Friday, February 18, 2011

LEGO Noir: Double Indemnity (1944)

I'm still playing with shadows and camera angles for my LEGO shoots. This time it's scenes from Double Indemnity (1944), with Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson. I wanted to do something with a good femme fatale, and it's hard to beat Stanwyck as scheming Phyllis Dietrichson. One of the best scenes of the film involves Stanwyck hiding behind a door while MacMurray tries to get rid of Edward G. Robinson. The LEGO version recreates the basic set-up, although there's no good way to replicate the shadow that Robinson throws against the hallway wall, and the size and shape of minifigures require some allowances to be made for positioning.

The femme fatale is an especially fun character to photograph because the use of lighting and angles can make her seem like a helpless kitten one minute and a man-eating tigress the next. Double Indemnity does this to great effect; the camera shows us which side of her personality Phyllis is revealing at any given moment. Again, the hallway shots are famous for their depiction of her barely repressed menace. Hidden behind the door, Phyllis is partly in shadow and partly illuminated, reflecting her dual nature and suggesting how little we (and MacMurray's Walter Neff) really know about her. We see this half-shadow/half-light image a lot in noir because all noir characters have hidden aspects and secrets. You never really know the other people who come into your life as well as you think, and sometimes that ignorance - and your assumption that you have any real knowledge - comes back to bite you. It certainly hits home for Walter Neff, who doesn't get the money or the woman, although he does get a bullet and a couple of corpses thanks to his fascination with Phyllis.

Of course, Walter's equally to blame for following her down the primrose - or, in this case, honeysuckle - path to destruction. Another angle of the famous door shot shows how Phyllis and Walter are linked, like two sides of a bad penny, the yin and the yang of damned desire. Divided by the door (as they are divided by their murder of Phyllis' husband and by their distrust of each other), they are nonetheless inextricably connected. As Robinson's character, Barton Keyes, says, they've got to ride that trolley car together all the way to the end of the line, whether they like it or not, and the last stop is the cemetery.