October 29th, 1999
Billy Wilder: Film Noir Inventor and Genius
Lesson Overview


"All movies express social values, or the erosion of these values, through the ways in which they depict both institutions and relations between people. Certain institutions are more revealing of social values and beliefs than others, and the family is perhaps one of the most significant of these institutions. For it is through the particular representations of the family in various movies that we are able to study the process whereby existing social relations are rendered acceptable and valid." – John Blaser

Double Indemnity is the quintessential movie of its time. With the end of WWII, Double Indemnity used cinematic tricks and an authentic and strong story to control the audience. For the first time in films, Billy Wilder created a climate where the audience became sympathetic to the killer. Could these characters and plots be representative of American culture? How does the end of the War effect filmmaking? What were War torn viewers looking for in a movie? What was Billy Wilder trying to accomplish by creating this movie?

This lesson will expose students to one of the greatest American film writer/directors who shaped the landscape of American film today. Through the classic Noir film Double Indemnity, students will explore the historical and social impact of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Using wNetStation’s American Masters documentary and Web site, these learners will explore the impact of Billy Wider and historical perceptions that have shaped popular culture in the 20th Century.

Grade Level

7 – 12

Subject Areas

Social Studies: American and Film History

Language Arts: writing, reading and presenting research

Technology: computers, Internet, and media literacy

Students will be able to:

  • Learn the influences and inspirations of Billy Wilder

  • Describe the plot, characters, and historical context of Double Indemnity

  • Research and understand the social climate and movies of post WWII America
  • Discover how to deconstruct film as an art form

  • Understand the underlying social and moral messages of a film

  • Investigate the stereotypes of Film Noir and how it was representative of it’s time

  • Forge strategies for deconstructing and analyzing stereotypes in media

  • Describe how stereotypes become self-referential and perpetuate themselves

  • Articulate the controversy around Hollywood censorship

  • Identify other artists and directors in the Film Noir genre

  • Understand film language


This lesson integrates the national teaching standards of English and Technology. Students will apply a wide range of strategies for research, comprehension, interpretation, evaluation, languages (written and spoken), diversity, creativity, critical thinking and deconstruction of various mediums. Student will build an understanding of the many dimensions of the educational process including texts, technology, speech, themselves, cultures of the United States and the world, and the human experience. To learn more about national English and Technological standards go to: http://www.iste.org and http://www.ncte.org.


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