Oct 17

         Double Indemnity (1944):

                Shot  1. Long shot, higher view off the balcony looking down at the character and her actions.  Non-diegetic music.

                Shot  2. Medium shot, the camera starts to level off rather than being higher up looking down like before.  Phyllis leaves the foyer            and walks into the living room.

                Shot  3.  Close up,  Phyllis finishes shutting off all the lights. Then a strong close up on the cloth in her hand.  She un ravels It and puts a gun under the couch.  Still Non-diegetic music.

                Shot  4. Close up on Phyllis’s face lighting a cigarette and she stops for a second to hear the car door shut knowing its Walter.  She then continues with her actions.

                Shot  5.  Medium shot, camera zooms out as Phyllis sits in a chair and Walter enters.   The  pattern use of shadows is in this shot.  As Walter enters, a complete silhouette of  his body appears on the wall instead of actually seeing him.  No music at all in this scene

               Shot 6.  Long shot, Walter walks into the living room.  Music starts up again.  He stops in a specific spot and stays “hello baby”.  Here the shadow of the horizontal lines appear on him.  Music strikes up again, the audience thinks its non-diegetic but it becomes diegetic because Walter all of a sudden asks “What’s that music?”… she responds with “Radio up the street”. 

[The scene continues, but my analysis will end here.]

There are many aspects that are involved with pulling apart a scene.  Techniques like editing, framing and camera movement are considered as the most important or the most used.  One of the best techniques used in a scene from “Double Indemnity”, is the use of music.  Music is constantly portrayed in many other parts of the film and truly has a strong effect on the audience.

Many directors use music as a technique, especially in action films.  For example If one watches the 1991 “Robin Hood: Prince of the Thieves” they will understand how the importance of music is shown and heard throughout the movie.  The majestic sound coming from the lower brass instruments and trumpets give off a feeling like no other.  When the movie first starts, one automatically obtains that glorifying feeling when the music plays during the beginning rolling credits.  The score written by Michael Kamen helps the audience understand what’s occurring in the film and to set a specific mood and tone.


Billy Wilders’ directorial decisions on this film were impeccable.  In this scene especially, he used specific techniques to get certain ideas across to the audience.  The music in this scene is a perfect match with the actions taken place. (1:33:40-1:35:11) Before the scene starts, Walter announces “But what I didn’t know is that she had plans of her own”.  Right after, the music starts and Phyllis begins her actions in shot one.  She plans to leave the door unlocked for Walter and shut off all of the lights to make it completely dark.  The deepness of the string instruments including violins and celli set the mood of the scene.  The music is quite slow and eerie giving a suspicious feeling.  In the next shot, the music tends to get a little faster and higher in pitch.  As Phyllis is done with all of her necessary procedures there’s a sudden close up and change in music.  It continues to get faster and higher until it reaches a certain point. This allows the audience to sit on the edge of the seats, not knowing what’s going to happen becoming concerned of the situation.  All of a sudden the gun is shown and the music becomes deep and dark.  The 16th notes on the lower octave of a piano and the celli give a feeling that something bad just occurred. Not only did the music spell out murder, but those exact notes made a connection to the Broadway musical “Oliver!”  When Bill Sykes is about to kill Nancy the same feeling ran through my body, receiving chills from hearing such a terrifying set of notes. (London Bridge – 1:39:38- 1:40:42) As well as the interlude before Mr. Fagan sings “Reviewing the Situation”.   (Mr. Fagan – 1:24:35 – 1:25:07) In all situations, the music tells the viewers to be shocked and think about what is going to happen next, practically falling out of the chair.

The music attracts the audience and assists them on how to feel at that specific moment.  This scene was a perfect example of how the music is extremely significant.  Not only does it help the audience understand what’s going on and to enhance the entertainment, but in particular it interacts with the characters.  What this means is that the music in the scene starts out non-diegetic.  Non-diegetic sound is music or noises that are not heard inside the movie by the characters.  They are either voice over’s, orchestral scores, and mainly for the audience.  A sudden change hits the screen as Walter enters the room.  The sound goes to Diegetic allowing the characters to partake with the background sound.   One would expect him to say something about the situation after being concerned when he enters to make sure none is home.  No, he unexpectedly changes the mood and said “what’s that music”…Phyllis answers with “radio up the street”.  The whole time, the soft, sweet music seemed it was non-diegetic until the characters both responded to it.  This shot is not only significant because it normally does not occur in films, especially ones like this one, but it sends a message to the audience about their true characters.  It almost seems to be that the “fourth wall” has been broken and the actors aren’t focused enough.  Or maybe the director wanted us to think that there was no true acting, and everything was real.  Billy Wilder might have wanted the viewers to think that the scene was true and authentic by adding in the sound change, making the conflict as believable as possible. 



Miklos Rozsa did an outstanding job with composing the original score for “Double Indemnity”.  The music reflects throughout the film and becomes very influential.  The scene above is not the only part that’s ascertainable due to the music. Scenes encompassing the film are supported greatly from the music, because of its strong force.  The main characters, Walter and Phyllis finally execute their plan to kill her husband.  Mr. Dietrichson realizes she’s driving down the wrong street and the cue for dark and heavy music appears.  The music is a clue, enacting like the literary device foreshadowing.  It hints to the viewers that a horrible event is about to take place.  While the music is about to hit its climax, the camera makes a close up to Phyllis’s face.  Wilders decision was pure perfection.  The camera didn’t need to show the action occurring, the close up on her face and the gloomy music explains it all.  (50:30-51:10)  Double Indemnity’s opening credit scene was a clue that the music in the rest of the film will be very influential.  The man walking closer and closer to the camera with the deep brass and timpani in the background foreshadowed the rest of the movie due to the music.  Right there the audience members can feel the mood that the director is trying to set and the music was the best way of doing it.

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9 comments so far

  1. 1 Amy Herzog
    8:19 pm - 11-2-2011

    How is it possible that no one has commented on this fantastic, and very original project! I was thrilled to read the great exchange you had with Jemal– your attention to music here triggered some really productive ideas for us all. Not to mention that film music is one of my personal passions!

    This scene, as you make clear, is really unusual because the composition so clearly supports the flow of the action– we are shocked to discover what we hear is diegetic. Thanks so much for bringing your background in music to us all.

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