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Before Brokeback: Homosexual Undertones In Double Indemnity And Classic Film Noir

1044 words - 4 pages

Context: The "film noir" as we know it is a world of hard-boiled crime drama with conventions that are, for a genre itself outside convention, rather consistent, especially in the realm of its major players: the sleazy smooth-talking criminal and the femme fatale. The ever-present sexual dynamic between these two provides the basis for much of the criminal action and, therefore, the ultimate ignominious downfall of the man (and the woman herself might get dragged down in the scheme as well). Often, manipulative ulterior motives (often resulting in a double-cross being double-crossed) and legitimate sexual attraction are at the very least ambiguously intertwined and at the most, inseparable. Billy Wilder's 1944 film Double Indemnity, the flagship of the noir genre, embodies this perverse psychosexual formula to an extreme. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), the insurance salesman-gone-wild whose ethical shortcomings purposely defy PCA Moral Code (a drastic step that was a major component of this burgeoning genre), meets Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), the blonde bombshell wife of a Pacific All-Risk policyholder and a conniving sex machine who can ultimately bend Walter to her desire. From the beginning, their relationship is founded on both malice and strong sexual attraction, at least on the part of Walter, and the complexities continue until the "kiss kiss bang bang" finish.What is to become, then, of interpersonal relationships in film noir? The answer lies within a sphere whose importance is easily overlooked in much of cinematic history: certainly as much as the male-female sexual paradigm is pointedly scrutinized, the relationship between two males, alluded to in James Naremore's "Modernism and Blood Melodrama," is defended as the last bastion of humanity. In Double Indemnity, Walter Neff, the embattled antihero and Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), his conscientious boss share what historians and queer theorists alike would call a homosocial romantic friendship, defined as a non-sexual friendship with romantic overtones between two people of the same gender. The intense and honest connection both legitimizes Keyes' role as an upright citizen and emphasizes the schism between Keyes' good and Phyllis' evil. This is less a film which tells about that archetypal battle, and more a film that discusses how evil won.However, in order to discover the depths of human sincerity in a film which is otherwise bereft of emotion, we should examine the losing side. A sequence analysis of the last scene, between Walter and Keyes, will help to shed some light on another level of psychosexuality in Double Indemnity.Analysis: The scene in question begins when Walter realizes that his taped confessional is actually being performed live. This gives added dimension to the scene; a startling surprise for Walter, who has been caught in the act not just of admitting guilt, but as Naremore claims (and I agree), professing love. Keyes closes the door, framing the...

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