FILM COSTUME - WOMEN IN FILM NOIR
series in 5 parts
4 - DRESSED TO KILL: BARBARA STANWYCK in DOUBLE INDEMNITY
Billy Wilders DOUBLE INDEMNITY, 1944, is the most famous Film Noir. In this film a BAD GIRL incidentally steps into the life of a typical „anti-hero“. Above all this variant of a femme fatale knows its dream destinations, and she is the paragon of coolness: „She knew what she wanted and she didn’t care what she did to get it.“ (Bruce Crowther)
The manipulative sex appeal of the BAD GIRL makes men murder from love, and finally fail. In DOUBLE INDEMNITY insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurrey) is also faced with this bitter disappointment, when he confesses: „I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.“
The subsequent costume legend EDITH HEAD succeeded Travis Benton as chief designer and determined the style of Paramount and other large Hollywood studios till the 60ies. This „grande dame“ of costume design herself created the outfits for one of the darkest and most fascinating female characters of the Film Noir. She packed the undoubtable attraction of female sexuality into feminine strictness and simple smartness. The iconographic sign system of the BAD GIRL features BARBARA STANWYCK as the „innocent blonde“ in fragile white costumes from the first erotic moment up to the last fatal embrace.
DER DRESS CODE
Here the repeated use of all-white-costumes constructs an especially delicate look of femininity.
- First Sight: BARBARA STANWYCKs first appearance, at the same time her first meeting with Walter Neff, can be seen vestmentally as an erotic primer detonation. Janey Place: „Dress - or lack of it - further defines the woman: Phyllis first is viewed in Double Indemnity wrapped in a towel.“ This wrapped „dress“, a bath towel (leisure wear), of white terry cloth with floral motif refers to leisure time, availability, and femininity. It is erotized by the absence of textile presence, by exposing parts of the body: off-the-shoulder neckline and naked legs (femme fatale). The accessoires: hair ribbon, sunglasses and slippers accentuate the element ‘leisure time’.
- First Rendezvous: In the case of Phyllis’ first rendezvous the silhouette of the costume is sensual and unpretentious. The long-sleeved day dress with belt of white material surrounds the female body softly and romanticizes besides by ruffles. The costume connotes femininity, availability, and passive willingness as well as a kind of ease behind that you would never expect the woman’s cool deliberation.
The extravagant accessoires, too, serve to put BARBARA STANWYCKs feminine charms into the limelight. While on the one hand dominant jewelry (big ring and broad bracelet) reports the typical elements of the femme fatale, on the other hand a filigree anklet (where the name ‘Phyllis’ is written) appears as eye-catching element and refers to opposite aspects like willingness of devotion. In combination with the high-heeled shoes, made of glimmering white cloth and decorated with opulent puffs, a new exciting language of legs (femme fatale) is established.
- Final Shot: In the final sequence a deadly confrontation takes place. Phyllis shoots her lover and vice versa. She is expecting him enveloped in an understatement of high class elegance: overall (masculine clothing element) with voluminous sleeves, broad waistband and loose Marlene-trousers of white, tender flowing material. The costume follows the feminine outlines tenderly and connotes availability and devotion. The accessoires accentuate devotion (anklet) and the elements of the femme fatale (big jewelry) as in the case of the first rendezvous, but just a little bit more fatal.
© Rosa Burger, MA 1997
Tel. +43 1 535 94 09
FILM COSTUME - WOMEN IN FILM NOIR
Master’s thesis, University of Vienna, 1993.
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