Last class, following our viewing of “Double Indemnity”, Jim Groom made a side comment about how so far we hadn’t really read or watched a noir in which the star role belonged to a governmental detective. The Continental Op was a private investigator, Bandini was a writer, and Neff was, of all things, an Insurance salesman. I realize that Jim Groom has already pointed out the irony of this, but I wanted to think about it. And if I’m thinking about it, I might as well write about it. Why wouldn’t a noir film or novel center around a detective? Because that’s too ‘by the books’. Noir, in my opinion (and as Naremore’s essay on noir shows, my opinion can’t be any less solidified than hard core critics), is all about doing things differently. Want to get rid of organized crime? Kill all the ring leaders. Upset with your marriage and your step daughter? Kill your husband and cash in on the insurance. The ‘right way’ doesn’t come up much in noir.
Having said this, I think having Neff be an insurance man adds an even deeper level to the film. It’s not just any type of salesman, it’s a salesman who works for the kind of company that gets down to the root of things. Not for the greater good or for justice’s sake, but for their own benefit. What is Neff and Phyllis doing? They’re getting rid of her husband for their benefit. It seems almost too obvious to be true. I think the fact that an insurance salesman is in fact a fitting pick for a noir murderer says alot about the genre.