Double Indemnity (1944) – Billy Wilder

 

Billy Wilder’s classic film noir starring Fred MacMurray Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson continues to captivate, and I was happy to revisit it as one of the recommendations following my screening of Greed for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book.

Wilder developed the script with Raymond Chandler and the result is a dark tale of lust, murder and betrayal!

MacMurray plays Walter Neff, a top-notch insurance salesman who has been in the business for years, knows its ins and outs and is probably the best at what he does. His boss, Barton Keyes (Robinson) has an ability to ferret out false claims, and admires Neff greatly for his abilities, so much so, that he wants to make him a claims man just like himself.

Neff, however, has other plans once he meets Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) while trying to run her husband down to get him to update his auto insurance.

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There is an immediate attraction between the two, and they begin to connive and plan – if Heff can get Dietrichson (Tom Powers) to say off on an accident insurance policy, with a double indemnity clause, they can share a huge pay-day upon his death.

They establish alibis, avoid seeing one another, and then, when the time is right, the plan is put into action – the murder is committed, the location is set, and everything is going to go just as its planned.

Everyone believes that it was a legitimate accident, until something starts nagging at Keyes, and Heff starts to think that maybe he has just been used and manipulated from the get-go. In fact, the further he gets in, the more he realizes he’s not going to see any of the money, and he sure as hell isn’t going to get the girl.

Things go disastrously wrong and it all begins to unfurl.

MacMurray is fantastic as Heff, though some of the dialogue, probably even at the time, seems a little cliché. I’ve never heard anyone say the word ‘baby’ quite so much as he does in this film.

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There are tense moments, and revelations that shake Heff, and by extension the audience to their core, intimations from Lola Dietrichson (Jean Heather) about her stepmother, and the things she’s done in the past.

I’ve never been a Stanwyck fan, but she does turn in a strong performance in this film, as she makes Heff do all that she wants, making him commit all the true crimes, which in the end, could leave her free and clear of guilt.

Robinson steals practically every scene he is in, and I loved watching his delivery and his performance, undeniably my favorite of the film. He’s a joy in this film.

This one was a great recommendation, and I’m quite looking forward to the next recommendation for Greed as well, the Humphrey Bogart classic, Treasure of the Sierra Madre!

What did you think of Double Indemnity? Do you have a favorite film-noir from the 40s and 50s?

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