Narrative Innovations in Film Noir

April 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff

Fred Mac­Mur­ray “Dou­ble Indem­nity” 1944

Film Noir is often inno­vated in nar­ra­tive tech­niques. Dou­ble Indem­nity is marked by two tem­po­ral move­ments: of real time and remem­bered time. The film opens with Wal­ter Neff (Mac­Mur­ray) arriv­ing at his office in the mid­dle of the night and deliv­er­ing into a dic­tat­ing machine his con­fes­sion for killing a man— for money (pause) and for a woman. These words trig­ger a flash­back that is occa­sion­ally nar­rated by his voice– over con­fes­sion. Grad­u­ally the nar­ra­tive brings real time and mem­ory together, while the unusual jux­ta­po­si­tion of tem­po­ral­i­ties gives the spec­ta­tor a pre­mo­ni­tion of what will occur/has occurred in the flash­back story. Finally, they meet as Neff is about to die from the gun­shot would he suf­fered at the end of his flashback.

Scar­let Street another tale of allure­ment and murder–and a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1931 French film La Chi­enne the nov­elty (under Pro­duc­tion Code rules) is that the Mur­derer gets away with it, while another man dies in the elec­tric chair for the crime. Because of this appar­ent breach of the Code, the city of Atlanta, Geor­gia, tried to stop the film from screen­ing there. In an affi­davit sup­port­ing the film, Joseph L. Breen of the Pro­duc­tion Code Admin­is­tra­tion wrote, “It was our con­tention and belief that in this par­tic­u­lar motion pic­ture, the mur­derer was ade­quately pun­ished by a higher power, work­ing through his own con­science, which drove him to become a social out­cast and a hope­less derelict.” Read more

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