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Double Indemnity: A Tale Of One City

2449 words - 10 pages

Adapted from the novella written by James M. Cain, Double Indemnity is a melodramatic film noir that highlights the conflict its characters face through adultery and murder which develops from the dissatisfaction and alienation that arose in the era of modernity as shown in most noir films. Unlike most noir films, Double Indemnity set the bar in terms of structural themes to follow and elements that eventually came to be considered essential in the noir genre. The film was seen to be a full embodiment of what the genre should be. Double Indemnity is an archetypal noir film, which portrays noir elements through its style, the characters, its writers’ backstory and the history of Los Angeles, the city in which it is set. This essay will examine how Los Angeles is integrated not only into the location but also into the storyline of the characters and their motivations but also the filmmakers’ lives. It does this through characteristic noir motifs like “the urban cultural landscape, the lack of rootedness of the characters, and the self-deceptions that center their world” (p. 437) affect the protagonists in the film. Double Indemnity’s use of Los Angeles as its primary location exposes the innate decadence and decay of the city through film noir stylistic elements. Billy Wilder directed Double Indemnity and the film became the archetypal noir film because it embodied all the characteristics of a typical noir film, which include “claustrophobia, paranoia, despair and nihilism” (Place and Peterson, p. 327) course kit source. Los Angeles, the city used primarily as the location in the film becomes not merely a backdrop but a character in the film through its physical and implied characteristics. The context through the stories of Wilder the director, Chandler the scriptwriter and Cain the author of the novella all have experiences with Los Angeles that are relevant in the making of the film.
Silver and Ursini (2005), the ideology behind Hollywood really began to take shape in “1912 when independent filmmakers like Carl Laemmle, Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille et al, decided to escape the legal stranglehold of the Motion Picture Patents Company.” This group of filmmakers went on to create studios like Universal and Paramount in what is known today as Hollywood. With this development, Hollywood grew into a symbol associated with glamour and finding dreams. Even as Los Angeles fell on hard time in the forties, the dream still lived on. As Davis explains in his text, The Noirs, the large bust in the real estate and oil industry created a “vicious circle of crisis and bankruptcy for the mass retired farmers” (p.105). At the time Double Indemnity was made this was general circumstance the people of California faced. The film was originally adapted from a novella written by James M. Cain “inspired by the real life Synder-Gray case of 1927” (Silver and Ursini, 2005, p.18) which Billy Wilder the director and Raymond Chandler adapted. Los Angeles as a city...

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