Double Indemnity (1944)


Act now! Two times the cash for the price of just one murder.
Act now! Two times the cash for the price of just one murder.

Genre: Film Noir Crime Thriller

Starring: Fred MacMurray (The Apartment  "My Three Sons"), Barbara Stanwyck (The Bitter Tea of General Yen  Stella Dallas)

Directed By: Billy Wilder (Ace in The Hole Sunset Boulevard) 

Overview: A life insurance salesman hobbles into his office, bleeding. Picking up a voice recorder, he begins recounting a confession to his boss, "When it came to picking the killer, you picked the wrong guy... I killed Dietrichson... I killed him for money -- and a woman -- and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?"

If you're not familiar with Film Noir, the Genre's scripts sometimes have a way of being a little forced, a little too... perfect. For those of you not familiar with his work, Billy Wilder has a way of writing very filmic scripts that always seem to fit into place all too nicely, a little too... perfect. So when Billy Wilder makes Film Noir, he writes somethign that goes beyond the realistic, into the realm of real adventure. Perhaps it's too contrived, but the magic of his dialogue is what makes Billy a genius of film in general and Film Noir in particular. IMDb's Top 250 films list voters agree - At number #57, Double Indemnity is, perhaps, just plain... perfect.
Oh Barbara, not subtle!
Oh Barbara, not subtle!

PHYLLIS: I was just fixing some iced tea. Would you like a glass?
NEFF: Unless you have a bottle of beer that's not working.

The story is simple, so very simple yet filled with details and characters and utterly logical twists that put this film's storytelling in the realms of the highly probable, while still having that fantastically filmic quality that is Billy Wilder's strong suit. We begin with a bookend. The events have transpired that have put our life insurance salesman anti-hero, Walter Neff, in a mess. Walter has no doubts about the trouble he's in, and he's recording his confession for his savvy boss, Barton Keyes. From this point, Walter goes on to talk about the sweet dame he fell for, her rich, abusive husband, and a shot at the insurance scam of a lifetime, all masterminded by a guy who can finish the job and get it right, cause it's his job. Better still, if the husband dies the way it's planned, the insurance pays double. Though we know partly how it ends, the telling is the adventure, and as suspense goes, it's right as rain, all crowned by trench coats and gritty talk.
Barton Keyes is by far my favourite, a role brilliantly played by Edward G. Robinson complete with his indelible accent. It's nice to finally see him in a role where he's not a dweeb or a mug... alright, he'll always be a mug, but in Double Indemnity, he's a smart mug and a great character.

"Is this the End of Rico?" "Boss, you really gotta let that one go."
"Is this the End of Rico?" "Boss, you really gotta let that one go."

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 82% (Worth A Second Look)

While watching, I was looking forward to a glorious little exchange I was blessed with when visiting one of my regular go-to blogs, Filmscreed. This is indeed a beautiful little exchange and a great example of the kind of rapid-fire dialogue one can expect from Double Indemnity. Here's part of the exchange when the ill-fated couple first meetI've been a fan of Billy Wilder's since my first viewing of any of his works, Ace in The Hole back in 2007. Though I can't speak for his Romantic Comedies, I have yet to be disappointed by his films and would recommend his works to anyone.

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"I never new murder could smell like honeysuckles"

...if I can write anything half that witty before I go, I'll die a happy man. Great post on a brilliant film, I can't believe it took me so long to see this!

Double Indemnity is an excellent (and some say the first) example of a genre of films called film noir. Films noir tend to take a naturalistic view of human nature; "I killed Dietrichson" is one of the first lines in the film.

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