Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Double Indemnity

Kris Jenson, with whom I've had the best discussions of my life, is an old friend of mine from Boston. We had been talking about the American Film Institute's Top 100 when he got a job at  Dig Boston, writing about just that. Instead of letting the conversation end just because he's a big, fancy writer now, I'm going to write responses to his articles. I can't keep up with his movie watching, so I'm only responding to the ones I've seen.

Good God, do I love this movie. Think back to the first movie in any genre, and none of them hold up like this one. It is totally dated, but it's so solid that the datedness is something you can laugh along with instead of being bogged down by it. Everything about the noir style is so perfectly defined in its first outing that the genre still has plenty to work with. The stuff that feels dated, though, is so funny you almost don't need the half a dozen or so parody movies that have pulled from it.

For starters, every time Fred MacMurray says, "Baby," you can't help but giggle. It rolls off his tongue like the f-word rolls off a Tarantino character. It says a lot when Edward G. Robinson is not the guy who sounds most like a '40s gangster movie character. The way MacMurray delivers those babies is just so disarming, so non-chalant, it would work in any situation. "What are you doing with that gun, baby? Did you just shoot me in the leg, baby? I think I feel a hemorrhage forming, baby." Making it even funnier is that he was the dad on "My Three Sons." I imagine watching MacMurray in this movie made movie-goers feel as strange as people felt when they heard Bob Saget's stand up for the first time.

Speaking of funny feelings, let's talk about Barbara Stanwyck. This movie is entirely predicated on Stanwyck's raw sexiness. She plays a character so engulfed in sex that she convinces a fine, upstanding citizen to commit a very cold and very complex murder. My problem, though, is no matter what my girlfriend says, Barbara Stanwyck looks and talks like a man. Maybe it's a matter of changing tastes, like how Marilyn Monroe looks kind of chubby in a bathing suit, but seriously, Barbara Stanwyck is a man. I'm sure Fred MacMurray was quite pent up when this bored housewife threatens, I mean offers, to bone him, but come on dude, your right hand is much prettier.

And what the hell, Edward G. Robinson is the straight man. Not once does he threaten to or actually shoot someone.

It works, though. Every piece of it works. Even laughing at all the funny, old-timey stuff, I still get sucked in every time. From the stylistic lighting to the insane, tense plot this movie delivers a movie so well crafted, it will be actually become more relevant the more ridiculous it seems. It effortlessly carries you from baby to baby to very slowly bleeding gunshot wound.

If you want a taste of the spoof that gets it right, try "Fatal Instinct" with Armand Assante. So good.


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