on May 29, 2004
Quintessential film noir story that set the standard for femme fatales, shady women who exploit men's weaknesses and then discard them like nylons that have too many runs in them. Of course, a man has to be willing and gullible enough to desire a woman to do most anything to have her. Phyllis Dietrichson's masterful manipulation of Walter Neff is the central theme of this film. When Neff [Fred MacMurray] and Dietrichson [Barbara Stanwyck] find that they have a clear path to a rosy and wonderful future together, they discover that everything seems to go wrong and every attempt at conversation leads to snarling exchanges, doubts and suspicions about each other. Barton Keyes [Edward G. Robinson] provides just the right balance and unwittingly unnerves Neff with his suspicions and ideas about false claims for insurance money and how his gut feelings never fail him. Keyes smells a rat but his faith and trust in Neff never wavers until later. Porter Hall has a nice turn as the man from Medford, Oregon who materializes from the shadows to add another twist to this excellent thriller.
on February 19, 2004
It seems safe to offer the opinion that "Double Indemnity" is a 4-Way Classic! The 4 categories would be noir movies, those directed by Billy Wilder, films that unfold in flashback and pictures shot in beautiful black and white. Granted that DI might not represent the cream of each of those species, but it is highly representative of the best they can put on the silver screen. DI opens with Fred MacMurray, obviously in need of medical attention, making a confession into an office Dictaphone. DI flashes back from there. Even though the viewer senses that MacMurray is deep in trouble, the suspense actually builds! How did he get himself in such a fix?? It quickly develops that he is an insurance salesman caught in a scam of his own making. His partner in crime has to be female. (This is noir!). Barbara Stanwyck, - an unfaithful wife and wicked stepmother -plays that dual role to the hilt. This reviewer does not agree with my amazon friends who feel she is sexy! Any man should run from this evil woman! She has TROUBLE stamped all over her! Under the guise of renewing her husband's car insurance, Macmurray sells the spouse a life insurance policy with Stanwyck as the beneficiary. The two then plot his death! One weak point to DI is that Macmurray immediately pins the wife as a con artist yet still agrees to the scheme. They set up the poor guy's demise as a fall from the rear observation platform of a moving passenger train. (It was probably the Southern Pacific's old "Coast Starlight" when trains actually had observation platforms. That old SP drumhead is a wonderful touch!).This reviewer won't divulge the details of that crucial event but the manner of staged death is very sloppy indeed! That is a second and critical weak point! Any self -respecting insurance company would pounce on this contrivance. Surely-albeit slowly- that is exactly what transpires. The insurance claims manager is Edward G. Robinson, who like Stanwyck, plays the role masterfully as he wises up to the fraud dumped on his desk. This reviewer cannot remember Mr. Robinson playing any role in any movie to less than perfection. Viewers should closely watch the cigar/cigarette lighting banter between the leads! That little man inside the avuncular Robinson suspects, as the viewers already know, that something is fishy. He dares Stanwyck to actually collect! At this point MacMurray, for less than altruistic reasons, "befriends" the stepdaughter only to fathom the type of fiend that Stanwyck truly is. Who would know better than a stepchild! MacMurray's subsequent decision to "take action" against Stanwyck leads to the film's climax, which this reviewer won't reveal! It certainly closes the circle! MacMurray's late gratuitous efforts to reunite the stepdaughter with her boyfriend mark him as a good guy, the perfect noir foil for the wicked Stanwyck. It also seals his fate when he could have dashed for the Mexican border! According to Silver and Ward's "Film Noir", the original fadeout was shot with MacMurray in the gas chamber. It's safe to bet most viewers will believe that the eventual ending fits the plot more appropriately. DI was nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Movie, Director, Screenplay and Actress. It lost the first 3 to "Going My Way" as the U.S. tried to feel good during WW2. Stanwyck lost the final category to Ingrid Bergman's role in "Gaslight"- a vastly more sympathetic part to say the least! DI would have fared better in peacetime! The bottom line is the headline: This is a 4 Way Hollywood classic with something to interest virtually any classic movie lover. A final thought: Isn't it interesting that not a single police officer or detective appears in DI?
on February 6, 2004
"Double Indemnity" leads all the rest in the noir genre. The movie is everything a movie should be. Fred MacMurray gives a surprisingly great performance as a semi-sleazy insurance agent who seems, at the beginning, a basically honest guy....until he meets Stanwyck's femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson. Stanwyck is cold, calculating, clever, and incredibly sexy, in a trampy sort of way. If I were wired differently, I don't think I could resist her any better than MacMurray's Walter Neff did. You can cut her sensuality with a knife. The dialogue is fast, sharp, and, frankly, amazing. You feel as if you've grabbed onto a rollercoaster and are just barely able to hang on. And Edgar G. Robinson's character, Keyes, is equally brilliant. Seldom have I seen a movie as total, as complete, and as well crafted as this one is. Frankly, although Neff and Dietrichson are heels, I found myself rooting for them to actually succeed at their murderous deed. The stepdaughter, representing innocence and morality - Phyllis Dietrichson's opposite - irritated me. I was so blown away by the appealing rottenness ("We're both rotten," Phyllis mutters) of Neff and Dietrichson that I simply couldn't dislike them. I purchased this movie after checking out the local library's copy. And I don't buy many movies. This one is superb. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor. Then you'll understand why people like me say, with all our hearts, "They just don't make good movies anymore, like they used to." And you might agree.
on July 26, 2002
This is a terrific movie, beautifully directed by Billy Wilder, one of his better films, and he made some very good ones. Sunset Boulevard (1950); Stalag 17 (1953); Some Like It Hot (1959); The Apartment (1960) come to mind. Note the range: a psychological mystery, a prisoners of war movie, a comedy with song and dance, and a "sophisticated" comedy. He could make any kind of film. He had a knack for getting the best out of the players and he never forgot his audience.
Double Indemnity is no exception. Fred MacMurray stars as Walter Neff, a morally-compromised insurance salesman who just couldn't resist the opportunity to outsmart the insurance business, and he was never better. Most people remember him from more light-hearted fare, e.g., The Shaggy Dog (1959); The Absent-Minded Professor (1961); and perhaps especially The Egg and I (1947) with Claudette Colbert. Barbara Stanwyck, whose career spanned six decades, was also excellent as the sociopathic Phyllis Dietrickson. Edward G. Robinson, who practically defined the Hollywood gangster from the thirties and forties, switches type and does an outstanding job as Barton Keyes, a sleuthful insurance claims manager.
The script was adapted from James M. Cain's second novel, a follow-up to his enormously successful The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934). That too was made into a movie, in fact two movies, but neither one was anywhere near as good as this classic film noir. Wilder employs the convention of the voice-over (something he would use again very successfully in Sunset Boulevard) by having Walter Neff ("Walter Huff" in the novel) tell the story into a Dictaphone as a confessional memo addressed to his admired pal and mentor Keyes. He didn't get the girl and he didn't get the money, he says. Strange but we can see he didn't really want the girl or the money. What he wanted was the admiration of Keyes. At any rate that's the way Wilder played it, and it worked big time. If you read the book you'll discover that Wilder (along with Raymond Chandler, who co-wrote the script) changed a number of things from the way Cain had them, especially the ending--all to the better. In fact the movie is significantly better than the novel, which isn't usually the case.
One of the things I was thinking while watching this was that it was actually as "perfect" a murder scheme as you'll see on the silver screen, although everything had to go just right. There was only one flaw, as Wilder saw it. He has Edward G. Robinson express it something like this: When a man buys an accidental death insurance policy and then dies an accidental death a few short weeks later, it ain't no accident.
Don't miss this one, one of the all-time best film noir and a jewel in the crown of Billy Wilder, one of filmland's greatest directors. Would that we had another like him.
on July 9, 2002
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance man for Pacific All Risk. When he goes to renew automobile insurance for Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers), he is met by Dietrichson's wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). Almost immediately, Neff becomes drawn to Phyllis and is convinced by her to plan the murder of Mr. Dietrichson to collect insurance. The murder goes off fine and it looks as though the two will get double on the insurance due to a double indemnity clause. But Claims Manager Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) suspects foul play. To avoid raising suspicions, Walter and Phyllis stop seeing each other and start drifting further apart (Walter also starts seeing Phyllis' stepdaughter Lola (Jean Heather) to keep her from giving out information she knows). Soon, Walter and Phyllis are plotting against one another.
Whenever I think of "Double Indemnity", the line I most remember is one said by Keyes to Walter: "You're not smarter Walter, you're just a little taller". Modify this line and it could apply to all three leads.
Neff thinks that he's a smart insurance man, the best at the office. But one look at Phyllis Dietrichson and he's taken over by her. Basically, he's weak, allowing feelings to get in the way of intelligence. Phyllis, however, makes a mistake also. Through most of the movie, Walter loves her and she doesn't care for him, using him only as a pawn to kill her husband. But at the end, she loses her nerve and confesses her love, while he's calm and collected (This is after the crime has been done, however). Barton Keyes also makes a mistake: Though he is a very smart claims man and practically breaks the case, he can't figure out that Walter was Phyllis' accomplice when her husband was killed. He thinks it was another kid, Lola's boyfriend Nino Zachetti. Having known Neff for eleven years, Keyes puts too much trust in him and can't see through him.
Amazingly, though their roles in here are among the best of their respective careers, neither of the three leads were eager to jump in. For MacMurray and Stanwyck, it was a problem of going against character. "I'm a saxophone player; I do little comedies with Carole Lombard," remarked MacMurray to Director Billy Wilder. Eventually, though, he was talked into doing it. He later called the role his favorite. And although her track record included playing heavy characters, Barbara Stanwyck had yet to do a cold hearted, unsentimental, murderous slut. When she told Wilder her concerns, he replied "Are you mouse or actress?" It was enough to cast her in what has become a trademark role. As for Robinson, the problem was not so much his character, but his role. Though still a strong lead, he was third billed. But, he later said (In a quote from the IMDB), "Emanuel Goldenberg (His real life name) told me that at my age it was time to begin thinking of character roles, to slide into middle and old age with the same grace as that marvelous actor, Lewis Stone... The decision made itself... It remains one of my favorites."
"Indemnity", I think, is one of the definitive film noirs for two reasons: Its style and its plot. In here, the movie has a dark, stylish look to it. Take the Dietrichson home: Cinematographer John Seitz creates a light filtered, musty look, through the use of silver dust mixed with smoke in the air and low-key lighting. Stanwyck puts it best, in an interview done 40 years later: "That gloomy, horrible house the Dietrichsons lived in, the slit of sunlight slicing through those heavy drapes - you could smell that death was in the air, you understood why she wanted to get out of there, away, no matter how." She added, "And for an actress, let me tell you the way those sets were lit, the house, Walter's apartment, those dark shadows, those slices of harsh light at strange angles - all that helped my performance. The way Billy staged it and John Seitz lit it, it was all one sensational mood." The plot also became a common formula in noirs: A luckless, weakhearted man falls passionately in love with a woman who wants him to kill her husband or some other relative. This plot has been replicated, in part, in later films like "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (Both versions) and "Body Heat".
I believe that one amazon reviewer compared Walter and Phyllis's romance to oil and water. He missed the point. Until the end, they really don't love one another. They love the $50,000 and love more the $100,000 with double indemnity. Their partnership is one of common interest. It's similar to that of the U.S and Russia in World War II: Neither country liked one another before or after, but they united because they had a common enemy in Germany.
I would also like to answer this question, which was put up by Roger Ebert in his "Great Movies" review: Why does Walter return to Keyes' office when he has a chance to escape? It sounds foolish. But lets look at the whole picture: Walter feels guilt for what he has done to two people: Nino and Keyes. Keyes now thinks that Nino was the accomplice to Phyllis, while Walter deceived Keyes, who is really his own friend in the movie. By stating his confession, he clears Nino of any involvement and removes the guilt of lying to his friend. Also, Walter still hopes to escape, stating that he'll try to cross the border. But, the confession takes too long. At least he comes clean.
"Double Indemnity" was a critical and financial success upon release. Surprisingly, it got seven academy award nominations but no victories. Admittedly, it has some flaws (Some clichés, as a result of later movies. And Stanwyck's blonde hairdo does look silly). Otherwise, it's deserving of being a classic.
(The quotes used in this review are courtesy of the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) websites. After all, I don't want to be sued.)
"Double Indemnity" was the 1944 film noir classic from director Billy Wilder that finally explained how insurance worked to millions of Americans. For those who fondly remember Fred MacMurray from "My Three Sons" on TV and all those Disney movies, seeing him play Walter Neff, being bent around the little finger of Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck, as one of the all time great psycho-babes) is a bit of a shock. Throw into the mix the fact that Edward R. Robinson plays the "good" guy in the story and no wonder audiences feel they have stepped through the looking glass.
The story is simple. Neff is a smooth talking insurance salesman who more than meets his match in the seductive Mrs. Dietrichson. Neff just wants to renew her husband's automobile insurance, but the sparks between them are too much to ignore and the next thing he knows not only is he having an affair, but the have come up a plan to murder her husband (Tom Powers) for his life insurance money. Even better, the policy has a double indemnity clause. But the course of true love never goes smoothly, especially when you throw murder into the mix.
"Double Idemnity" was remade for television in 1973 with Richard Crenna, Samantha Eggar and Lee J. Cobb, which was actually an above average remake as such things go. However, the original has a gritty feel that has to be experienced. Be warned: you will never want to buy insurance ever again.
Great Film Noir Lines: (1) "I never knew that murder could smell like honeysuckle"; (2) "They've commited a murder and it's not like taking a trolly ride together where they can get off at different stops. They're stuck with each other and they've got to ride all the way to the end of the line and it's a one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery"; (3) "Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help me. I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man." Why are these lines so great? Well, take a novel by James M. Cain and then have director Billy Wilder and author Raymond Chandler do the script.
If you like "Double Indemnity" then check out these other films on AFI's list of 100 Greatest Love stories: #49 "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946 version) and #94 "Body Heat" (like the inverse on the ranks there?). Why? Because they are also stories in which a guy falls for a dame so hard he is willing to kill for her.
on May 16, 2002
Author James M. Cain virtually created a new genre with his extra-tough, sin-blackened, and sex-drenched novels--and they were so successful with the public that not even 1940s Hollywood could resist. The result was three of the most famous films of that decade: MILDRED PIERCE, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Although POSTMAN is probably the better film, INDEMNITY is the most famous--possibly due to the story's truly psychotic edge, which is given full life by Barbara Stanwyck in one of her most celebrated performances.
Like POSTMAN, INDEMNITY offers the story of a married woman who plots with her lover to murder her husband. Given MacMurray's typically "good guy" image, I didn't expect to believe him in the role of Walter Neff in the role of skirt-hungry Walter Neff--but MacMurray's performance is exceptionally good here, and all the more effective because it so completely unexpected. But while MacMurray has most of the screen time, it is really Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson who dominate the film. Stanwyck is truly memorable here, and gives us a woman who seems at once sexed-up and completely frigid, at once completely natural and absolutely artificial. It is a remarkable and often disturbing effect. Robinson, who endured decades of type-casting, is equally good as the blustery, slightly comic, and absolutely honest insurance man whose job it is to ferret out suspicious claims; it is largely due to his performance, which gives the film a moral center, that we are able to buy into the otherwise off-beat performances that drive the action.
This was one of director Billy Wilder's first major hits, and he deserves considerable credit for making the weird elements of the story work as a whole, keeping the film smartly paced, and heaping it up with atmosphere. So influential that its impact would be difficult to over-estimate, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a touchstone for the entire film noir genre. Recommended.
on April 12, 2002
Now that sadly the world of cinema has lost the great Billy Wilder all we can do is marvel at the man's films who proved to be one of the most talented and versatile directors of his day.
Wilder's "Double Indemnity" has proven to be one of the all-time great noir films. And, to me, it is one of the most perfectly constructed films ever. "Double Indemnity" has set the standard for what a noir film must over come.
Based on James M. Cain's novel (he also wrote "The Postman Always Rings Twice", another one of the great noir films) and brought to screen by Wilder and Raymond Chandler ( Chandler too wrote some of the best noir stories ever, "The Big Sleep", "The Long Goodbye", and his first script "The Blue Dahlia")"Double Indemnity" tells the story of what seems to be the perfect crime. Insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray, who was not the original choice, Dick Powell was) is told by Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanywyck, in one of her most famous roles) that she wants Walter to murder her husband! According to Walter's plan everything will go as planned and nothing will lead back to them. All they really have to worry about one Walter's boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). An investigator who has 26 years of experience. It's now up to Walter to think like Keyes. Try to determine how would HE think in a given situation. This will be their ONLY way to escape. As far the rest, well, just watch the movie and see what happens.
"Double Indemnity" has that "classic" noir look we expect from films in the 40's. There's the murky dark look to it. The music by Miklos Rozsa adds to the film's effect. And the beautiful b&w cinematography by John Seitz is wonderful to look at. "Double Indemnity" is a movie you can TRY to copy, but, nothing will ever beat the original.
It's amazing that for a film that is well over 60's years old, Wilder managed to create a film that still seems fresh and is actually smarter then some of the films we have being released today! That was and always will be what made Billy Wilder one of the all-time greats! His films will never go "out of style".
on December 30, 2001
Double Indemnity is a superb story about an insurance salesman who gets involved with a woman married to a husband she doesn't care for. The murder of her husband is planned perfectly and brilliantly, but it all comes crashing down. The cause was due to themselves (Plot details).
Although it received a total of six Oscar nominations (With no wins), none of the nominations went to Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff ("Insurance salesman, age 35"). Neff is very successful at what he does (He's been at it for eleven years). He visits the home of Mr. Dietrichson to renew automobile insurance but soon finds himself falling in love with his wife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who convinces Walter to have Mr. Dietrichson sign an accident insurance without his knowing it so he can be killed. But it's the Double Indemnity clause that gets them really involved, since they will get double the pay.
Stanwyck provided, for me, a superb performance as the cold, calculating Mrs. Dietrichson, who used Neff so she could get rid of her husband and collect up some money. Meanwhile, Walter finds himself getting involved with her step-daughter Lola. He discovers from Lola that her ex-boyfriend has been seeing Phyllis, suggesting perhaps that Phyllis has plans for him.
One of the most memorable performances in the movie is Edward G. Robinson's Barton Keyes, the claims manager, a brilliant fellow who is by hunches when a claim doesn't seem right. He's the one who figures out that the Dietrichson claim doesn't seem right, but can't quite figure out who assisted. In fact, most of the safeguards put into the plot by Neff were done so to prevent Keyes getting any major suspicions. "I did it for the money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman". These words said by Neff form a sense of irony. The murder fell apart not because of the authorities, who were too dumb to figure it all out, but because of themselves. Murder's never perfect.
on December 29, 2001
By all known accounts Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler could not stand each other. All the same, mutual antipathy was overcome on a grand scale when they collaborated on the screenplay of "Double Indemnity," which Wilder also directed. The result was one of the greatest screenplays ever penned and one of the most memorable film noir suspense movies ever made.
The dialogue crackles sharply throughout, and never more notably than in the first meeting between Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the latter's home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. Insurance salesman MacMurray figured his stop as routine, a chance to renew a policy about to lapse, but it turned out to be the most momentous meeting of his life. When Stanwyck begins subtly pitching murder in the form of taking out a large policy on her oil executive husband's life, MacMurray becomes hot and leaves.
Stanwyck was enough of a shrewd femme fatale to know that, despite MacMurray's abrupt departure, he was strongly attracted to her. It turns out to be a fatal attraction. Stanwyck visits his apartment and MacMurray rapidly succumbs. The insurance pro decides on a policy with a double indemnity clause for a larger payoff, assuring her that the plan will work since he is professional enough to carry it off.
While Stanwyck and MacMurray provide stellar performances as the conspirators and ultimately murderers, Edward G. Robinson provides a performance on par with his brilliant effort in "Little Caesar," which skyrocketed him to stardom. Robinson plays a man married to his job, a titanic in the claims investigation field who knows more about the subject than anyone else around. His clue, he tells MacMurray, that something is amiss is when the "little man" in his stomach begins churning. The little man goes to work on Robinson one night after the presumably accidental death of Stanwyck's husband, who, it was believed until then, had fallen from the observation deck of the train he was taking to a Stanford University reunion. When Robinson, aided by his little man, concludes that it was a shrewdly planned murder and not an accident, the heat is on Stanwyck and MacMurray.
Stanwyck is like Jane Greer in "Out of the Past" when it comes to the labyrinthian twists of her mind and how she uses it to double deal her victims. When MacMurray realizes she is double crossing him he flares up, then confronts Stanwyck. Their kind of relationship was inevitably destined for trouble, which ultimately occurs on a large scale.
For gripping suspense, superb acting, and brilliant dialogue one cannot hope to top "Double Indemnity." It deserves the celebrated masterpiece label which it has been accorded.