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The flaw in Double Indemnity


slaytonf
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Is it so bad is ruins the movie?  Perhaps not.  I guess Mr. Chandler could have worked it around another way.  Small as it is, it nags me, and serves as a distraction in an otherwise excellent movie.

 

Oh the flaw?  Walter Neff's apartment door opens outward.  Exterior doors on houses and entry doors to apartments always open in.  That puts the hinges on the inside.  A door opening outward will have its hinge pins vulnerable to removal, and thus the door.  All the other entry doors in the movie open inward, including the ones in Neff's office itself.

 

Neff's door plays an important, but not so critical a role, when Phyllis comes to visit him while Keyes is in his apartment.  She stands behind the door and pulls on it to let him know she's there.  Obviously, if the door opened in as normal, that couldn't happen.

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When I read the title of this thread my first thought was "must be that damn wig Barbara is wearing" :D  Anyway, I believe this subject of the door has come up before, a minor detail but one worth pondering. Maybe there could have been a nearby broom closet that she could have ducked into, keeping the door open just a crack so she could see and hear Fred and Eddie conversing?  If Barbara had gotten there first she could have hidden behind the sofa when Eddie came along?  Actually Barbara is so petite/short , and Fred Mac is so big/tall, she could have just stood directly behind Fred.  Eddie G. wouldn't have been able to see her.  Speaking of apartment doors and entrances, how about that step down right at the door in Jimmy Stewart's apartment in REAR WINDOW? Of course that serves a purpose in keeping the wheelchair bound Stewart trapped  in his own apartment.   These people should be more careful when they find these places to live.   

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When I read the title of this thread my first thought was "must be that damn wig Barbara is wearing" :D  Anyway, I believe this subject of the door has come up before, a minor detail but one worth pondering. Maybe there could have been a nearby broom closet that she could have ducked into, keeping the door open just a crack so she could see and hear Fred and Eddie conversing?  If Barbara had gotten there first she could have hidden behind the sofa when Eddie came along?  Actually Barbara is so petite/short , and Fred Mac is so big/tall, she could have just stood directly behind Fred.  Eddie G. wouldn't have been able to see her.   

 

That's kind of a great idea, but maybe a little too BRINGING UP BABY for the tone of INDEMNITY.

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double-indemnity-outward-opening1-630x21

 

Somebody forgot to take off their wedding ring during the filming of the movie too.

 

I seem to recall reading that Fred MacMurray always wore his wedding ring in his roles (unless ordered to take it off by a particularly dictatorial director.)

 

He was apparently a real family man who rebuffed the advances of some of his female costars (I recall a Marlene Dietrich anecdote.)

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Although I've seen Double Indemnity several times, last night was the first time I'd watched it for a number of years.

I'd forgotten just how good it is. And I "got" more out of it this time than on my previous viewings. I did notice the apartment door thing, but it's not something that got in the way for me in terms of "going along" with the story.

 

Something I did think about for the first time, though: Neff is narrating his whole story to Keyes (via that delightfully old-school technology, the dicta-phone.) He doesn't have much time, and he's failing fast.

 

Maybe that's why he never talks about the actual murder of poor Mr. Dietrichson. Cranky old coot that he was, he absolutely didn't deserve to have his neck broken and his body tossed on a railway track. I notice that the murder scene is not actually included in Neff's narration. Of course it isn't - nobody wants to hear a description of a murder.

The scene is extremely effective - filmed in absolute silence. As Jennifer Jason Leigh notes in one of those star tribute shorts, the look in Phyllis /Stanwyck's eyes as the deed is being done is chilling.

 

So what the hell am I getting at, anyway? I'm getting at this: I've seen a lot of film noirs, and many, many of them include murder, sometimes multiple murders, in the story. However, if you think about it, it's not often that the protagonist actually commits a murder himself, or if he does, it's during some kind of fight, or gun battle. Rarely so coldy pre-meditated as Walter Neff's. 

Neff does not seem to experience any existential angst or remorse about his killing. Any regret he experiences is all about worrying about getting caught.

 

I realize that if he did, it would be a different kind of movie, and not for the better. Part of what makes Double Indemnity so good is its pace, and its economy of storytelling. There's no room, either in narrative nor mood, for a pause to consider the enormity of taking another human being's life.  Such ruminations would have spoiled the film, which is one of the greatest noirs ever made.

 

Still, I did think it was interesting, when I thought about all the noirs I've seen, how few of them actually have the main character, flawed as they always are, commit such a cold, premeditated murder.

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Although I've seen Double Indemnity several times, last night was the first time I'd watched it for a number of years.

I'd forgotten just how good it is. And I "got" more out of it this time than on my previous viewings. I did notice the apartment door thing, but it's not something that got in the way for me in terms of "going along" with the story.

 

Something I did think about for the first time, though: Neff is narrating his whole story to Keyes (via that delightfully old-school technology, the dicta-phone.) He doesn't have much time, and he's failing fast.

 

Maybe that's why he never talks about the actual murder of poor Mr. Dietrichson. Cranky old coot that he was, he absolutely didn't deserve to have his neck broken and his body tossed on a railway track. I notice that the murder scene is not actually included in Neff's narration. Of course it isn't - nobody wants to hear a description of a murder.

The scene is extremely effective - filmed in absolute silence. As Jennifer Jason Leigh notes in one of those star tribute shorts, the look in Phyllis /Stanwyck's eyes as the deed is being done is chilling.

 

So what the hell am I getting at, anyway? I'm getting at this: I've seen a lot of film noirs, and many, many of them include murder, sometimes multiple murders, in the story. However, if you think about it, it's not often that the protagonist actually commits a murder himself, or if he does, it's during some kind of fight, or gun battle. Rarely so coldy pre-meditated as Walter Neff's. 

Neff does not seem to experience any existential angst or remorse about his killing. Any regret he experiences is all about worrying about getting caught.

 

I realize that if he did, it would be a different kind of movie, and not for the better. Part of what makes Double Indemnity so good is its pace, and its economy of storytelling. There's no room, either in narrative nor mood, for a pause to consider the enormity of taking another human being's life.  Such ruminations would have spoiled the film, which is one of the greatest noirs ever made.

 

Still, I did think it was interesting, when I thought about all the noirs I've seen, how few of them actually have the main character, flawed as they always are, commit such a cold, premeditated murder.

Doesn't the term "protagonist" normally apply to a good guy  in the lead? EGR is the good guy, but he's not the lead. ..I'm baffled that the guy on the train doesn't recognize Neff when he's brought in.

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Doesn't the term "protagonist" normally apply to a good guy  in the lead? EGR is the good guy, but he's not the lead. ..I'm baffled that the guy on the train doesn't recognize Neff when he's brought in.

 

No. "Protagonist" doesn't necessarily mean "good guy".  It just means the main character in a story. This is why I consciously use the word "protagonist" rather than "hero" when talking about the lead characters in film noir.

 

Random definition from the internet:

 

pro·tag·o·nist
prōˈtaɡənəst,prəˈtaɡənəst/
noun
 
  1. the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.
     
     
    __________________________________________________________________________________________-
     
     
    Notice it doesn't say anything about this leading character's character (as to "good" or "bad".)
     
    Besides, we all know that most noir characters are neither; they're like real life people: a mix of both. What makes them interesting is how the "bad" will often win out over the "good" in them, albeit often only temporarily.
     
    As for the train witness, he never saw Neff's face. And anyway, he did realize he'd met Neff somewhere before, he just couldn't identify where.
     
     
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No. "Protagonist" doesn't necessarily mean "good guy".  It just means the main character in a story. This is why I consciously use the word "protagonist" rather than "hero" when talking about the lead characters in film noir.

 

Random definition from the internet:

 

pro·tag·o·nist
prōˈtaɡənəst,prəˈtaɡənəst/
noun
 
  1. the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.
     
     
    __________________________________________________________________________________________-
     
     
    Notice it doesn't say anything about this leading character's character (as to "good" or "bad".)
     
    Besides, we all know that most noir characters are neither; they're like real life people: a mix of both. What makes them interesting is how the "bad" will often win out over the "good" in them, albeit often only temporarily.
     
    As for the train witness, he never saw Neff's face. And anyway, he did realize he'd met Neff somewhere before, he just couldn't identify where.
     
     

 

I was incorrectly thinking that protagonist and antagonist are necessarily opposites.

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I was incorrectly thinking that protagonist and antagonist are necessarily opposites.

 

Not incorrect at all. They are opposites. But the question of "good" and "bad" doesn't necessarily enter into a discussion of either.

Here's another definition:

 

An antagonist is a character, group of characters, institution, or concept that stands in or represents opposition against which the protagonist(s) must contend. In other words, an antagonist is a person or a group of people who opposes a protagonist.

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Not incorrect at all. They are opposites. But the question of "good" and "bad" doesn't necessarily enter into a discussion of either.

Here's another definition:

 

An antagonist is a character, group of characters, institution, or concept that stands in or represents opposition against which the protagonist(s) must contend. In other words, an antagonist is a person or a group of people who opposes a protagonist.

Then if the protagonist is a bad guy,  the antagonist could be a good guy.

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I'm curious if there were any troubles with the Production Code. I've read it took years to get them to greenlight a film version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, which has a very similar plot. But this movie came out first, presumably clearing the way for the other film. I am hard-pressed to think of another movie of the era that so meticulously follows the plotting and execution of a murder followed by an equally meticulous examination of the process of concealing one's guilt. It's one-of-a-kind, for sure.

 

Never thought about the door snafu before. Guess if I've watched this movie 15 times or more and never noticed it, it's not going to suddenly ruin it for me. As other posters have said, there are other ways Phyllis could have avoided detection, or fast-talker that she was, she probably could have improvised some explanation for seeking out Neff that would have satisfied Keyes.

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I'm curious if there were any troubles with the Production Code. I've read it took years to get them to greenlight a film version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, which has a very similar plot. But this movie came out first, presumably clearing the way for the other film. I am hard-pressed to think of another movie of the era that so meticulously follows the plotting and execution of a murder followed by an equally meticulous examination of the process of concealing one's guilt. It's one-of-a-kind, for sure.

 

Never thought about the door snafu before. Guess if I've watched this movie 15 times or more and never noticed it, it's not going to suddenly ruin it for me. As other posters have said, there are other ways Phyllis could have avoided detection, or fast-talker that she was, she probably could have improvised some explanation for seeking out Neff that would have satisfied Keyes.

Flawless film. Some have complaihed that the acting by other than the 3 leads is mediocre.

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Flawless film. Some have complaihed that the acting by other than the 3 leads is mediocre.

You mean INDEMNITY or POSTMAN?

 

I have to say that I disagree with those "some"; as the former has a very good performance by Porter Hall as the doomed husband and the young lady who plays the daughter Lola is also very good, so is the witness on the train and the chump who blew up his own truck.... the guy who plays the daughters boyfriend doesn't make much of an impression on me, but I don't think he was supposed to.

 

As for the latter, it's one of the only films where I've seen Leon Ames and thought "wow, that guy really had something!", Hume Cronyn is also superb, and the guy who plays his lackey is good too.

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. Part of what makes Double Indemnity so good is its pace, and its economy of storytelling. There's no room, either in narrative nor mood, for a pause to consider the enormity of taking another human being's life.  Such ruminations would have spoiled the film, which is one of the greatest noirs ever made.

 

It's my guess you can thank Raymond Chandler for that.  Though in his books, murder is presented as a great moral offense.  Many times Philip Marlowe feels actual physical revulsion on encountering a a murder victim.

 

Despite the nondescript look of Neff's apartment bloc,

it was actually designed by an avant-garde architect.

One of his stylistic trademarks were doors that opened

outward.

 

 

The residents, presumably, were meant to live in the hallways.

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The doors in my warehouse open outward, so do doors at stores as far as I know.  Perhaps this is a feature of commercial buildings but are not typical of private residences?  I never considered the direction that the door opened.  Either way, it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the film.  Barbara Stanwyck was visiting Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson shows up, unannounced.  He's hot on MacMurray and Stanwyck's heels and Stanwyck is his #1 suspect.  Seeing MacMurray with Stanwyck would immediately implicate him.  Robinson already had had MacMurray's character checked out.  Since he was careful to establish alibis for his whereabouts, Robinson wrote him off.  They needed to create a place for Stanwyck to hide.  Having her in such close proximity (e.g. literally right on the other side of the door from Robinson) heightens the suspense of the film. One wrong move and Stanwyck and MacMurray will be up a creek. 

 

Re: the Protagonist vs Antagonist.  

 

This is an interesting film in that the three characters could be viewed as either party depending on how you look at the story.  Protagonist and Antagonist is more than just good guy versus bad guy.  In many film noir, the main character (i.e. the protagonist) isn't really a good guy.  The antagonists might be "good" guys (e.g. law enforcement), but since they are trying to prevent the main character's goals, they serve in more of an antagonistic role.  In story-telling, the protagonist drives the action and the antagonist tries to impede the protagonist's progress and maybe even stop it completely.

 

In Double Indemnity, the protagonists are Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  They are the ones who plan the murder and carry it out.  Edward G. Robinson serves as an antagonist because he's trying to catch the people responsible for the murder.  If we looked at the story from the good versus bad aspect, then the characters' roles are reversed.  Robinson is the "good" guy, so he's the protagonist.  MacMurray and Stanwyck are murderers, so they're the "bad" characters and thus the "antagonists."  However, an argument can be made that MacMurray is a good guy who ended up getting in over his head.  Stanwyck duped him into carrying out this murder by making him believe she was in love with him.  MacMurray was a victim of Stanwyck.  SPOILER ALERT!! He even takes on a "hero" aspect when he takes it upon himself to rid himself of Stanwyck, the woman whom he thought he was in love with, the woman who betrayed him.  Now he's murdered two people, but one of them had it coming.  END SPOILER ALERT!

 

As Stanwyck says: "I am rotten to the core."  She is the true villain of the story.  Like someone else mentioned, her "rotten-ness" is never more evident than in the scene when MacMurray murders her husband.  While we don't see the murder, the chilling look in her eyes is all we need to see to know that the deed is done.  Her smirk on her face shows that her plan has succeeded and she convinced someone else to do the dirty work for her. 

 

This ambiguity regarding the characters' roles in the film is one of the reasons why Double Indemnity is such a great film.  I don't know about everyone else, but when I first saw this film, I rooted for MacMurray to get away.  

 

This has nothing to do with protagonist versus antagonist, but one of the things I really love about this film is the relationship between MacMurray and Robinson.  Between their camaraderie and mutual respect for one another and their obvious friendship (as evidenced by MacMurray's match lighting for Robinson's cigars).  MacMurray even confesses to Robinson out of respect for Robinson's position and his friendship, even though it means certain death for his character.  Their friendship and relationship adds another layer to the tension in the story.  The ending scene between MacMurray and Robinson in the vestibule is particularly touching--Robinson lights a match for MacMurray.  

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The doors in my warehouse open outward, so do doors at stores as far as I know.  Perhaps this is a feature of commercial buildings but are not typical of private residences? 

 

 

Yes, as I think about it, doors in warehouses and the like open outward.  In such cases, the hinges would have secure pins, protecting the door from removal.  Commercial establishments tend to vary, but they have doors (the ones that swing, that is) that hinge on pins at the top and bottom of the doors, not mounted on the sides.  As for residences, consider all the homes and apartments you've entered.  Have any ever opened outward?  This also includes the doors in office buildings, hospitals (to rooms), and educational establishments (schools, universities).

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Is it so bad is ruins the movie?  Perhaps not.  I guess Mr. Chandler could have worked it around another way.  Small as it is, it nags me, and serves as a distraction in an otherwise excellent movie.

 

Oh the flaw?  Walter Neff's apartment door opens outward.  Exterior doors on houses and entry doors to apartments always open in. That puts the hinges on the inside.  A door opening outward will have its hinge pins vulnerable to removal, and thus the door.  All the other entry doors in the movie open inward, including the ones in Neff's office itself.

 

Neff's door plays an important, but not so critical a role, when Phyllis comes to visit him while Keyes is in his apartment.  She stands behind the door and pulls on it to let him know she's there.  Obviously, if the door opened in as normal, that couldn't happen.

 

Well, not "ALWAYS", slayton!

 

Ya see, I distinctly remember a Brooklyn apartment building in which a certain Gotham Bus Company driver and his long suffering wife lived and where THEIR entry door opened out into the hallway, anyway!....

 

54e3883f1cf72.image.jpg?resize=760%2C380

 

(...and so, "hardy-har-har"!)

 

;)

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Yes, as I think about it, doors in warehouses and the like open outward.  In such cases, the hinges would have secure pins, protecting the door from removal.  Commercial establishments tend to vary, but they have doors (the ones that swing, that is) that hinge on pins at the top and bottom of the doors, not mounted on the sides.  As for residences, consider all the homes and apartments you've entered.  Have any ever opened outward?  This also includes the doors in office buildings, hospitals (to rooms), and educational establishments (schools, universities).

 

The door to my garage opens out.

 

It's been so long since I've visited anyone in the hospital, gone into an office building or been in school that I cannot even remember. It was never something I considered.  Lol. 

 

EDIT: I just walked into my kitchen to refill my water and I looked over at the door that goes downstairs into my basement.  It opens out.  

Edited by speedracer5
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Well, not "ALWAYS", slayton!

 

Ya see, I distinctly remember a Brooklyn apartment building in which a certain Gotham Bus Company driver and his long suffering wife lived and where THEIR entry door opened out into the hallway, anyway!....

 

54e3883f1cf72.image.jpg?resize=760%2C380

 

(...and so, "hardy-har-har"!)

 

;)

 

 

To the moon, Dargo!  To the moon!

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The door to my garage opens out.

 

It's been so long since I've visited anyone in the hospital, gone into an office building or been in school that I cannot even remember. It was never something I considered.  Lol. 

 

EDIT: I just walked into my kitchen to refill my water and I looked over at the door that goes downstairs into my basement.  It opens out.  

 

 

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I

 

Hamlet

 

 [of the gravedigger]   How absolute the knave is!  We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us.

 

or, to put it in modern lingo:

 

How literal this guy is! We have to speak precisely, or he’ll get the better of us with his wordplay.

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