Double Indemnity is a wonderfully woven film noir which features Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman who falls for Barbara Stanwyck's loving charms and smouldering look and sensual deep voice as they plot together to kill her husband to claim the insurance money. Director Billy Wilder has some gems in his closet, not least this one, which weaves its way through what should be, and indeed seems to be, the perfect murder. However, things are never quite as perfect as they seem, and there's no such thing as the perfect murder.
The film opens with a shuffling MacMurray looking very tired as he appears at his office building late one night, making it up to the office before recording a message to his boss and friend Keys. As he starts speaking, we realise it's a confession, and Wilder walks us through the events of the previous weeks that have led to this dishevelled man making a tired confession. It's a little different to Sunset Boulevard, where the opening scene sees the lead male character dead in a pool with his voiceover, although the similarities in the fortunes are quite noteable. The style is also similar, with a definite noir feel to proceedings as plenty of the film takes place in the heat.
We get a number of different things going on here, and it's thanks to the acting of the lead two that it works so marvellously. The romance and attraction are clear from the start, the two of them falling for each other immediately, and Wilder wastes no time in showing us what the whole point of the film is. If anything, I thought this a little fast and unbelievable that instant attraction between an unhappy second wife and an insurance salesman would produce such a quick idea and agreement, trust and all things considered being a given as oppose to being built up over time.
The posturing is done really well, and the tension makes you sit riveted to the screen for the most part of the film. It doesn't last throughout, but when it's there, it provides a really intense sort of viewing experience. You know it's all going to go wrong, but everything seems just so perfectly planned that you wonder how. There's something so dashing and debonair about the gruff insurance salesman, with the femme fatale of Stanwyck oozing something sexy and sultry with apparent ease. The pair really do create an air of intrigue that makes you want to find out what's going to happen. We already know from the opening scene that it didn't all go to plan in the end, but I really liked the way the plot developed and panned out. Wilder really knows what he's doing.
The supporting cast do a sterling job of keeping up with the lead pair, ensuring the crime thriller status is maintained and that the pressure is constantly on the prospective murderers looking to make a quick buck, as it were. Overall, the success is there from the start to the finish, and I applaud the efforts that have gone into making this look effortless. Recommended.
I first saw this movie when I was a little girl off from school ill and at my grandma's. It has stayed with me every since as one of the most amazing films I have ever seen.
It was directed by Billy Wider and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwick, this film is testament to the amazing ability to create such sexual and murderous tension in a black and white movie without visual violence or sex scenes. The scene where Stanwick's character is seducing MacMurray's and she keeps flicking her ankle chain is stunning. You can feel the temperature rise and the tension increase as MacMurray is hypnotised by this woman. He is in Insurance and naturally he gets seduced by this woman who is not keen on her husband - I don't need to go into the plot too much as it is fairly simple. However this lovely woman is not as weak and innocent as she seems and MacMurray returns to his office late at night to record his story and events for the police.
I watched it again recently and yes, it does stand the test of time. It is good to go back every once in a while and watch a movie that employed real skill and dramatic tension but also just a good old fashioned story and no fancy CGI or blood and sex scenes. Just a great storyline and brilliant editing, soundtrack, performances and the haunting quality of black and white film! A story of moral justice and the fragility of man in the face of a beautiful woman, this is a must see movie!
Double Indemnity was released in 1944. It was directed by Billy Wilder who also directed Sunset Boulevard and Some like it Hot. Although many will disagree, I consider these to be his three greatest works.
Double Indemnity follows male protagonist Walter Neff through a descent into darkness. Neff is played by Fred MacMurray. It was a conscious decision by Wilder to use MacMurray, despite him being primarily known as a comic actor. He certainly manages to capture the character well and you would never guess that he was a stranger to the thriller genre. Neff is an insurance salesman for Pacific All Risk. He is unmarried, thirty-five and has no attachments save for a close bond with a man at his office Barton Keyes.
Barton Keyes (Edward. G. Robinson)is a claimsman. He work for the insurance company sniffing out phony claims. He is always able to tell when people are lying about insurance because of the little man that lives in his belly. Many film critics have suggested a homosexual relationship between Neff and Keyes. While there are a few indicators that there may be a relationship between them, I do not agree with this. Since the film is largely a heterosexual love story, I think it is extremely unlikely that Walter is a homosexual. There is certainly a strong bond between them, but this is more along the lines of male friendship that is constantly see in buddy movies, and is common in Noir films where men must rally together against the female threat. Barton Keyes is important for a number of reasons but one in particular stands out: He is Shakespeare's clown. He is the comic device that provides brief moments of relief that allows the audience to experience a multitude of emotions. Without him the film wouldn't work because it would be too dark. He gives those little moments of comedy that bring you back to a happier place so you don't find the film too unbelievable. 'I still think she drinks from the bottle!'
And what a female threat! Barbara Stanwyck plays the Femme Fatale Phyllis Dietrichson. In my opinion, she is the perfect example of a Femme Fatale. While there have been other good Femme Fatales in Noir history such as Kitty in The Killers and Brigid O'Shaunassey in The Maltese Falcon, none can quite live up to Phyllis. She is so seductive and so devious. Right up until the end of the film she maintains a double personality that perfectly manipulates the other characters. Wonderfully performed by Barbara Stanwyck.
The story is this: Walter Neff goes to the Dietrichson house because their automobile insurance policy has run out and needs to be renewed. Whilst there he meets Phyllis Dietrichson, wearing nothing but a towel and an anklet. He is immediately attracted to her but of course there is the problem of her unhappy marriage.... and that's all I'm going to give away. Go and watch the film if you want to know more!
Structurally this film is perfect, from a screenwriters point of view, this film hits all the right beats at all the right times. You have you high point and you polar opposite low. Your b-story and your catalyst. I wont say more because otherwise I'll give too much of the plot away. Essentially though, the film is cut into two perfect halves. Leading up to the mid--point and then deteriorating from that point. Perfect.
A major defining feature of the Noir genre is the male narrated voice-over. The film begins with Walter Neff in his office, recording the narration onto a wax cylinder. The film is then told through a series of flashbacks narrated through Neff's voice over. The narration provides an interesting psychological insight for Neff as we are able to understand what he is thinking. For instance when we first meet Phyllis, we hear about his obsession with her anklet around her leg. The anklet is important because it conveys so much sexuality so easily. Since this is a 1940's film, sex could not be shown explicitly as the Hay's code forbade it. As a result filmmakers had to be subtle. The anklet and Neff's reaction to it, convey sexuality without breaking any rules.
The original story was written as a short novel by James M. Cain, and was adapted for the screen by Raymond Chandler. Both of these writers are Noir stalwarts. Raymond Chandler writing The Blue Dahlia, and James M. Cain, the Postman always rings twice. They are writers of what is often referred to as 'the hard-boiled' genre. With tough, cynical detectives such as Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe and dangerous women, these stories formed the basis of a lot of Noir films and can be attributable to a lot of the narrative elements found in the genre.
I think the story in this film is timeless and this is one of the best Noirs ever made. It made not be the best example of a Noir film but it is just an incredible story and such a well made film.
For some this film may feel dated, it's black and white and the language is very different to what we find in modern films. However the story more than makes up for that. If you are the sort of person who will dismiss a film simply because it is black and white, then I assure you, you are missing out on a truly fantastic film.
Although there is no explicit violence or sex in this film (which is quite different to the original ending Wilder mad) I would still not let anyone under about thirteen watch it. The films deals heavily in subtleties, and I would hope that anyone under that age wouldn't understand them! (Wishful thinking...) If you enjoy thrillers then definitely see this film, it has so much more to offer than many of the modern thrillers I've seen recently and it's thoroughly entertaining with excellent performances from all the cast in it.
Walter Neff has a confession to make, and maybe not much time to confess: he's been shot. Gasping for breath, he tells his story to the Dictaphone in his office and we see it in flashback with his deep, but wheezing voice in our ears. Neff is an insurance salesman, he's brash, full of that breezy, articulate, but bumptious articulacy that many sales reps have. He'd always felt that he could talk his way through any situation: he could sell sand to the Arabs, or snow to the Eskimos, and women fall for his rather obvious lines almost every time. Neff, though, is a man blind to his own faults and limitations, and is led unconsciously by his own superficial desires; to him life is a thing where an angle, good lines, sweet talk and an inordinate amount of boasting will get him almost anything he wants. And a lot of his thinking is done through his boxers rather than his brain. When he goes to the Dietrichson house to renew some policies Neff begins a flirtation with Mrs Dietrichson, Phyllis, who is alone in the house. Phyllis is a mistress of flirtation who carries a guilty past, but she is ruthless too, and she sees the arrogant but ultimately foolish Neff coming. As fast as he plots with Phyllis to make a murder victim of her rich husband by taking a double indemnity life insurance policy out on him, Neff becomes a victim himself, Phyllis' victim. He becomes obsessed by her, for him SHE appears the victim, and although he is somehow aware she has a dangerous, almost hypnotic hold over him, he continues with the dreadful scheme. The couple arrange for Dietrichson's death , Neff carries out the murder and to collect the doubled $100,000 policy payout they make it appear as though the death was an accident. Neff acts the part of Dietrichson on a train and fakes a fall, the body is left by the tracks. But within days cracks appear in the scheme as Keyes, the company's Claims Manager and Neff's best friend, begins to invest
igate and find flaws in Phyllis' claim. Keyes however, suspects suicide and not fraud, and he certainly doesn't consider that Neff is at all involved. Neff, the man who talks himself out of most situations finds that all his efforts here succeed only in talking himself further in, and in way too far. He is lost. And when Dietrichson's daughter tells him she suspects Phyllis of having murdered her mother Neff's grasp on sense and sanity leaves him altogether. Inevitably, his desperate attempts to extricate himself results in things spiralling ever further from his control. Oh, I do love this film. It was made in 1944, directed by that all-time super person Billy Wilder, scripted by the man himself together with Raymond Chandler from a novel by James M Cain. I think you'll agree that's a good start. Walter Neff is played by Fred MacMurray, inspired casting I think, for his roles in all those light Hollywood sugary comedies had established him as a kind of fresh-faced, open character just perfect for the part of Neff, a selfish, foolish, self-obsessed man, who is nevertheless way short of the capacity Phyllis Dietrichson holds for deception, intrigue and evil. MacMurray took some persuading to take the role, afraid it would compromise his future earning potential as Hollywood saccharine good guy, and afraid of shocking his fans, yet Double Indemnity is probably his most memorable performance in any film. Barbara Stanwyck plays Phyllis to perfection, she's the original Circe, a hypnotic, evil femme fatale without a conscience, but she's elegant, clever and seductive too. And finding himself as Keyes, in a supporting role for once, Edward G Robinson shows us a lonely man, dedicated to his work, whose closest friend is an employee. His nature is obsessive, just as the whole of the film shows us obsession, and as he quotes actuary table and statistics and previous cases, we also see his lonely affection for Neff. This relat
ionship has great emotional strength and is a very sad counterpiece playing under and along the very different relationship Neff has with Phyllis. Wilder's script has all that tightness you'd expect from film noir, it's punchy and words aren't wasted, but it's rich in the metaphor of the crime slang which Phyllis uses in flirtation, Neff uses in bluff, and Keyes uses in blunt but unaware revelation of his obsessive lonely character. The jokes are nasty, but funny. The dark, poorly lit streets, the dark, poorly lit moral values and the deep, dark, almost echoing narration by Neff have become a template for subsequent film noir pieces almost too countless to mention. Double Indemnity was a landmark film fifty years ago, and I think it's still a landmark film now. I love that way Wilder has of making you question your assumptions through role reversals and sleight of hand disguises and I love the way his films are seamlessly elegant and restrained to look at, but contain enormous tension and emotional impact when you actually watch. This one's a nasty, bitter look at greed and lust, but it's also one which finds a good relationship (that between Neff and Keyes) and is not afraid to show it. I love Wilder for that too. I watched Double Indemnity again because it was late and I was awake with an ill child and a finished book. I found it gathering dust in a pile of taped-from-TV videos and I'm jolly glad I did. With barely a special effect or a flashy cut in sight I suddenly remembered why all this talk of DVD extras sometimes gets on my nerves. The film's the thing you see. And Double Indemnity is a great film that really does speak for itself, you won't need a "Making of..." feature, or a series of interviews with stuntmen and special effects technicians to improve the experience for you. It's classy and elegant enough for you to enjoy it just as it is, and for it to make you think all by itself
. Unfortunately, Double Indemnity doesn't seem to be available in either VHS or DVD format in the UK (or it isn't on Blackstar and Amazon anyway), but if you've a Region 1 (or is it 2? I always forget that) DVD player you can find yourself a copy via almost anywhere. Otherwise, you'll just have to check the TV film listings and have a video at the ready. Don't forget. It's super. [Ok Steve, I'm cringing already. Satisfied now? Heehee.]
Less well-known that 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', but obviously the inspiration for 'Body Heat' and other modern noirs, this is a stunning, brutally amoral look at sex and greed. Fred MacMurray is the dumb insurance salesman who thinks with his dick, Barbara Stanwyck the conniving rich man's wife who spots this a mile off, and exploits it ruthlessly. After selling her a monster policy on her husband, it's all too easy for Stanwyck to persuade him to kill hubby. Only when the deed is done does MacMurray begin to see how well he's been played, and the added irony is that his best friend, the claims assessor at the insurance company (Edward G. Robinson) is already pulling Stanwyck's claim to pieces. Written and directed by Billy Wilder, the master of sour, black comedy, this is an exceptionally ruthless and satisfying piece of work, with MacMurray played as a smart-mouthed but ultimately slow-witted guy whose head is too easily turned by a stunning blonde. Stanwyck is very cool and sexy, leading him along very carefully, and tightening the noose with panache. MacMurray's fall has all the inevitability of Greek tragedy, but the attention to detail, the magnificent performances and the scathing wit of Wilder's script make this a nasty, bitter and wholly compelling film. No matter how many variations you've seen on this story, 'Double Indemnity' is the Godfather of them all; you just have to see it.