assuming the film noir era introduced us to the independent, strong-willed, manipulative females leads we have become so familiar with today. Even though I may not fully understand the constant sadness and darkness of film noir, I can thank it for bringing forth a stronger female character, even though during this period their morality is questionable. One step at a time, I guess. One step at a time….


  1. I'm with you, Anna--it can be hard deciding what qualifies as film noir and what doesn't.

    In older movies, it's easier to tell what's film noir and what's not--movies like Sunset Boulevard and Mildred Pierce have the narration, the shadows, the darkness and the femme fatale that are so characteristic of film noir. Nowadays, they're harder to spot.

    Keyes is definitely the most awesome character.

    I really enjoyed reading your post!

  2. Good point. It is still hard to come up with strong female characters that aren't morally ambiguous.