Film Design

I sat down and watched Double Indemnity the other night, and took a look at the design of the sets for the city, the insurance company building, and the mansion. I’ve seen this movie before, but wanted to watch it again for the design elements.

I was originally going to talk about the city scape, but then thought better of it. There’s a lot to talk about that, I guess, but I want to talk about the living room in the mansion, and the scene at the grocery store.

So let’s talk about the design of the living room. The entry to the house was brightly lit, and it was a hot, sunny day. You enter the living room, and it’s dark, smokey, dusty. Dust seen rising through the slits in the venetian blinds. The furniture is outdated, looks masculine. Somehow not at all what you would assume the wife would pick out at all. As she sits in the armchair, she looks even smaller and whiter (in her all white dress and blonde hair) compared to the huge, dark armchair. I, at least, assumed the chair to be her husbands. It was almost as if she was weaving the tale that she was captured by her husband, and that she herself was out of place. Of course, as the movie progresses, we realize this to be a ruse. The darkness of the living room was not reflective of the husband, but of his wife’s insecurities and devious nature. She knew all too well that the insurance agent was going to fall for her, head over heels. All she needed to do was weave a tale of a discontented housewife and she could lure into any plot she wanted.

I found this scene designed beautifully considering it lent such insight into the plot of the movie itself. The grocery store scene, perhaps not so much? I liked this scene for aesthetic reasons more than the plot to be honest. I was trying to think of why, and I think it has to do with the lightness and the symmetry of the cans. It’s just so well put together and so neat. Everything has a place, all the cans and boxes are organized, and there is room to breathe. In the living room, it felt trapped. In the grocery store, it felt a bit more airy, like you could move around and not worry about anything. Which, I guess, is kind of how the characters felt. In the grocery store they were able to be together out in public without the over bearing presence of the husband looming over their affair. In the grocery store all they had to worry about was the guy on the Quaker Oats container.

Either way, design in this movie is all about contrast of things pushing in and pushing out in order to create narrative and an overall mood. I think that the living room and the grocery store are pretty gosh darn good examples of these ideas.

If you agree or disagree, leave a comment!


  1. Jim Groom

    I love your reading of Phyllis being trapped in her husband’s chair as reinforcing her ploy to Walter. The darkness of the living room stands in great contradistinction to the grocery store, and I find that really interesting. Why are the consumerist aisles of the new filled with aglow while the living room is shadowy and imprisoning? Great stuff.

    1. Megan (Post author)

      Probably because Phyllis’ idea of “the light” and or “happiness” is consumerism as a result of money. I think this whole movie was from her perspective rather than Walter’s. Meaning, that all the scenes were from her own point of view


Tell me whatcha think