“Double Indemnity,” Double the Laughs

Alright Wordpress, we meet again. At the keyboard. In my room. After drinking copious amounts of Theraflu…after watching the 4th episode in a row of Big Bang Theory. And despite it all, I’m going to talk about Double Indemnity as an effective comedy. Oh, yes, I know, I can talk all about the wonderful use of lighting, shadows, composition (etc), but, I don’t know, call me a pioneer -it is Columbus Day after all- but Double Indemnity is, dare I say, funny.


Let’s start with the non-intentional humor. I have seen few film noir films/videos, but the majority of what I have seen, is most often in the form of a parody. So naturally, rather than mentally preparing for a crime-thriller, I was, instead, waiting for the end of a very long Geiko commercial. In the film, the non-intentional humor is often funny because the scenario is either far too ridiculous or dramatic, stemming from the fact that we are watching it 70 years after the fact. For example, all of Mr.  Neff’s narrations were way to dramatic. Personal favorite line: “I had a taste of her iced tea and didn’t want anymore.” Hahaha, I’m sure Shakespeare is rolling in his grave, but I’m loving every second of this. Ultimately, however, by the end of the film, I was more or less acclimated to the film’s “intenseness” and so the unintentionally funnier moments, became less random and more normalized. Eventually, I was actually able to focus on the storyline, rather than just Barbara Stanwyck’s wig.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yl3UMO-TkE

But more than the non-intentional humor, is the film’s effective use of intentional comedy. The foundation for this is entirely different and rather than funny being because of ridiculousness,  it is instead funny because of timing as well as shock value. This, in fact, brings to mind a scene in Black Swan- which I sadly can’t find the clip on youtube-

It’s an hour and a half into the movie and Natalie Portman has done her first dance as the white swan. At this point, as the audience, you are emotionally exhausted, nervous, and mainly just stressed the eff out. Right after she dances, she begins to move to her next waiting spot, further downstage, behind the curtains. As she does so, she walks past a dancer, who plays the evil twin brother, in full costume, and he nonchalantly nods his head and says ‘hey.’ This one word sent the entire audience into an uproar. And why? We were all so on edge, that this seemingly inappropriate line was timed at the most appropriate moment, because we weren’t expecting it and it allowed the audience to laugh, relax and expel some tension.

Now, while Black Swan and Double Indemnity are obviously two different movies, their comedic techniques stem from the same funny bone, if you will. The comedy, in both, provide light transitions to the more serious, nail biting parts of the plot. So rather than being stressed for the entire 110 minutes, the movies scatter moments of comedy in the appropriate places, in order to provide the audience with a much needed “breather.” So, for example, when Neff tries to get to the elevator, the music swells and he drops to the floor. Neff then breaks the tension by saying, “I guess someone moved the elevator a couple miles away.” Boom. Cue laugh. And why is it so funny? Because not only weren’t we expecting it, but also because our minds are that much more vulnerable and desperately wanting to get a break from the stress of the movie. So even though things aren’t going to work out for Neff, we are much less anxious now, because we ended on a laugh as opposed to sitting in a pool of our sweat and nerves.

So what have we learned today, WordPress? Make a movie that’s funny, which means make it also a psychological thriller, but also film it in black and white, and the main stars should either Natalie Portman or Barbara Stanwyck or both. I can smell the Oscar already. Bazinga.

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4 thoughts on ““Double Indemnity,” Double the Laughs

  1. Great analysis. I always wondered if these movies were unintentionally funny. Hitchcock movies are also notorious for this. I find it sometimes to take certain scenes serious what something unintentionally happens. But then again, maybe thats they way the audiences perceived life back then. As for Black Swan, do you think that the audiences thirty years from now will see this movie the same way we do today? I’m trying to imagine how intense going to the movies will be in the future. Superultraamericanrealism. I’m going to patent that phrase now.

  2. It’s Kristina. I love your posts, they never fail to keep me entertained. But I just read the post of Citizen Kane and I have a confession…I also had never seen it before we watched it in class. As for whether its the best movie in the world ever, yada yada, I don’t know. It may have to do with the fact that I spent two hours in the media center in the library (which took me 15 minutes to find) watching the movie without sound because all the headphones were broken. And then after I’d done my whole analysis and saw it with sound I realized I’d misinterpreted most of the gestures and had to fix the entire thing. That aside, I think it was a decent movie. I’ve never seen the Care Bear movie though, so I guess I’ll have to save my opinion

  3. In one of my post I wrote about one of the intentionally funny scenes where Jean let’s Charlie know that he isn’t the first man she’s ever been with. This is a breather and is even more intensified and even more funny because everytime she mentions a knew guy it cuts to the sound of the train getting louder and louder. And although this movie is mostly serious, the funny parts as you called ‘breathers’ are the best because it allows the actors to break character a little bit and be funny and just have fun with each other. I also think that Charlie’s character is so funny because of how timid he is. He’s such a gentleman and puts up with Jean, even when she says and does some ridiculous things to him.

  4. Speaking of non-intentional humor, that Supermarket scene always makes me laugh and I know I’m not supposed to think its funny. I mean, could they be any more suspect?! Who the hell stands so close to someone they’re not supposed to know for so long without looking at any of the food or moving away lol?!?!?!?! I also found it funny the way he called her “baby” every 3 sentences, but like you said, 70 years ago that’s probably the way bored, lusty, hard-drinking insurance salesmen spoke. I thought that scene in Black Swan was one of the better ones and I also remember the theater thinking the same, but I don’t really like that movie, but that’s another story lol. Good post.

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