Friday, November 5, 2010

TODAY'S NUGGET: #26 WGA Script of All Time - Double Indemnity (1944)

[Quick Summary: A wicked married woman cleverly persuades an insurance man to kill her husband on a train so she gets extra insurance money (double indemnity clause). The insurance man gets a conscience too late & he's her pawn.]

Double Indemnity is a serious humdinger of a script.

I started to write about suspense, but found myself wondering about character, in particular, Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson's brass knuckles.

She is written as a smart, careful, lady-like antagonist. But she is really an evil seductress who hit men hard when they're down, & fillets them wide open.

Why do they always wake up too late?

I think it's because her character traits are: manipulator, strategist, & siren.

ex. Manipulator - The protagonist Neff is appalled at her "innocent" question about how to get her husband a policy w/o him knowing about it. She visits him the next day & plays up the frightened woman who only feels safe with him. He steps up to "protect" her.

ex. Strategist - She verbally says, "I don't want to kill him"...but all her innuendo encourages Neff to think she's denying how she really feels. She makes him think it's all his brilliant plan.

ex. Siren - She is underplayed, & more reactive than active...or so we're lead to believe. She is always two steps ahead, & thus doubly dangerous. The audience focuses on Neff, who is an active protagonist, but they should really be paying attention to her.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Phyllis' brass knuckles work b/c she never breaks character.

She flutters about with a sympathetic air that brings out Neff's protective side...& causes him to make some awful decisions (but help her).

Double Indemnity (1944)
by Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler

*For more, check out "Conversations with Wilder", by Cameron Crowe. It's an invaluable look at Wilder's opinions on what makes writing great, what works, & what does not.

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