Billy Wilder’s 1944 film double indemnity is a prime example of the “the male gaze”. The fact that is also a film Noir film makes it a good example as well. Phyliss’s character depends on the “male gaze” for the simple fact that she is a spider woman. To be a spider woman you must be able to trap men into a web of lies which most of the time involves sexual exploitation of the woman. The camera angles for the introduction scene when Walter met Phyliss are clearly from a male perspective. The female character is being looking at as a sexual symbol and she knows it and is using it to further build her character and the motive of the character.
The scene starts off with a low shot from Walter’s point of view from the bottom looking up to the staircase. Phyliss is walking to the staircase and stops in the door way of the hall way in just a towel. The shot turns to a medium shot as she walks slowly to the staircase balcony as Walter identifies himself. She asks him “anything I can do” in a suggestive manner, and the camera cuts to a close up reaction of Walter smiling. He is looking at her as a object and the spider woman she is, chooses to dance with the idea. Walter mentions the fact that she is not covered and if she wants to get covered, the camera cuts to a low angle medium shot of her with a slight smile on her face. There then is a close up low angle of Phyliss as she reveals that she is sun bathing and states “if your wait until I put something on i’ll be right down”. There were many references to the fact that she does not have cloths on, which plays on the females sexuality and the male eyes being perception of the view.
There is also another woman in the scene which is the maid Nettie. They are both females but completely opposite which makes the sexually so much more powerful for Phyliss. The maid being un glamorous, having such an agressive personality,a bit of attitude all brings more attention to Phyliss’s exterior. The camera barely shows the maid for this scene while Phyliss is there because we are looking out of Walters gaze and its 100% on Phyliss’s physical appearance. You also see Walter’s reaction to Phyliss statements, again with no view of the maid. This shows that Walter is using getting webbed in and that she knows it so her focus is on the man to retain him.
As Phyliss is getting dressed Walter says that he is thinking of that “dame” upstairs and how she looked at him . He also states how he wants to see her again withi out the silly staircase in between them. This goes to show how he just sees her as a object of viewing pleasure just by the way he referred to her. His statement also lets it be known that he is aware that she is accepting of the male gaze because of the way she looked at him in return. As Walter is speaking of her the camera cuts to a close up of Phyliss’s legs through the railing as she comes down the steps. You notice she has a ankle bracelet on, and when she reaches the bottom the camera travels up the rest of her body as if a man was looking at her. When the camera stops at her upper half you notice she is still buttoning up her dress. Phyliss then proceeds to put lip stick on in the mirror in front of Walter. these are all things she could have done upstairs but she chose not to and is aware of the femaleness behind it. These small little parts are bringing attention to different parts of her body.
When both characters enter the living room, our spider woman sits on the couch in which the camera is framed around her. The legs are being shown in a crossed position exposing the ankle bracelet more. When Walter compliments the bracelet she uncrosses her legs. Phyliss then next gets up walks around asking insurance questions and when she sits again with the legs crossed which causes Walter to comment on the bracelet again. The camera is framed as if we are looking from Walters perspective because all we see is his back as he’s seated mainly.
I found the ending of this scene to be very interesting because of the blatant flirting between the two. Walter is there for her husband which he forgets and Phyliss is toying with Walter because he has capabilities she wants for her web. When Walter is flirting she tells him the speed limit is 45 and he’s doing 90. Walter’s response was for her to get off her motorcycle and give him a ticket which she states she’ll give him a warning. Walter proceeds to say suppose the warning doesn’t take in which she responds then she’ll wack him. His answer to that was suppose he cries and lays his head on her shoulder, she responded with how bout me husbands shoulder. The scene ends with Walter saying ” same chair same anklet” Phyliss answers ” I wonder if I know what you mean” which leads to him saying ” I wonder if you wonder”. This scene shows Phyliss using her sexuality or femaleness as power. She is teasing Walter and Walter is taking the bait with a smile upon his face.
The point being made is that woman is a threatening sexual being who in the end in the result of it will be punished. She is a spider woman who is building a web which soon will be the death of her. Being that the camera is attentive to her from a male’s point of view, when she ends up being punished the audience shoudln’t feel bad because they feel deceived like the man. The “male gaze’ was evident in this scene but it was also evident that the female was fully aware of it and used it to her advantage.