September 20, 2006

Straight Down the Line

Yeah, I've been busy at work, so there's been no blogging. Sorry. Here's a little post about a film that does for noir what Will Eisner's Spirit did for comics - create some rules and guidelines, and created a moody, dark atmosphere, but best of all - it did it well, and nobody has even come close. Nobody.

Double Indemnity is a film with so many levels of cool, it's hard to know where to begin. It was Billy Wilder's third film, and contains much of the cynical, hard edged humor that would be found in later films like Stalag 13 and Sunset Boulevard. It was co-written by Raymond Chandler, who wrote the kind of snappy, sparkling dialogue that very few can imitate, much less duplicate, and gave the script an extra shine.

But what's especially remarkable about this film - that many noir films have often missed - is that it involves two amoral characters. Sure, we have Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who wishes to get rid of her husband, looking as stylish and evil as someone can be...but Fred McMurray shines as an amoral insurance salesman who essentially goes for the money and the woman...and gets neither in the end.

That's right - Fred MacMurray plays a villian. A guy whose career started with light comedy...and ended with My Three Sons. Why he never went further with this part of his career is a mystery...of course, he had reservations about the film. Stanwyck did as well. But MacMurray plays a guy who doesn't quite struggle with his conscience (as many noir heroes tend to do) when it comes to getting involved with Stanwyck's character...and Stanwyck's character isn't a one-note femme fatale; it took a second viewing for me to see a critical plot twist. But the show stealer has to be...Edward G. Robinson. Playing an insurance investigator with a "little man" urging him on, he's not a hotshot cop out for vengeance, nor a Columbo-ish investigator...just a guy trying to put two and two together, who knows his job, and who just wants things to fit.

And yes, believe it or not, there was a lame made-for-television remake in the 1970s - it's disc two of this set. Something Old, Nothing New (a blog you should be reading) invites you to compare for yourself.

Still to come on this blog: the "Burn THIS, Pal!" CD Director's commentary; a love letter to Mitchell Hundred; Doom Patrol goodness; September's Record You Should Own; and more cheap cracks about fellow bloggers. Enjoy!

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