The noteworthy time in history known as the Film Noir period showcased films such as that of Double Indemnity (Wilder 1944). True to its name the Film Noir movement had films that included having a dark, foreboding vibe about them and also creative cinematography with dark shadowy camera angles and night vision shots. These shots added to the alarm, horror, or ambiguity the director was attempting to convey in that particular scene. Also, Film Noir gave us complicated story lines which are truly a brain teaser locked into a film. The complicated story line goes along with the hardcore detective and femme falate (the female that is guaranteed to cause trouble for the male). A vital piece of the puzzle that is Film Noir is the flashbacks. Also, unhappy endings are sure to please in these two films. These elements are part of the storyline becoming complicated but also add a feeling of nostalgia as well as a whirl wind for our eyes as the film either fades or chops into a flashback something we cannot quite experience in any other form of medium.
Double Indemnity is a classic example of many Film Noir characteristics. Another film I found in my memory bank that accentuates many similar aspects that are essential in a classic Film Noir is the film The Prestige (Christopher Nolan 2007). These two films are found even more similar after closer inspection through a second viewing, some careful notes if necessary but most your eyes and ears for some subtle clues to how a film about an insurance scam love twist including murder can possibly be connected to and related to two feuding (once friends) magicians who want glory, fame, but at what cost? Through brilliant similarities despite plots and time period a world apart these two films beautifully represent Film Noir.
From the beginning we have Los Angeles depicted in the dark of night in our class film: Double Indemnity. Also there is some sinister, foreboding music (diegetic) which takes us to our main character, Mr. Nev who is making a confession into a microphone of some sort adds to the deep shadowy scenes that dance around his face in a most mysterious yet intriguing way (fade to black). The low key lighting is followed throughout the film, for example it is dark outside often in the film and the director utilizes that to his best advantage with tricky but well pulled off camera angles. Similarly, in The Prestige nearly the entire film counts on this mystifying darkness, pitch black at times for a wondrous effect like that in Double Indemnity.
We are immediately captured (after the beginning in which John Cutter, one of the magicians named Angier’s assistant, teaches us what leads up to a Prestige in a magic trick) by the dark scene in the prison where one of the two magicians is being held for killing the other by drowning him in a trick tank by using a real lock instead of the fake one. In fact, besides a few day scenes necessary to show the house, Borden, the other magician, purchases for his wife and to display their happy lives the entire film is captured in either shadowy, foggy, overcast days and murky shops and theaters. Also, during chase scenes or scenes where it fogs out to black before presenting us with more black images, we see why it is called “Film Noir”. The gloom truly brings out the full effect of the anger and desperation of these two magicians. For if the film were bright, cheery and had different camera angles designed for a dissimilar type of film, it would destroy the ambiance of the moment and ruin the style and furthermore point of the film all together. Similarly, if Double Indemnity was to be all joyful and no darkness was to be included, it would not be much of a mystery or that gripping. The Film Noir effect of dark scenes in these two films is an essential do or die factor for both films.
Next, both films deal with complicated story lines a must in Film Noir. Double Indemnity has many characters jumping in and out. It also has so many different things happening like the insurance salesman that tricks the wife into killing her husband but we had other story lines to deal with as well. The end tells us that the Phyllis (the stepmother in help with Walter) killed Lola’s mother and now the father. That is kind of suspicious if you look carefully. Also, the husband before he dies filling out the paper work and the plan to kill him all mixed up with flashbacks (which will be mentioned later on) makes it extremely complicated.
In The Prestige, there is an extremely complicated plot that you do not understand fully until the end. There is the reading of the two magician’s journals by the opposite magician as well as flashbacks of a host of characters, cheating of Borden on his wife with his assistance (the femme falate in the film who tricks Angier and gives Borden all his secrets), death of Borden which we really find out was his identical twin, kidnapping of Borden by Angier, accidental drowning homicide of Angier’s wife by Borden, suicide of Borden’s wife Sarah with the eerie shadows of dark scene, while the life and well being of everyone including Borden’s daughter hangs in the balance. This is where we see some good examples of mise-en-scene, as the set prop and actors of all these complicated scenes like colorful birds in cages or lovely costumes further dress up the film (no pun intended). There are also scientists terrorizing the building of Angier’s masterpiece the transporter man and Angier changing his name because while Borden’s twin hangs for his death he is actually alive. Angier lives as Lord Caldwell until Borden in another creepy scene with a phenomenal dark, spooky camera angle shoots him. (Angier duplicated with the machine and always had one of him die so no one would suspect. Hence the real lock being used to drown the duplicate and Borden was being accused when really he did nothing wrong.) Needless to say both films display extremely complicated plot lines.
Flashbacks are an aspect of Film Noir that both films contain. In Double Indemnity for example, we travel between the pair getting caught for their crime and the present while in The Prestige there is a total of fourteen flashbacks in which we are taken from the magicians reading each other’s diaries to their past going from their friendships to when Angier’s wife dies and they are now bitter rivals who seek to destroy the other. Finally, we are taken to the current goings on where Angier is shot and both men confess their secrets as Angier dies while through some editing we can actually see the dead Angiers that were duplicated and forced to die for the cause lying around in a dark basement.
This brings it to the end with unhappy endings. In both films everybody suffers. In Double Indemnity, Lola loses her mother and father and Walter and Phyllis both get shot (the two that plotted the accident to get the Double Indemnity) leaving no one to enjoy the money which probably will not be paid out now anyway. Similarly, in The Prestige, Borden’s Twin is hung. Also John Cutter (the assistant) leaves the magic world in disgust having helped Angier convict Borden. In the end, Angier in that dark twisty scene gets shot and the camera zooms up slowly building suspense and it is Borden. The only happy detail is that Borden is with his daughter but everything else is destroyed and all that glory they fought for is ruined. The flashbacks however depressing were depicted brilliantly in both films.
The director Christopher Nolan succeeded fully in depicting a stunning Film Noir quite similar in terms of elements of Double Indemnity as well as some of the story line despite one being about magicians and the other insurance fraud both gone horribly wrong. Through dark cinematography, complicated story lines, flashbacks, unhappy endings, and both films having a fantastic femme falate (Phyllis being the one in Double Indemnity) it is incredible how a movement in the 40’s and 50’s comes back so strongly to influence a film in 2007. Both directors should be proud to have created such amazing Film Noir spirited films. Hats off to them in hopes of seeing more Film Noir elements in films to come because face it, it’s brilliant.