November 25th, 1999
Billy Wilder: Film Noir Inventor and Genius
Procedures for Teachers


The movie Double Indemnity directed by Billy Wilder

The novella Three of a Kind written by James M. Cain

The movie Sunset Boulevard directed by Billy Wilder

The movie Body Heat written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Poster boards and general art supplies


There are many sites available focusing on American Films. A simple search on the Internet will yield many results. The sites listed below represent good sources from which a student can begin his or her research. These sites can be bookmarked, downloaded as a page, or copied as links into a Web page for future student research.

Billy Wilder Movies and Reviews

The Christian Science monitor reviews the American Masters PBS series, "Billy Wilder: The Human Comedy."

Review of the film Sunset Boulevard

Review of the film The Apartment

Review of the film Arise, My Love

Review of the film A Ball of Fire

Review of the film The Major and The Minor

Review of the film, The Seven Year Itch

Review of the film, Some Like It Hot

Movie Tributes and Posters,12,37822,00.html

E-Online — A list of Billy Wilder’s films with links to information about each of them

Kennedy Center Tribute to Billy Wilder

Movie posters and links to Billy Wilder’s movies

General information about Billy Wilder and different film genres

An Internet movie Database


Double Indemnity Resources,4135,91758,00html

Information about Double Indemnity

General description and analysis of the film, Double Indemnity,4135,91758,00.html#top

Description of Billy Wilder’s work, Double Indemnity and other good links to essays about the author, actors and writers.

Roger Ebert’s Essay on Double Indemnity

A review about Double Indemnity and other related genres and sites.

Audience reviews of Double Indemnity


Film noir resources

Film Noir & Pulp Fiction

Specializing in classic Hollywood and American films

University of North Carolina Film Noir: A Filmography

Classic films archive

AFI documents on Film Noir

Roger Ebert’s essay about Body Heat



Time Allotment:

6 weeks

This is an intensive research and writing lesson plan. The writing is broken down into three sections: 1) Two page research paper (group effort); 2) One – two page thesis and argument (group effort); 3) Screenplay.


  1. VOCABULARY LIST: Distribute Student Organizer #1 to students. As the first assignment, have each student research and fill out the definitions of the terms listed. This will give students an introduction to Billy Wilder and Film Noir on the Internet, as well as familiarize them with relevant terminology. Feel free to add more terms! When finished, discuss the words in a group setting. (Approximately 30 minutes).
  2. SHOW MOVIE: show the movie, Double Indemnity in its entirety.



Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyk, Edward G. Robinson

The quintessential film noir. MacMurray and Stanwyk plot to kill her husband for money from an insurance policy. This film broke with convention and defined a new narrative by making us identify with the killers.

Here are two references that will familiarize you with the film:,4135,91758,00html

    • Information about Double Indemnity from the Guardian newspaper.

    • Review and complete description of Double Indemnity, with all the dialogue.

  1. RESEARCH: Divide class into groups (size of group depends on the amount of students in the class) and do the following two assignments:

a) Have each group choose a character, scene, or a plot twist and write a two-page paper outlining their research. Brainstorm ideas for writing this paper with students. Below you will find a list of possible topics. Use Student Organizer #2 as a guideline for research and Student Organizer #3 for website references.

b) Have students create a timeline that coincides with the movie and its release. Have students describe at least three events that happened at the same time. This will give students a social and historical perspective to film and it’s cultural influences. Use Student Organizer #4 as a guide and Student Organizer #5 for research.

Be sure that each group works as a team, sharing the responsibilities. Be creative!

List of topics:

    • Fred MacMurray — Walter Neff

    • Barbara Stanwyk — Phyllis Dietrichson

    • Edward G. Robinson — Burton Keyes

    • Double indemnity insurance policy

    • Lighting Styles

    • Camera Angles

    • Music

    • The Murder

    • The "perfect" crime

    • Paranoia

    • Symbolism in film (i.e. cigarettes, lemon in the glass, wet dark street, etc.)

    • The last line of the movie: "Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?"

    • The confession


  1. PRESENT RESEARCH. After students write their papers, have them present their research to the class. This is a group paper and group presentation. Students can be as creative as they like. Be sure students incorporate their vocabulary list into their paper and presentation. The goal is to have students "teach class".

  2. CLASS DISCUSSION: Have a second class discussion. The goal of this discussion is to have students understand the historical context of Film Noir.
  3. WRITE THESIS: Have students divide up into groups one more time and write a one-two page thesis arguing the historical significance and value of Film Noir and Double Indemnity. Students should start with a one-line thesis statement and then write a three paragraph argument proving and explaining their point. Here is an example of a historical thesis statement:

    • Double Indemnity is symbolic of the Holocaust’s atrocities because it portrays murder as an "everyday event." (List three arguments that support this statement).

  1. PRESENT THESIS: Have students present their work in a form of an argument. Prepare students to argue their thesis in front of the class. You can do this in the form of a debate or just have students state their case. Whichever, be sure to have students analyze which argument best describes Film Noir and it’s historical context. Students should then self evaluate the outcome in a form of a discussion or evaluation. Teachers should assess the groups based on the presentation and the writing. As part of the presentation, each team will be responsible for:

    • the main argument

    • questioning the other groups about their reasoning

    • answering questions

    • closing statements

  1. SCREENWRITING: the final phase to this lesson is to have each student create a Film Noir screenplay of his or her own. Hold a class discussion outlining good story telling and contemporary dialogue. Use examples in this website to demonstrate dialogue:

Be sure that the students combine all their research. For more information about screenwriting, go to:



Additional Activities

  1. Have students watch the film Body Heat. Write an essay comparing and contrasting the two movies. Include censorship issues of the 1940’s versus. the 1980’s.
  2. Have students create a Film Noir Jeopardy Game. Categories can be broken up into the following categories:

    • Film Noir Directors

    • Film Noir movies

    • Color Film Noir versus Black and White Film Noir

    • Characters in Film Noir

    • Plot changes in Film Noir

    • Symbolism in Film Noir

    • Dialogue in Film Noir

  1. "One picture is worth a thousand words." Have students read the novella Three of a Kind (the original story) and write an essay or draw pictures to compare and contrast content in the two mediums. In a class discussion, outline what works best in the movie versus the book. Students should see the power of each medium. Which one is more effective?

Inside This Lesson


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