A Comparison Of Two Classic Film Noirs

Essay, Research Paper The two films I chose to compare and contrast are my two favorite films of the course, Double Indemnity, and The Last Seduction. These films prove that although many years have passed, decades in fact, the plots of many film noirs have stayed the same. Through all the similarities however, the transition from film noirs of the 40’s, and modern film noirs is very much prevalent.

Essay, Research Paper

The two films I chose to compare and contrast are my two favorite films of the course, Double Indemnity, and The Last Seduction. These films prove that although many years have passed, decades in fact, the plots of many film noirs have stayed the same. Through all the similarities however, the transition from film noirs of the 40’s, and modern film noirs is very much prevalent. These films involve the most intricate of murder plans in any modern movies I have seen, and though the one in The Last Seductions doesn’t exactly go without problems, it could easily have worked had Mike been up for it. These movies are decades apart, but deal with the exact same issue, double indemnity. It’s actually quite shocking, when I watched both movies back to back, and heard the words “double indemnity” in The Last Seduction.

Double Indemnity begins in classic noir style with a sense of something bad to happen immediately when Neff walks into the office, as the music that defines this genre follows him up to where he makes his confession. Neff ’s confession as the narrative for the entire movie makes it very easy to follow the sequence of events, because it is like someone sitting down to tell you a story. The flashbacks to him sitting there, smoking his cigarette as he knows he has been sucked into doing something he wouldn’t ordinarily do capture the true mood of what’s to come. What he also can’t come to grips with is the fact that all this was over a woman. Both men in the movies, though you only see them after one particular girl, seem to be quite fickle. Walter sees Phyllis at the top of the stares, and almost immediately is at her mercy. The scenes where the men in both movies meet the girls that they think are the women of their dreams, are almost identical. Walter tries to sweet talk Phyllis, but she quickly lets Neff know that she is uninterested, and brings up her husband’s name on which note Neff leaves. Mike first meets “Wendy” in Ray’s Bar after she finds out that Chicago is another 10-12 hours. Mike’s attention immediately turns to Wendy as she rudely orders a drink from the bar, and has some choice words for the owner after he denies her of a drink. After buying her drink for her, that doesn’t turn out to be the spark of the conversation, due to Wendy’s “hands off” personality. So after an attempt to speak to the frigid woman, he reverts to telling her that he’s “hung like a horse”, on which Wendy checks it out for herself, much to Mike’s surprise. One distinct difference in the two men’s adventures in getting their women, is that Mike had it much easier than Neff. After a few short questions from Wendy, Mike finds himself sleeping with her, while Neff is left to contemplate his future with Phyllis.

The four main characters in these movies have their lives turned around in relatively no time at all. Neff is on a regular house call to renew an insurance policy when he suddenly finds a girl that completely changes his personality, and behavior. Mike is sitting in the bar with his friends, talking about how they shouldn’t get involved with Beston women because they are “anchors”, and then he finds himself waking up next to one. Phyllis, who is very unhappy with her marriage, but doesn’t know quite what to do about it, suddenly is making the decision to end her misery, and is leaving it up to what is basically a complete stranger. Finally, after Wendy is ready to spend the night in Beston, and then move on, she finds herself with a man who she thinks she can talk into doing in her husband. The difference in these two movies is the roles of the genders. In Double Indemnity, Neff is the mastermind behind the entire murder, and Phyllis is just along for the ride until she gets her money. After that, she has the option of ditching the man who got her away from her husband, or staying with him. In The Last Seduction, Wendy has all the right moves, and tricks up her sleeve. From sticking the nailed board under the car of her stalker to writing the fake note to Mike from his wife, she pulled all the right strings at all the right times. The irony of all the characters in general, is that the women had much the same objectives, as did the men. The men saw the women, and the women saw the money. Phyllis and Wendy were in the driver’s seat for most of the respective movies. At any time, they could pull out of the operations, and not lose a minute of sleep over it, because they really didn’t care for the men. While all this was going on, the men were falling head over heals for the women. It’s not until the end of the films where the men begin to turn on the women. As Walter fears for his life when it looks as if he will get caught, he tells Phyllis that he doesn’t think they should see or talk to each other until the case ends. Drawing similar parallels, when Mike finds that he is unable to kill Wendy’s husband, and watches Wendy do it, he realizes the insanity of the whole concept of what he is doing, and completely turns on Wendy. Though turning on Wendy turned out to lead to his arrest. It is kind of ironic that had he gone along with what Wendy had done, he may have been able to escape the entire situation.

The difference in the women in each movie is very symbolic of how the role of women changed in noir style. Phyllis comes off, and in a sense is, a fairly innocent woman who was sucked into the idea of marrying a rich man and having that make her happy. She is na ve to the fact that money won’t buy her happiness, and is learning her lesson the hard way, until Neff give her the way out she has been looking for. Though Neff is a smart man and knows that women have a way of luring men into making them do things they wouldn’t normally do, he finally gives in to Phyllis’ charm and seduction. The opening scenes of The Last Seduction clue the audience in to the character of Wendy. As she strolls around the office of salesmen, bossing them around, viewers quickly realize that this is a modern day woman who is not afraid of the opposite sex, and is very dominant. Her character is actually what kept me intrigued throughout the movie, and the fact that Mike was so hung up on her was another issue. Being around her made a previously confident man suddenly be put in his place. Walter Neff was in a position of authority because he knew exactly how the murder was to take place. Neff, however, was even a little back on his heels, because of the way he made every possible effort to take care of Deidrichson, and spend the rest of his life with Phyllis. Of all four main characters, Mike was the one getting raked over the coals the most. He had no desire to have anybody dead, and wasn’t looking for any way to get rich, at least not in the way Wendy had in mind. Mike was an average American working man, looking to make a move to a big city where opportunity at least had a chance to knock once in a while. At times in the movie, Mike had a look in his eyes as if he couldn’t believe that he was actually killing someone in cold blood just to win over the love of a woman.

Outside of the color factor when comparing the two movies, you can tell which one is more modern by the way sex and booze is so heavily emphasized in The Last Seduction. Walter Neff and Phyllis are never shown doing more than kissing, as Mike and Wendy get right down to things on the first night they meet. Wendy never showed any emotion in the sexual scenes because she never wanted Mike to get any idea that she had feelings for him. Although if Mike had known that she did feel some emotion for him, as Phyllis did, he may have been more likely to go along with her plan in the first place.

Modern noir, at least in The Last Seduction tended to shy away from some of the classic noir features. However, at the point where Wendy casually breaks her idea of killing cheating husbands for money to Mike, it is at night, and raining. They sit in the office building, at a computer, Wendy smoking a cigarette, with rain, thunder, and lightning in the background. This sets the stage for what Wendy’s intentions really are, and for the first time, fear is detected in Mike’s eyes. This scene also shows the power Wendy has over Mike. As she tries to get Mike to do it, and he is hesitant, she tells him that after he does it, he can stay at her place. After thinking about it, and asking her what happened to her “personal space”, he immediately does it, thinking that he is taking one step closer in winning her over.

The two movies do differ in one rather large respect. In Double Indemnity, you knew what happened from the beginning as Neff was confessing to what he had done. Granted, you didn’t know how it was done, but you did know that it did actually get done. Double Indemnity focused more on the plot of Neff’s escape from the truth that his intuitive boss was looking for, where as in The Last Seduction, the murder didn’t take place until the very end. The turn of events in both movies was quite different in that respect. The flashbacks to Neff sitting on the phone, sweating as he is telling the story, brings the audience back to the present as Neff recalls what had happened. What made Double Indemnity such a great film was the incredibly well planned out murder of Deidrichson, and the way Walter and Phyllis were sneaking around to communicate the next move. The intrigue in The Last Seduction was the way Wendy was playing Mike for a fool, and not making a single fault in the entire movie. The one time Wendy did look as if she was humane, was when Mike packed his things and moved out, as she told him her plan to have her husband dead though he didn’t know that. She stood in the middle of the street as Mike walked away, and said out loud, “I’m scared”. She returned to her normal manipulative self when she got the private detective to take off his seatbelt, and then his pants, in order to send him through the windshield.

The factor of money is obviously prevalent in both movies, but in very different ways. The one similarity, is that the women are after the money, however, the roles are slightly reversed. Neff, and Wendy basically have the same job, with one large difference. Wendy is doing it for the money, and Neff is doing it to get to Phyllis. The men are so caught up in the women, that they are forgetting that the risks are far outweighing the rewards. Neff was getting a certain percentage of what Phyllis was awarded, but Mike was guaranteed nothing except his belief that he would spend the rest of his life in a big city with Wendy. Another difference in the money issue is the fact that Wendy already had the money in her hands, but needed a way to get her husband out of the picture, so she could do what she wanted with it. Neff and Phyllis were banking on the fact that the murder would go off without difficulty, and the insurance company would buy the story. Neff knew the rewards if his plan went through, $100,000. Wendy was always very vague when telling Mike about the rewards of killing. He knew there was a large sum of money involved, but he was more worried about staying with her.

Double Indemnity has something that The Last Seduction doesn’t, two people that are standing in the way of the ultimate reward. Lola Deidrichson, approached Neff and all but scared Neff into turning himself in. She had information that would ruin the whole plan of the murder. Her telling a courtroom that she believed Phyllis killed her first mother, and was trying on the black veil, would be detrimental to Neff getting away with the murder. Also, Neff was in constant battle with the “little man” inside Keyes, who wouldn’t give up without a fight. These two characters kept the suspense, and really, the entire movie in motion, because at first glance, the death of Deidrichson isn’t very suspicious. However, when there is $100,000 on the line for Keyes’ company, and Lola is coping with the loss of her father, they are prepared to go to great lengths to get at the truth.

The cities that both movies take place in are on complete opposite sides of the country, and are dealt with in much the same way. Double Indemnity takes place in Los Angeles, which is stated at the beginning of the movie, but then doesn’t really get mentioned. New York, the sight of The Last Seduction is a focal point of the entire movie, because Wendy is on the run. The movie, which was made in 1994 portrays a very modern day New York compared to the way it is seen in noirs of the 40’s and 50’s. The drug deal that goes down at the very beginning of the movie is very stereotypical of what the city is like, and that scene also makes light of what is going on when it looks as if he won’t get the money.

Though I merely picked these two films to compare by chance, they turned out to be a classic comparison, with striking similarities in the plots, and many differences in the development of the stories and outcomes. It is truly amazing to see how some of the aspects of film can be so similar, even though they are filmed decades apart. Characters in both of these movies are as good as they come. Wendy’s overpowering character and personality took the movie from good to spectacular. It would be unthinkable to have a 1940’s movie with such a demanding woman who was in such control over herself and others. To watch these wholesome, blue-collar American men let two women ruin their lives is a vicious development to watch. Watching from the comfort of our couches, it’s so easy to see what is happening to them, but all they see is a beautiful woman who appear to be perfect, but are really far from such. Two great movies with equally good endings make them a true highlight for the entire noir genre.