Analysis Project #1 – Double Indemnity (1944)

Analysis Project #1 – Shot-by-shot breakdown of a scene

Double Indemnity
(1944) is one of the prime examples of the first films to use the movie concept of film noir. Film noir, literally meaning ‘black film’ in French, is a series of Hollywood films that came out in the 1940’s and 1950’s that all had similar concepts, and visual styles. Some of these include, but are not limited to: use of shadows, extremes of darkness and lightness, the use of a femme fatale character, the use of voiceover. A femme fatale is the leading lady in a film noir film who acts as the seductress and often plays with the head of the leading male protagonist. She is smart, mischievous, and often These films did a great job of providing some sort of commentary regarding the social order and even sometimes the gender roles of American society.
This scene that I am about to analyze is one of the first of the film, which begins at 09:04. And ends at 12:49.


Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) has just introduced himself to the lady of the house that he has entered, Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck). He explained that he is there for a renewal on the insurance of Mr. Dietrichson’s (played by Tom Powers) car.
1st shot: (10 seconds) XLS of Walter Neff walking into the living room. The camera is straight on. We also see the shadows of Venetian blinds on the left hand side. The use of low-key lighting to create shadows is imperative in the style of film noir. There is a voiceover of Neff explaining the ambiance of being in that living room. There is also non diegetic music playing in the background. A fast-paced violin is heard. The camera pans left to follow Walter in the direction he is walking.
2nd shot: (6 seconds) Reverse MS Walter looking at two frames; one of Mr. Dietrichson and one of Dietrichson’s daughter Lola.
3rd shot: (18 seconds) XLS of Walter again. Venetian blinds give off a shadowy presence on the left hand side. The violin music can be heard faintly. Walter’s voice over is still present. Walter walks up in the frame straight-on, and at the center. There is low-key lighting used in the shot that gives off the shadows created by the blinds.
4th shot: (29 seconds) Long take, Medium shot of Phyllis’s feet walking down the stairs. The camera is panning down, following the movement of her feet. The shot then becomes a long shot of Phyllis, all-dressed and ready to speak with Walter. The camera continues panning and following her movement as she approaches Walter. Walter walks into the shot, which now becomes a medium shot. Phyllis leaves the shot and Walter is left in the center of it.
5th shot: (58 seconds) Extremely long take. Long shot of Phyllis walking to the right of the shot and into her chair. Walter sits on the left hand side right across from her. No music is heard in the background. Phyllis gets up and the camera pans right to follow her movement. She paces back and forth, as if pondering on an idea.
6th shot: (3 seconds) Medium reverse shot Walter in the chair. The camera is straight on, and Walter is looking up at Phyllis.
7th shot: (10 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis, again looking as if she is thinking or plotting. Camera pans left as Phyllis moves back to her chair. She sits, and the shot is now shared again with Walter sitting on the left.
8th shot: (6 seconds) Medium shot of Walter. The shadows of the blinds are still present in the background. No music or voiceover can be heard from here on until the end of the scene.
9th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis in her chair.
10th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Walter.
11th shot: (12 seconds) Long shot of Phyllis and Walter sitting in their chairs. The shadows of the blinds take up the entire background of the shot. There is low-key lighting as the forefront looks very dark. Phyllis gets up and walks to the left of the shot. The camera pans to follow. Walter gets up from his chair as well.
12th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis responding to Walter.
13th shot: (5 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Walter responding to Phyllis. There is some playful flirtation that is occurring in this moment.
14th shot: (6 seconds) Medium reverse shot of Phyllis responding to Walter.
15th shot: (21 seconds) Medium shot of both Walter and Phyllis. Walter exits and camera pans left to follow. The shadows of the blinds are seen in the mirror and on the right hand wall. Camera continues following Walter’s movements, which now match with Phyllis, as they both make their way to the door.


This scene exemplifies film noir in a number of ways. The use of shadows in throughout the scene made by the venetian blinds is a prime example of film noir. Walter is placed in the darkness while most of the lightness is coming from the blinds. The film also uses a lot of low key lighting, as in, incorrect and slightly exaggerated lighting, to create a dramatic feel to the scene. The femme fatale character that we see in Barbara Stanwyck’s character is also a sign that this film is in the style of film noir. In the 4th shot, we see the camera panning down Phyllis’ legs and feet, as is to bring forth her sex appeal. The femme fatale is a smart and seductive woman but with ulterior motives. We can tell that Walter is attracted to her. In the scene before this one, he is looking up at Phyllis as she talks to him from the top of the staircase in nothing but a towel. The sexual obsession-type theme and the inclusion of a femme fatale character here is one the most famous characteristics of a film noir. Walter’s voice over is also very popular in film noir. Walter’s voice over provides his thoughts and we, the audience, can identify with what he is feeling. The whole concept of this murder mystery is also a feature of film noir.
The fact that there is a femme fatale shows that there is a definite commentary on the social and gender roles of society. This film, as do other film noirs, sort of empowers women in a way because women in these films play a huge role in the male protagonist’s thoughts and actions. A lot of the time, the women are the cause of the demise and destruction of the male countepart’s life. In film noir, the man is put in uncompromising situations because of his love for the femme fatale. The woman is a master of manipulation, and this is something that challenges the social norms that society is used to. In Walter’s case, he fell under the trap of a woman and, in result, was an accomplice in murdering her husband. The femme fatale is a smart woman; loving and caring on the outside, but has a manipulative quality about her that the male only detects at the end of the film. However, film noir breaks the rules of social norms. The female that is unintelligent and sensitive in society is now the woman who can be independent and manipulative at the same time.

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