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Double Indemnity
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Billy Wilder
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff
Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson
Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes
Porter Hall as Mr. Jackson
Jean Heather as Lola Dietrichson
Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson
Byron Barr as Nino Zachetti
Richard Gaines as Edward S. Norton, Jr.
Fortunio Bonanova as Sam Garlopis
John Philliber as Joe Peters
George Anderson as Warden at Execution (scenes deleted)
Al Bridge as Execution Chamber Guard (scenes deleted)
Edward Hearn as Warden's Secretary (scenes deleted)
Boyd Irwin as First Doctor at Execution (scenes deleted)
George Melford as Second Doctor at Execution (scenes deleted)
William O'Leary as Chaplain at Execution (scenes deleted)
Storyline: In 1938, Walter Neff, an experienced salesman of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co., meets the seductive wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson, and they have an affair. Phyllis proposes to kill her husband to receive the proceeds of an accident insurance policy and Walter devises a scheme to receive twice the amount based on a double indemnity clause. When Mr. Dietrichson is found dead on a train-track, the police accept the determination of accidental death. However, the insurance analyst and Walter's best friend Barton Keyes does not buy the story and suspects that Phyllis has murdered her husband with the help of another man.
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Chandler's influence....
I was impressed by the subtle changes Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder worked on Cain's novella. The book DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a fast, slick morality piece wherein an amoral hero ("Walter HUFF") callously disregard notions of Good and Evil, only to find that Evil does exist (The things he discovers about Phyllis Dietrichson's past carry quite a shock.. and were omitted from the film.)and that he is sleeping with it. The ending is literally hellish and obviously influenced writers like Jim Thompson.

The film, on the other hand, discards this to play up a love story between Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray. Their mutual respect at the beginning of the film has turned into sad affection by the end, when Robinson lights MacMurray's cigarette, Fred says, "...It was right across the desk from you," Ed answers, "Closer than that, Walter," and Fred replies, "I love you, too." Tellingly, the exchange doesn't seem gay, just the expression of feelings between two men. Chandler knew how to write this and Wilder knew how to film it -- and very well indeed.
Ture Noir Film
Paramount Studio's 1944 release Double Indemnity is one of the best examples of true-to-form film noir. The plot of the film is straightforward. Fueled by greed, a wife decides to take out an insurance policy on her unsuspecting husband, with plans of murdering him for the proceeds. The policy contains a double indemnity clause, which will pay twice the policy amount in the event of death by accident. To make her plan succeed, she enlists the help of an accomplice to help murder her spouse and make it seem accidental.

Adapted from a novel by James M. Cain, Double Indemnity is loosely based on the real-life Snyder-Gray murder case of 1927, in which a New York housewife persuaded her young lover to commit murder. The woman had taken out a double indemnity life insurance policy on her husband without his knowledge. The murder succeeded but the killers were caught and executed the following year. Just as actual events influenced the making of this film, Double Indemnity has influenced numerous movies based on the same premise, the most notable of which are 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice and 1981's Body Heat.

The film stars Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, a fast-talking insurance salesman, attempting to pull the perfect fraud job. It is Fred MacMurray who is narratting the film. Of course he didn't start out with that idea - it all stated when he met, and immediately fell for, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). From there the tale she spins of her unhappy marriage, complicated by a tempestuous relationship with stepdaughter Lola, takes him on the slippery slope to crime. With his extensive knowledge of the insurance business, nothing can stop Walter from covering his tracks ingeniously… except the analytical skills of his friend, the fraud investigator Barton Keyes.

Frequently told in flashbacks, this movie is utterly compelling from the word go. It's interesting to ponder whether this film could have had the same impact if it had been shot in colour - but I don't think so. The filming is spot on, the camera angles, use of shadow and perspectives on the actors all add to the tension of the film. The screen does sometimes get so dark as to be impossible to tell what's going on in a couple of scenes, but this is done deliberately so as to add to the suspense.

The film is very wordy, as so many films of the era were and the dialogue is often brilliant. Billy Wilder's direction is another part of the key to this film's being in the IMDb Top 250 Movies of All Time list and also features in the Top 50 among the IMDb Film Noir list in fact at # 3 when I last saw it. There are moments of humour to lighten the mood and scenes of compelling drama / intrigue / emotion. With the excellent acting, awesome script and breathtaking art direction / cinematography it makes one of the best films of all time in a lot of peoples' list - including mine.

In case you didn't know (I didn't), the term "Double Indemnity" refers to an insurance clause where a double payment is handed out if someone whose life is insured dies in an unusual manner. Theoretically of course the chances of this happening are remote, meaning little danger of them ever having to pay it out… and cases when someone has died in this manner shortly after taking out a life insurance policy would automatically be viewed as suspicious. The way Walter covers his tracks, and the way Barton uncovers them, are quite brilliant and show (to a layman at least) a deep knowledge of the insurance business.

Double Indemnity was nominated for no less that seven Oscars; sadly it didn't win a single one. But from 1944, it's popularity has increased year after year and when you talk of noir movies DOuble Indemnity instantly come to ones mind.
No Woman, No Money
There have been so many reviews of this classic and much imitated "film noir" creation, I am tempted to review at least some of the reviews rather than the film, but I won't.

If the script is "silly and laughable", as one recent reviewer seriously contends, then the laugh is on the reviewer because some of the dialogue was written deliberately to be comical in places, especially if lines repeatedly begin with the word "suppose". To the contrary, I found the script, written by the director himself and Raymond Chandler, to be very snappy, especially as they were so skillfully brought to life by three of the best in the business, Stanwyck, Robinson, and MacMurray, in no special order. I especially enjoyed Mr. Robinson's bursting soliloquies that underlined his character's extensive knowledge of the risks of the insurance business. Who else could have succeeded in this endeavor so well?

As much as I enjoyed the three wonderful lead actors, I also appreciated all of the meticulous details of the director, Billy Wilder, including minor but memorable characters such as the elevator man ("They wouldn't sell me a policy..."), Netty, the Dietrickson's maid ("They keep the liquor closet locked up." If I were in the employ of this unhappy and unlikable couple, I would need an occasional nip myself.), Mr. Jackson, the witness ("I'm a Medford Man--Medford, Oregon."), and Nino Zachetti, the angry young man who bitterly resents how he has been cheated by society but may never realize how truly lucky he is. Even the scenes in the food market allowed us an authentic glimpse of everyday life in wartime 1944 Los Angeles, revealing, among other tidbits, that farina packages haven't changed very much in 72 years.

The film unfolds in a series of flashbacks with periodic breaks in "present time", including the beginning and the end. As Barton Keyes suggests at one point, the film itself is very neatly "wrapped up in tissue paper...pink ribbons on it." Unlike many other movies of its "noir" genre, it is relatively easy to follow without distracting us with unnecessarily convoluted plots that we didn't have to struggle to understand in the first place.

Neff's questionable character is revealed from the start as he has no qualms about destroying a marriage and a family until the presence of Lola, Dietrichson's daughter, challenges his conscience. His fatherly relationship with Lola and then his compassionate assistance to Zachetti, her boyfriend, demonstrates that Neff isn't completely morally depraved as much as he is weak in the face of temptation. Regardless of how disagreeable Dietricksen, his victim, is, Neff can't redeem himself from his crime by being nice to Lola and Zachetti. It is not an even exchange. This exercise in portraying a repentant, moral weakling is refined by the actor a decade later in MacMurray's role of Lt. Tom Keefer in "The Caine Mutiny". Then, MacMurray takes immorality to a new level six years after that in "The Apartment"' as the shamelessly dishonest Jeff Sheldrake, who is totally void of introspection. For those who only know MacMurray as the father in the television series "My Three Sons", you ain't seen nuthin' yet!

Although I was fully absorbed in the action, Neff's ability under extraordinary pressure to get Jackson out of the observation car just in the nick of time seemed improbable to me. Didn't he and Phyllis consider the possibility that someone would be out there who was unwilling or even incapable of leaving on time? And wouldn't the coroner have established early that Dietricksen was the victim of strangulation rather than accidental death? I'll leave it to you to decide. And did Phyllis actually undergo a "change of heart" just before she was able to fire a second shot? Should it make a difference to us by then? I think not. Nothing could ever redeem this despicable woman--or that wig.
A film noir masterpiece.
Walter Neff arrives at the home of The Dietrichson family, to sell insurance. While the husband absent he gets acquainted with Lola, the unhappily married second wife of Dietrichson. Being an insurance Salesman Neff knows the ins and outs, in particular how to commit the perfect murder. The pair hatch a plan, but Neff's colleague Barton Keyes starts to unravel the complex plan Walter and Lola concocted.

I love the film noir genre, there were some superb offerings, there's a strong case for naming Double Indemnity as the best of the lot. Firstly the story itself, so wonderfully complex, loaded with twists and turns. Secondly the acting, so strong, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are superb as the film's leads. I particularly love the way that Walter narrates the story, an original format, getting it from his point of view.

First time viewers are in for a treat, and will have zero idea of what the conclusion will be. Even now it looks so slick, excellent production values throughout, quite simply this film is exceptional. 10/10
A film noir masterpiece that received no less than seven Oscar nominations…
There were some superb thrillers coming out of Hollywood in the forties which did not rely on the private eye conventions – but somehow the best of them were spread throughout by the same cynicism, the same realism, the same ruthless suspense…

Best of all was Wilder's "Double Identity." It was based on a real-life assassination in New York in 1927, when a wife and her lover killed the husband for his insurance money…

In the film, a near-breaking-point tension was reached and sustained in the passion of an insurance salesman and a passionately sensual femme fatale – an intense desire for each other and for money; in the murder of the poor husband; and in their useless attempts to escape the ability of a fast-talking investigator…
"I love you too."
Mere words cannot express my love for this film. This movie is a crystallization of silver screen perfection, a rare event where every little thing aligns to bestow the lucky viewers with what can only be described as breathtaking art.

The performances in this movie are superb. In a script riddled with hardboiled dialog and outlandish implausibilities, everyone hits the right note, and makes the endeavor compelling. Stanwyck is at her most seductive and powerful, and Edward G. Robinson gives the movie the perfect moral ground.

But the best performance has to be given to Fred MacMurray who turns the clichéd role of a man seduced by a woman into something more than the sleaze bag he should be. He becomes a character you're invested in, a man who is shaken from his complacent life and thoroughly destroyed by the demons he creates. And through this all, through murder in its many incarnations, you still can't help feel for the man. The character of Walter Neff, in so many words, takes on a life of its own thanks to MacMurray, and keeps the audience compelled no matter what sins he commits. The tics and libido exuded add to his charm and make him deservedly one of the most iconic characters of all time.

A lot of this credit must be given to Billy Wilder, my personal favorite director and a man whose films can all be completely different but possess enough tics to be instantly recognizable. The beauty of his shots and the set up of the script blend perfectly, creating a universe that is tangible and complex.

If you have not seen this movie, please do.
Film Noir Classic
Double Indemnity is a movie that is like the periodic table to science. This movie is absolutely essential to the medium of film. It is one of those flicks that will always stand the test of time. It's a film to study as well as one to love and enjoy. It is a muse for a lot of films that have been made since this 1944 masterpiece.

The story is about an insurance representative, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who falls in love with a woman, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). She wants him to help her murder her husband and the bonus behind this plan is that the death of Mr. Dietrichson will trigger a heavy life insurance payout. The crime is carefully inspected by Neff's boss, insurance investigator, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson).

This film was nominated for seven Oscars for a reason. The acting is superb and is to a standard that modern audiences will appreciate. The directing of Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd.) makes it film noir classic. And the screenplay is one of the best that Hollywood has produced.

Double Indemnity is a film that everyone should watch. It should be something that should be passed down from generation to generation. It is a perfect film in so many ways and one that should be held in the highest regard by all who watch it. This film defines 10 out of 10.
Much closer than that, Walter
This is Billy Wilder's masterpiece. Though "Sunset Boulevard" is a great movie, it has a few script holes that "Double Indemnity" does not have. For example, in "Double Indemnity," Walter Neff admits at the beginning of the movie that he has killed a man. He does this by dictating into a machine. He then proceeds to tell how it happened. This could very likely take place in the real world. In "Sunset boulevard" a corpse is floating in a pool; the corpse begins through narration to tell how it ended up dead. This is a major flaw since dead people don't tell tales.

The only other film noir thriller that even comes close to capturing the essence of the genre is "Murder, My Sweet." The lines in that movie are almost as clever and memorable as the lines in "Double Indemnity." Interesting that the two were released the same year (1944), one based on a James M. Cain novel, the other on a Raymond Chandler novel. There are so many catchy lines in "Double Indemnity" that aid the viewer in understanding the inner workings and machinations of the characters that they fill almost the entire film. IMDb provides the best lines under "quotes." My favorite because it so defines the relationship between Neff and his boss Barton Keyes is toward the end when Neff stands before Keyes totally exposed. Neff states,"Know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell ya. 'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya." Keyes knowingly replies, "Closer than that, Walter." The father, son relationship of the two men is now broken forever and the tragedy of the severed bond is apparent.

Everyone involved in this movie both before the camera and behind the camera give their inspired all to make this film one of the greatest in cinema history. True, it may rightfully be classified film noir, but the total picture transcends labeling. It is so much more than just the best film noir movie. The three leads could be no better. They play their parts perfectly. The much underrated Fred MacMurray who was so often relegated to minor features was a gifted actor. He stays on top of it all and truly equals the inspired performances of Barbara Stanwyck, the ultimate femme fatale, and Edward G. Robinson in his best role ever. Edward G. Robinson plays the penultimate insurance actuary. He knows the statistics inside and out. He can recognize a false claim almost immediately. Neff knew this but he let another part of his body rather than his brain do his thinking for him. He is completely blinded by love and lust. And what a name given him by Wilder, Walter Neff, so common it compares with the name Willy Loman for some of the same reasons. He is too weak to withstand the wily maneuvering of this cold, callous yet greedy woman, who knows how to shake that thing. He is doomed from the start. In the end everyone loses, even Keyes. He will never be the same man again. He cannot dismiss Neff the way he dismissed all the other frauds and fakes. A part of himself has been removed permanently.
Superb - a film-noir classic
Walter Neff is an insurance salesman for Pacific All Risk Insurance Company. He falls for Phyllis Dietrichson, the wife of a client of his, and is drawn into a plan to kill Mr. Dietrichson and pocket the insurance money. Between the two of them they come up with the perfect murder, so good it not only looks like an accident, but ensures that the insurance pays out double the usual sum insured - double indemnity. Between them and the money stands Barton Keyes, Pacific Insurance's Head of Claims. Experienced, wily and possessing a sixth sense for claims fraud he is a formidable adversary...

Brilliant crime drama - a film-noir classic. Written by Raymond Chandler book and directed by master-director Billy Wilder, this is great on so many levels: the clever plot (especially the murder plan, which is so good you almost want them to succeed); the snappy, often funny, dialogue and the excellent, engaging performances. Moreover, there's a smoothness and coolness about this, a hallmark of film noir.

Only things missing from making this one of the greatest movies of all times is a good twist and possibly less predictability. The use of flashbacks to tell the story sort of gives away the direction the plot is taking.

Good work by Fred MacMurray as Neff, Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis and Edward G Robinson as Keyes. In hindsight, Humphrey Bogart would have made a better Neff, but then you could say that about any 1940s role requiring a cool, tough, smooth-talking, wise-cracking male lead. Fred MacMurray does well and doesn't really put a foot wrong, but I kept thinking "Imagine Bogie in the role...".

Barbara Stanwyck got a well-deserved Best Leading Actress Oscar nomination for playing Phyllis.

The film itself garnered seven Oscar nominations but no wins, losing out on Best Picture to Going My Way, the so-so musical starring Bing Crosby. Billy Wilder got his first Best Director nomination and fourth writing nomination for Double Indemnity. He would have to wait for his next movie, The Lost Weekend, for his first win.
A planned and committed murder
Interesting plot of this thriller. An attractive woman (Stanwyck) married to a man much older than her, who was previously married or was widow, with a daughter from his first marriage, live in a very tense relations. She did not want to continue living with his husband and detested his daughter. At this point, an agent from an insurance company (MacMurray) thrived as an 'angel' for Stanwyck, he proposed different assurances, one of them foresaw insurance in case of an accidental death, but he also felt in love with Stanwyck. This passion led to a planned murder that was committed nearly perfectly. But another intelligent person (Edward G. Robinson), the boss of MacMurray in the insurance company, step by step started to discover the plot for murder. This is a film with very modest means if you compare with those presently in use, but it is of a very high quality. Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray showed their class, but the best acting came from that 'monster' of the screen named Edward G. Robinson, who acted perfectly. Looking the way he did one may think that he was not an actor but simply the real boss of the insurance company.
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