A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1944 – Double Indemnity

I was a little torn about this, but it’s Double Indemnity, and just saying that makes sense, so we’re good.

If I’m going by what the film that best represents 1944 culturally is… actually, it’s still kind of close. I was thinking about Since You Went Away here, since, in 1944, that was actually the choice, and the film that best represented that year. I’m actually going kind of light on war year films here, but I guess that’s what next time is for. Technically the biggest film of the year was Going My Way, which is just bizarre.

But, honestly, in terms of film history, Double Indemnity is really the total package. Noir and the history of noir is right in line with 1944, and, while this might not be the film that best represents 1944 from a 1944 perspective, in 2014, this film definitely represents 1944 from a film history perspective.

Plus it’s just awesome.

So noir as a genre really didn’t exist until the 40s. Because it’s more of a style than anything. It didn’t really become noir as we know it until Double Indemnity. Most of the pre-noirs were mysteries and thrillers. The Maltese Falcon, for example. Many people call that the “first” noir. It’s not. (If anything, M can be considered the first noir, if you really want to go into it.) It’s a forerunner to noir. That’s more of a noir in tone and not style. Double Indemnity is really the first film (the first major film) to have that total package. Maltese Falcon is close, and I get why we can call it that, but to me, it’s more Double Indemnity. Since that’s the one that really showcases the style and the lighting and the overall mood, whereas Maltese Falcon is more, as I said, the father of noir. Combine The Maltese Falcon and the aesthetics of Citizen Kane, and you have noir.

The aesthetics, as we all know, are rooted in German Expressionism, and the tone is rooted in the cynicism of pulp dime store novels. Or detective fiction like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. And also the earlier gangster pictures of the 30s. How fatalistic they are.

Anyway, however you want to argue where it started and when, Double Indemnity is still a landmark noir. So as long as we agree on that, what are we talking about? The thing this movie brought to noir was the femme fatale. Barbara Stanwyck is the classic example of the noir femme fatale.

Now, the thing that makes this film representative of 1944 (even if it’s a little early), aside from being iconic and all that… first, and obviously, this is when noir took off as a genre. And more specifically, it’s because noir as a genre represented the cultural attitudes at the time. People really started to become jaded, and stop believing in the lofty ideals and myths that were perpetuated by the government and Hollywood. This ideal family life and happy society. People were coming home from war and just became miserable. They felt alienated from the culture. All the ideals they were told were shattered by the war. So they became pessimistic. And the noir genre helped let that pessimism out. That’s why the genre was so popular during this time, and for the next fifteen years. It was all that pent up frustration and anger about society getting out.

The real great thing about noirs is that they’d always play in front of the A-picture at all the movie houses. You’d go to the movies, and in the double feature, you’d get the noir, and see the dark side of society and how society feels, and then you’d get what Hollywood wants you to think society is like. It’s just a perfect image for someone as interested in film history as I am.

So, that’s why Double Indemnity is a film that, to me, can represent 1944 as a year.

Oh, and did I mention – it’s fucking Double Indemnity.

One response

  1. Great movie but I still think Sunset Boulevard was Billy Wilder’s best!

    September 20, 2014 at 11:34 am

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