ANALYSIS OF A SCENE: DOUBLE INDEMNITY “PHYLLIS DEATH SCENE”

(1) MEDIUM SHOT [Camera angled at chest level.] A living room is lit by two lamps. A woman appears from the center of the frame, out of the shadows and turns off each lamp. Which reveals other sources of light peeking through her living room blinds and casting shadows against her and her walls.  She is PHYLLIS DIETRICHSON. A woman clad in a white cotton or satin nightgown. The room is otherwise dark and made up of shadows. Made to look very late, around midnight or later.  She is carrying something under a white cloth and making a good pace to her personal armchair. The music has been building up, and the notes peak when the gun is shown under the white cloth, and she conceals it underneath the chair cushion. (20 seconds)

(2) CLOSE UP [Camera moves with her, mostly straight on] She puts the cloth down, picks up cigarette and proceeds to light it with a match…but she is interrupted by noise outside. It’s the sound of a car pulling up, a car door slamming. She reclines on the chair, seated above the gun after she finishes lighting her cigarette…(17 seconds)

(3) She lays back and watches the shadows. [Camera faces the room at the normal (180 degree) angle] LONG SHOT of the shadows, they demonstrate a door opening, and a man approaching. The man comes into vision. It is WALTER NEFF. He is wearing typical business attire, and a fedora. He shuts the door behind him. “In here Walter.” speaks the woman. CUE…Non-DIEGETIC music? (The music is casual in tone, seems to imply a friendly, yet ominous and eerie meeting) “Hello baby…anyone else in the house?” he asks. “Nobody, why?” she says. “What’s that music?” he then asks her. “Radio up the street,” she declares. Interesting decision to fool the audience into believing that the music is meant to be from within the scene and isn’t “background,” but it is in fact, DIEGETIC. It mixes and blends well with the shadowy noir film feeling, it adds to the mystery. They make or rather try to make small talk, he reminisces over what took place. He tells her he came to say “Goodbye.” (60 seconds)

(4) CLOSEUP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her] “Buh-bye?” she misquotes him, and her voice got a little higher at the notion. The cigarette is still in her hand. They both know something will happen that night. She asks him to skip the cryptic talk. Smoke appears from the lit cigarette. (11 seconds)

(5) CLOSEUP (WALTER) [Camera is straight on, from his right side] He tells her his idea to swap places with her ‘other’ partner in crime. He is framed specifically to be the only visible object in the shot. It is almost otherwise entirely black except for the light escapes from the blindfolds behind him to his left. (11 seconds)

(6) CLOSEUP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her] She mocks his suggestion, and examines her ring. An interesting symbol that the writer draws our attention at this time of the film. Was that her wedding ring? Was killing her husband worth all the trouble? (8 seconds)

(7) CLOSEUP (WALTER) [Camera is straight on, from his right side] Back to him, not much has changed. Lighting and framing is the same as the last one, but this time he awaits her reaction to his findings…Tension is definitely building between the characters. He tells her of his own scheme to swap places with another one in this dreary picture. However, oddly enough, the quaint music remains. (7 seconds)

(8) CLOSEUP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her]] “Just who are you talking about?” (2 seconds)

(9) CLOSE UP (WALTER) [Camera is straight on, from his right side] He tells her he wants to swap his role with her friend “Mr. Zachetti.” Walter believes he himself would have eventually been killed by her too. He believes he may have been a lifeless marionette in her master plan. (12 seconds)

(10) CLOSEUP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her] With the cigarette still in her hand, she says “Nobody wanted to brush you off.” Walter interrupts “Save it I’m telling this.” Back to Walter. (3 seconds)

(11) CLOSEUP (WALTER) [Camera is straight on, from his right side] He is tired of listening to her. He has made his mind up. “Doesn’t make a difference whether it’s true or not…” He proceeds to stand up. (6 seconds)

(12) MEDIUM SHOT (PHYLLIS) [Camera is slightly above her eye level, at the normal (180 degree) angle. However as the shot progresses, it turns slightly upwards towards him.] We see her reclining in her chair, but only from her breast upwards. Her eyes follow the man walking by her right side, placing his right hand on the top of the breadth of the chair. All the while she displays a noticeably disgusted look. They continue to talk with no real compassion. These characters are only looking and breathing for themselves. He makes his way to the blindfold. Which may be one of only perhaps one other source of light. He shuts them. No one should hear what’s about to happen. He walks back to her, resting both hands on top of the chair. “What do you think is gonna happen to you?” He walks off-screen. She doesn’t buy his idea of her fate. She then threatens “Maybe I’d rather talk…” (32 seconds)

(13) CLOSEUP (WALTER) MEDIUM SHOT (PHYLLIS) [Camera looking down from near the ceiling capturing both of them.] She is behind him to our left. His face is half covered in shadow. The interesting center of this shot is the shadow of her armchair. It stands grudgingly in the backdrop, listening to their conversation. Little does Walter know the armchair is hiding something for Phyllis…her gun. He steps over and faces her head on as she sits and listens. He tells her his master plan. He wants to kill her, and make it seem as her daughter-in-law’s boyfriend killed her, since he’ll be arriving soon with the cops not long after. By now he has moved to our left. She pleads one last time. She (bluffingly?) asks him for last chance. She tells him they could take the money and scoot before it is too late. Be together. (36 seconds)

(14) CLOSE UP (WALTER) [Camera slightly tilted upwards towards at him, but near chest level.] “That’s cute. Say it again.” he says. She ‘obeys’ and proceeds to mutter… (3 seconds)

(15) CLOSE UP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her.] A little more interest in her eyes. She tries to convince him to believe in a confusing story that could liberate her. (13 seconds)

(16) CLOSE UP (WALTER) [Camera slightly tilted upwards towards at him, but near chest level.] In front of the shades, he mocks her. For the first time he can admit to believing a story of hers. He knows what she is capable of…”Yeah…for once I believe you because it’s just rotten enough.” (3 seconds)

(17) CLOSE UP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her.] Her eyes retreat from him. Unto herself. She looks down at herself “We’re both rotten.” (3 seconds)

(18) CLOSE UP (WALTER) [Camera slightly tilted upwards towards at him, but near chest level.] “Only you’re a little more rotten.” He justifies his actions by accusing her of manipulating him from the start. He reasserts that he would just be somewhere down “laundry list” along with her other victims if he lets her go… (11 seconds)

(19) CLOSE UP (PHYLISS) [Camera peers down at her.] She still sits, and tells him that what he is doing is just as bad. (3 seconds)

(20) CLOSE UP (WALTER) [Camera starts again at chest level, but as he walks toward the window, he retreats into the back of the shot, becoming smaller.] He nods, showing from SIDE TO SIDE…(But what does he mean?? Is he disagreeing that he is just as bad as her? Or suggesting that he isn’t any better. Very ambiguous and well thought out by the writers.) Turned a little sideways now, “I don’t like that music anymore. Mind if I close the window?” He walks over to the window. He shuts it. The mysterious “DIEGETIC MUSIC” ends. (10 seconds)

(20) CLOSE UP (PHYLLIS) [Camera peers down at her.] She glares at him. We see her waist upwards. THROWS THE CIGARETTE AWAY. STARTS TO GET UP WITH A FAINT SMILE…HER HAND IS SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING UNDERNEATH THE CUSHION…(8 seconds)

(21) LONG SHOT (WALTER) [He is near center to the frame at the normal (180 degree) angle.] Closes the curtains. Turns around. BANG! The gunshot limps him. He reaches inside his jacket to embrace the wound… “You can do better than that can’t you baby? Better try it again.”  His figure rests in almost complete darkness. The gunshot finally climaxes the tension in the room. This is the first CLIMAX. He walks up to her, closer. Closer to make her target easier. (17 seconds)

(22) LONG SHOT (PHYLISS) CLOSEUP (BEHIND WALTER) [Camera near the ceiling, looking down at them both.] He walks from the lower right of the frame towards her. She is uniquely lit with the light from the blinds casting on her and the walls. Her face is not entirely in focus, but she has no expression. She is, however still pointing the gun at him. He creeps towards her. Only the sound of footsteps creaking on wood is heard. He stops. She lowers it. He comes in once more. CUE DIEGETIC MUSIC. A large wind instrument plays a downtrodden theme, like a tuba. He takes the gun out of her hands. “Why didn’t you shoot again baby?” She looks at him. Her arms come toward him. (28 seconds)

(23) CLOSE UP (WALTER’S FACE, BACK OF PHYLLISS’ HEAD) [Camera observes the couple from behind her shoulder.] She is on the left of the frame, he is on the right. She is closer to the camera. Her hands place themselves on his shoulders like spiders swooping down on prey. They gently tug at his jacket. His eyes are assumed to be looking into hers. “Don’t tell me it’s because you’ve been in love with me all this time.” (6 seconds)

(24) CLOSE UP (PHYLLIS’ FACE, BACK OF WALTER’S HEAD) [Camera observes the couple from behind his shoulder.] She is still on the left, but he is now closer to the camera.  “I’m rotten to the heart. I used you, just as you said. That’s all you ever meant to me – until a minute ago. When I couldn’t fire that second shot, I never thought that could happen to me.” Her face seems to remark genuine concern. However, one can never be sure. “Sorry baby I’m not buying.” he says. “I’m not asking you to buy – JUST HOLD ME CLOSE!” she pleads, cries and hugs him. (28 seconds)

(25) CLOSE UP (WALTER’S FACE, BACK OF PHYLLISS’ HEAD) [Camera observes the couple from behind her shoulder.] She is on the left of the frame, he is on the right. She is hugging him, closer to the camera. He looks down at her. (2 seconds)

(26) CLOSE UP (PHYLISS, BACK OF WALTER) [Camera observes the couple from behind his shoulder.] She is still hugging him. She gets off. Looks him in the eye. Her eyes move about. (Great example of off-screen action. It’s assumed he pulled the gun on her and she felt it). “Goodbye baby” he says. Her expression is of terror. BANG-BANG (He fires twice, in succession. Almost mocking her previous murder attempt where she couldn’t fire twice). She falls on him. Hugs him before it’s lights out. However, she begins to fall, her arms slip off his shoulders. The BACKGROUND MUSIC is trembling with emotion as she dies. This is the final CLIMAX of the scene. (8 seconds)

(27) MEDIUM SHOT [Camera follows him at a slightly ‘above’ normal (180 degree) angle. However it normalizes by the time he picks up his fedora.] She flails off him like a ragdoll. He is holding her up still, and carries her over to the couch and lays her lengthwise on it. He grabs his right arm and walks away. He kneels down to pick up the gun and collects his hat, puts it on, opens and exits through the door from whence he came. He is likened to a moving shadow amongst the stationary darkness in her living room. (28 seconds)

FIN

 

As a “film noir” (black film) the scene uses choking levels of darkness. This helps portray the gritty nature of the storytelling. Characters are always in focus (however sometimes half-cast in shadow), their facial expressions and tone of voice are key to the audience’s reaction, since the music is either awkward (as heard from the ‘radio’ outside) or only non-diegetically inserted at key moments (the gunshot, her death etc.). The terrific acting by both parties makes the scene seem very real. Real enough for them to be people that we may see every day, and we never knew that behind closed doors they lived such ‘shady’ lives.

At the scene’s first climax, a man is wounded. At the second, a woman is killed. However, the things that tie these events together are conversation, maybe even heartbreak. There is no struggle, or battery imparted by the pair. With subtle care, the scene DOES NOT seem unrealistic, even given those premises. The finely crafted dialogue helps push this along with ease. The very smart lighting keeps the scene mysterious by never allowing the audience full vision of the living room.

The scene is a terrific reminder of why film noir is so beloved. It takes the shadier side of the humanity and paints it beautifully upon the film’s frames, using only dark shadows, and darker hearts.

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2 Responses to “ANALYSIS OF A SCENE: DOUBLE INDEMNITY “PHYLLIS DEATH SCENE””

  1. tazin Says:

    This is a great analysis! I also enjoyed this scene very much 🙂

  2. Amy Herzog Says:

    LOVE THIS!!!! Not only are your observations right on the money, but you write in the style of a film noir script– BRAVO!!

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