Remember that Citizen Kane reference in Watchmen I noticed a while back? Well it’s far from the only throwback to classical Hollywood. Certain scenarios in the story are starkly reminiscent of quintessential noir Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944), and it would appear Snyder and co. (in particular costume designer Michael Wilkinson) took note when it came to making the film adaptation…
Give it a watch. As always, I recommend watching it in the best quality available and in full-screen mode.
Calling Dan out of the blue – Laurie is less suspicious in the film here. Hayter’s emphasis seems to have been on getting across some of the important concepts concerning Doctor Manhattan, though he does deliver the line “So you’ll call Dan, which is only natural – you deserve the comfort of an old friend”, which is obviously ironic. In the comic (Ch1 pg23 panels 6-9), Laurie’s dialogue strongly suggests something fishy, and the images support this (Laurie stands with her back turned to Jon).
In Double Indemnity, Phyllis has actually followed Walter home; something that is perhaps picked up on with Rorschach following Edward Jacobi home.
Contrary to the Double Indemnity narration here, Dan has no expectation that it’s Laurie at his door. Instead, the film rather wonderfully recreates the conditions of the opening murder scene – Unforgettable plays on the TV, and Dan cautiously walks towards the door, fearing and half-expecting the mask killer. It’s just Laurie, and the sense of immediate threat is gone, but maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out that it was the mask killer at the door all the same.
“Let me talk first” – obviously Dan isn’t ever nearly as dominant as Walter Neff seems to be, but part of the big twist’s power is how it reveals that Walter was never really in control. He was a puppet who couldn’t see the strings.
OK, so I’m taking the sequences in Watchmen out of order*, but the connection is there. Both femmes state a justification for the affair at the expense of their original partner.
*This is part of Laurie’s fulfilling the role of femme fatale, even after you’re (fairly) sure she’s not behind some villainous plot. More on that later.
Comparison between Rorschach and Keyes is easy – they’re both short (while their friend is tall) and wear fedoras. Neither is a typical investigator (claims adjuster and vigilante), and they share a strangely close, fairly homoerotic, relationship with the friend. Again, more on that later.
We’re not shown this in the film in the same scene, so it’s not in front of Rorschach. In the comic, Rorschach explicitly states this as a reason for suspecting Laurie (Ch5 pg11 panel 6), thus inviting the reader to do likewise. In the film, Laurie’s hatred of the Comedian is shown in conversation with her mother.
The film’s formal properties here obey Rorschach’s mind as we enter in a slow-motion world of pure noir.
This conversation is reminiscent of early scenes in Double Indemnity, when Walter appears to be the one making decisions and Phyllis merely accepting them. Of course, that’s all thrown on its head later, so perhaps likewise it might’ve turned out that Laurie had Dan around her little finger here and is merely feigning politeness.
It goes further than the sunglasses. Laurie’s jacket looks like a crazy updating of Phyllis’. Dan’s jacket is a lot like Walter’s. Kudos to Michael Wilkinson and team for this, whether or not it was at Snyder’s request.
From the excellent Saturday Morning Watchmen.
Apologies to Sharon Stone.
In ‘The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative, and Violence in Contemporary American Cinema’, Hilary Neroni writes at length about the significance of the gun being the weapon of choice for the femme fatale. One important reason, it allows her to commit violence while still looking good – remaining an object of desire. This is undermined (in the comic more than the film) with Laurie’s appearance as she shoots – mascara running all the way down her face. She’s a real person with real emotions. The original femmes fatales can be linked to the rise of a female workforce during WWII and its displacement upon the soldiers’ return, causing widespread social unrest and ideological crisis. This is why the original femmes fatales are shown to be “rotten to the core”, with few redeeming features, but unique – to comfort the audience that these gender-role-breaking women are very few.
I’m not claiming that Walter Kovacs’ first name is derived from Walter Neff’s, but if it is I totally take credit for noticing the link! At any rate, Rorschach’s mistrust of women is very similar to the general feeling in film noir, and his beliefs and suspicions do correspond with how he might hypothetically have acted had he been Walter Neff (or some other manipulated noir protagonist) in a past life. Reprising the role of narrator, Kovacs’, and Neff’s, final act is one of disclosure. Oh, and regarding “noir-tinted glasses”, there isn’t much more noir than black and white shapes moving around a face.
It always amuses me how Neff says “Hello Keyes!” at 05:25. I shall henceforth quote it whenever I’ve lost my keys and subsequently find them.
Apologies to Zack Snyder.
Rorschach never seems to allow himself to suspect Dan. Once partners, even though their friendship has turned sour before the main narrative begins, it’s clear Rorschach maintains a certain fondness for Dan, and vice versa. It’s debatably related to some repressed homosexual desire, certainly it’s homoerotic, and it may well be in part derived from the Neff-Keyes relationship. Originally a further scene was shot for Double Indemnity – Neff’s death in a gas chamber, watched by Keyes. Dan witnessing Rorschach’s death (in the film) is significant to the plot, and in my opinion suitable closure to their relationship, and may also hark back to the inevitability of Neff’s death shown in the actual ending.