Film Center

October 12th, 2011

Analysis Project #1: “Shot-by-Shot Breakdown” of Double Indemnity by Steven Rengifo

Posted by Steven Rengifo in Uncategorized
 

(The Youtube video is a just the end of my favorite shots from “Double Indemnity”. Anyways, watch it. Murder\’s Never Perfect Scene – Double Indemnity Movie (1944) – HD)

  • MS, normal height. Claims Manager Barton Keyes is lying down on a small sofa in his office while smoking a cigar. Salesman Walter Neff is standing right in front of him. There is no music in these following shots.

Keyes office is a bit dark because Neff is blocking the sunlight from hitting Keyes relaxed position. He sits up and says a “blunt statement” about himself. “Walter, I’m a very great man” and Neff responds “Yeah?” The back of Neff’s sport coat is covered with the vertical ways of sunlight. The sunlight is being obscured by Neff’s back, but light still hits the wall, exactly where Neff’s shadow is shown. It creatively shot and possibly signifies Neff’s future. It is as if the light go through Neff like if he is a ghost. The rays of sun create a prison-like atmosphere in Keyes office.  Neff certainly knows that Keyes is not a dumb man, especially a person who has been in the insurance business for 26 years. Suddenly Keyes yells that the Dietrichson case is “murder…”

 

  • Cut, CS, Reverse Shot, Slightly looking up towards Walter Neff’s face, as if we are in the point-of-view of Barton Keyes.

Neff’s face expression begins to turn slowly within a couple of seconds. Keyes is clearly a smart man who has probably seen these “accidents” occur every once a while. Every object in this close-up is covered with venetian blind sunrays hitting the cigar filled room.

 

  • Cut, CS. Barton Keyes speaks to Walter Neff and tells him that this “accident” was “smart, tricky, almost perfect, but I think Papa has it all figured out. Figured out and wrapped up in tissue paper with pink ribbons on it.”

Looking carefully at this shot, Keyes isn’t a tall person, but is not afraid to be frank with people. He is short and stalky but this man is not measured by feet or inches, but by character. Sunrays are lighting his face, but his shadow is strong. No light is being pass through his small body unlike Neff’s.

 

  • Cut, CS, Reverse Shot of Walter Neff. His sense of security begins to diminish even further when Barton Keyes says that Mr. Dietrichson wasn’t even on the train when the “accident” occurred.

Neff makes a clear and visible change of expression and by the movement of his hands, it seems he buried his murderous hands even deeper into pleated dress pants.

Keyes shares his assumptions on the "accident" of Mr. Dietrichson

  • Cut. MS, Reverse Shot of Neff and Keyes. Keyes stands up and begins to explain the two possibilities to his murder assumption. Keyes firmly believes that Phyllis Dietrichson and someone else killed Mr. Dietrichson before going onto the train. Walter replies by as if he doesn’t know what Keyes is talking about.

His hands need a firmer grip and took his left hand out and started to grab the wooden chair firmly.

 

  • Cut, CS on Keyes and shirt is strikingly brighter in the room. It is as if Keyes is the only ray of light in this dark story.

He is fascinated about discovering who killed Mr. Dietrichson, and has no clue that the murderer is right in front of his face. Keyes white dress shirt is beaming like a neon sign. There are no venetian blind sunrays hitting Keyes because his character destroys the dark energy that is surrounding him.

 

  • Cut, CS of both Neff and Keyes staring at each other.

Noticeably, the light is still projected onto Neff’s body.

Eye Witness: Mr. Jackson

  • Cut, MS, Reverse Shot. Neff looks rather impressed at Keyes because he eventually analyzed his “murder assumption” so close to the truth, but it was missing one thing, which was that “somebody else”? Keyes actually brought the only witness who saw Mr. Dietrichson for the very last time. Mr. Jackson from Oregon comes in and Neff turns his back towards Mr. Jackson.
  • Cut, Long Take, MS of Keyes on the right, and Neff in the center and Jackson on the left. Two innocent people are speaking to each other while the murderer; Neff is right in the middle of the frame, observing the other two men in the room. Neff face expression turns dramatically. Mr. Jackson sits down and Neff continues to avoid eye contact with the eyewitness. Jackson claims that Mr. Dietrichson was never on the train, it was an imposter, posing as him. Neff becomes increasingly worried with Mr. Jackson statement and knows he is pretty sure of what he said. Jackson then sits down in front of Neff, while Neff staring at the back of Jackson’s head. He doesn’t know what to do but play with his match. He’s afraid to join the other two who are smoking their cigars.
  • Cut, MS of Keyes learns more about what Jackson saw and will gladly come back to Los Angeles if a trial needs to take place.  Jackson does a small glance towards Neff, and quickly moves to the other side of the room to avoid eye contact. Eventually Jackson grabs Neff by the arm and ponders whether he has ever seen him before. Neff plays it cool and doesn’t freak out, but understands that he is in deep trouble. Mr. Jackson is then escorted out of Keyes office.

Barton Keyes and Walter Neff

  • Cut, MS of Keyes talking to Neff. He ends the scene with “They are stuck with each other and they’ve got to ride all the way to the end of the line. And it’s a one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery”. The camera cut to a CS of Neff lighting the match he was playing with the whole time when Mr. Jackson was in Keyes office.

A word that is repeated a lot is “line” and “straight down the line” throughout the movie. Barbara Stanwyck’s character repeatedly says it also but quite frankly it’s hard to decipher the significance of the word in the film. If anybody can comment, that will help. Hope you enjoy.

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