Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)



My husband is a huge fan of film noir. I am lukewarm about the genre. But Double Indemnity is film noir at its best. Real suspense, gorgeous lightning and photography and of course a true femme fatale – played by Barbara Stanwyck.

Before I talk more about Barbara, I wanted to mention that this very serious film is directed by Billy Wilder, who is best known as a prolific screenwriter for such goofball comedies as Some Like It Hot and the Apartment. (He also wrote Ball of Fire which also starred Barbara Stanwyck.) The leading man is Fred MacMurray who, for my generation, is best known for Disney classics like The Shaggy Dog and Flubber. Maybe this is why this film sticks out to me as more entertaining than most film noir, because the cast had more diverse experience beyond just noir film. Perhaps they also, all coming from the world of comedy, had a sense of humor about this serious form of filmmaking.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, who the audience can tell is bad news from the start. MacMurray’s character is completely blind to this fact, of course, which is how he gets duped by her. Phyllis Dietrichson is a real sociopath, manipulating multiple situations without a mind to the consequences for others. What is really interesting to me is why we find this behavior fascinating rather than repulsive. Perhaps we all secretly wish to act this way and these films give us an outlet for secret selfish drives.

Of course, Barbara is dressed wonderfully as Phyllis. What I love about Barbara Stanwyck is the simplicity with which she dresses. Usually she works with easy separates that are possible for us to put together today. Despite her fresh, modern sensibility in her style, Barbara’s style still retains a retro-1940s feel.

This outfit that Barbara wears during a pivotal scheming scene in the film embodies this signature simplicity. In the film itself, it is very dark but I believe she is wearing wide-leg pants. The same outfit is referenced on many of the promotional materials for the movie but she is wearing an a-line skirt. I liked the skirt for this blog post, but you could easily substitute in some wide-leg trousers.

Here is my interpretation:

Run-Down:
Sweater: Guess via YOOX, Pink Sweater, $85
Belt: Cole Haan, Village Soft Skinney Rectangle Belt, $38
Skirt: Macy’s Studio M, Ponte Flounce Pencil Skirt in Black, on sale for $19.99
Shoes: Aldo, Deperro Pump in Black, on clearance for $44.98
Total: $187.97

The film is black and white, but I took my cue from the movie poster and chose pink for the boatneck sweater. For me it was important that it was very simple with no ribbing or cable knit. The boatneck was crucial too to make this look work.

The three other pieces are simple, classic and black, which make them all good wardrobe staples. This ponte skirt is a great price and also looks like you could move in the way that Barbara does on the movie poster. The belt is very high quality (Cole Haan) and classy for a great price. And the shoes are just amazing. A flat black penny loafer pump with a 4 inch heel for only $44.98! All three of these supporting pieces would be great investments and could be remixed endlessly for work outfits.

The key to styling this outfit would be to tuck in the sweater (something almost no one does nowadays) and then belt the skirt slightly lower than the top of the skirt. If you wanted to, you could up the retro feel of this by wearing seamed stockings. Alternatively, you could tone down the retro by wearing black pantyhose and throwing on a black jacket.

I love that there is not much jewelry or frills in this look but it still has a lot of personality and style. If you wore this outfit to the office, would anyone suspect that you are modeling your look on a sociopath femme fatale?

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