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“The Gaze” and Representations of Gender:

Double Indemnity is a 1944 film. Directed and written by Billy Wilder. The genres are film-noir, crime and thriller. Starred Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. The film is based on a well experienced salesman, who sells insurance and comes across a young seductive woman who is looking to get rich off the next man. Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) is a young creative wife seizes the opportunity to get rich off of her husband by committing insurance fraud. Walter Neff (Fred Mac Murray) becomes caught in this tangled web of lies, deceit, fraud and murder.

 I would like to focus on a scene in the beginning of “Double Indemnity”, when Walter Neff comes into Phyllis Dietrichson home and the two characters meet unexpectedly.  Phyllis Dietrichson has come to the top of the stairs in her towel from sun bathing and Walter Neff was only stopping by to try and speak to Mr. Dietrichson about insurance.

In the scene Phyllis Dietrichson is standing there with her long blonde shiny hair and only in a towel, flirting with this strange man that is much younger than her husband. The entire film is from the male gaze, it dresses the female character to be sexually attractive and always having a seductive stance. She had a pair of sunglasses in her hand and barely holding up her towel around her body, making it look like she want it to fall “accidentally” in front of Walter Neff.

Phyllis Dietrichson is standing at the top of the steps which looks like a balcony; the railings are very decorative giving the character Phyllis a look like she is on top of a pedestal. The camera first view is at the first level where Walter Neff stands giving a long shot, looking up towards the second level where Phyllis Dietrichson comes out into the glowing sunlight. Phyllis voice is in a seductive tone and she speaks slowly, which makes her sound more interested in Mr. Neff’s insurance that he was trying to sell to her husband.

The camera closes up on Phyllis Dietrichson, especially when she steps closer into the light and directly at the railing, looking down at Walter. The camera is still on the first level, low angle and long take, looking up at Phyllis Dietrichson. The “Male gaze”, is all over her look and surroundings. Male Gaze is allowing her character to become dominate by looking up at her and not equal like everyone else in the film who all meets eye to eye. Phyllis character is persuaded to be special and more important than the other women who are showed throughout the film.

 The lighting surrounding Phyllis is from a window, there is a shadow of the window, which is casted around her slightly but not directly on her, where she’s standing in the sun light and you can see the shadow of the window on her arm. The light surrounding Phyllis and the background is a very dark shadow. I believe it depicts what her character really stands for, meaning a murderer, thief and a black widow. The sun gleaming on her directly is what we the audience see and what the “Male Gaze” quickly falls for when seeing an attractive women.

The filmmaker created this view for the audience to depict Phyllis character as this seductive, evil symbol. The “Male Gaze” plays a large role in this scene, allowing the audience “males” to give into this fantasy of an attractive villain. I think the director Billy Wilder was successful in creating this view allowing the audience to depict Phyllis Dietrichson character.

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December 9th, 2011 at 6:02 am


One Response to “Analysis Project # 2.”The Gaze” and Representations of Gender: Double Indemnity”
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      Amy Herzog says:

    In this sense, the male gaze is a trap! An interesting angle to pursue– thanks for this, Gwenn.