Static acting with an OK storyline.
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) an insurance representative visits the Dietrichson’s house looking for Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) but finds the wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) instead. Having an instant crush on her, that seemed to be reciprocated, Phyllis and Walter meet a few more times and Walter learns that Phyllis is unhappy in her marriage. Walter then devises a plan to get rid of Mr. Dietrichson so that Phyllis would be able to get insurance coverage for his ‘accidental death’. However his boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) has a keen eye and will not let go of the case. Also a trouble for their plans is Dietrichson’s daughter, Lola (Jean Heather) who has reason to believe Phyllis is capable of murder. Directed by Billy Wilder.
Perhaps I have just watched my share of black and white movies that I can’t really take them anymore. Or maybe the narrative was just that awful. Either way, I found this film pretty shallow to watch, though it was engaging at some parts, it otherwise felt like it was stalling along. (Also, my view probably reflects the generation I’m born in)
I am pretty annoyed by Walter’s narration. The film is narrated by him as he recounts the events of the past few weeks. I think I feel annoyed by his narration because his voice sounds so matter of fact and emotionless that it makes me not want to listen to him. MacMurray’s acting too is quite static, matching well with his voice to produce a static and emotionless character. Stanwyck isn’t much better, but does show that there is a little more depth to her character than is perceived. Robinson and Heather as supporting actors do their part well enough.
The character of Phyllis, being the main female character in the film, can also be perceived as the film being misogynistic. First, she is introduced by objectification of her legs, and becoming the source of romantic interest to Walter. Then, she is depicted as the damsel in distress, needing to be saved from her terrible marriage. Then by the end she is seen as this chaotic, destructive woman. All of which are stereotypes of femininity, with the last seen as a punishment to women who resist the patriarchal order.
The use of camera work and lighting plays a crucial part in the film, and does give the sense of Expressionism. With the dark matter at hand and dark mise-en-scene, it adds to the mood of the theme. However the editing style, to me, makes the film quite hectic and all over the place. It jumps from the present to the past without a strong coherent flow, and that is probably why I lost interest in the film. I imagined the film to be over multiple times until it eventually did end.
However, the script was pretty engaging, with the conversations between Walter and Phyllis pretty entertaining. The flirtations between them are blatantly obvious and the metaphors used are a little cringe-worthy, but which made it fun to laugh at.
PROS: Cinematography, lighting, script
CONS: Acting, misogynist, story, editing
I give this a 6/10.
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