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Double Indemnity
Year:
1944
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
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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Reviews
Some times, when they least expect it.....
There are occasional times when all the elements come together to make a great film that will stand the passing of time. "Double Indemnity" seems to be an example of this phenomenon.

First, there was a great novel by one of America's best mystery writers, James Cain, who created these characters that seem will live forever in our imagination. Then, the lucky break in getting the right man to direct it, Billy Wilder, a man who knew about how to make a classic out of the material that he adapted with great care and elegance with Raymond Chandler, a man who knew about the genre.

"Double Indemnity" works because it's a story we can relate to. There is a greedy woman trapped in a bad marriage, who sees the opportunity when she encounters an insurance agent who is instantly smitten with her and who has only sex in his mind. The manipulator, Phyllis Dietrichson, doesn't need much to see how Walter desires her. His idea of having her husband sign an insurance policy he knows nothing about, thinking he is doing something else, will prove a fatal flaw in judgment.

Mr. Wilder achieves in this film what others try, with disastrous results. The director, who was working under the old Hays Code, shows so much sex in the film with fully clothed actors, yet one feels the heat exuding from the passion Walter Neff feels for Phyllis. He is a man that will throw everything away because he is blinded by the promise of what his life will be once the husband is out of the picture.

In life, as well as in fiction, there are small and insignificant things that will derail the best laid plans. First, there i Jackson, the man who shouldn't have been smoking at the rear of the train, contemplating the passing landscape. Then, no one counts in the ability of Barton Keys, the man in the agency who has seen it all! Walter and Phyllis didn't take that into consideration and it will backfire on their plan.

We try to make a point to take a look at "Double Indemnity" when it shows on cable from time to time. Barbara Stanwyck makes a magnificent Phyllis. There are no false movements in her performance. Phyllis gets under Walter's skin because she knows where her priorities lie and makes good use of them in order to render Walter helpless under her spell.

Fred McMurray makes a perfect Walter. He is consumed by his passion and he will do anything because of what he perceives will be the reward for doing the crime. Walter Neff was perhaps Mr. McMurray's best creation. He is completely believable and vulnerable.

Edgar G. Robinson, as Barton Keys, makes one of his best performances for the screen. Keys is a man that has seen all the schemes pass by his desk. He is, in a way, Walter's worst nightmare, because working next to Keys, he gets to know how wrong he was in the planning of the crime.

The supporting cast is excellent. Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Buonanova and John Philliber are perfect.

The music score of Miklos Rosza gives the film a texture and a dimension that capitalizes on the action it intends to enhance. Also the music of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert contribute to the atmosphere of the movie. The great cinematography of John Seitz, who will go on to direct films, is another asset in the movie. Edith Head's costumes are absolutely what a woman like Phyllis would wear right down to her ankle bracelet.

This film shows a great man at his best: Billy Wilder!
2005-07-17
I Wonder if you Wonder
Greetings again from the darkness. "I wonder if you wonder." Every time I hear Walter Neff say those words to Phyllis Dietrichson as their initial encounter concludes, I smile and settle in for another round of Double Indemnity (1944) ... one of my all-time favorites. Though I have seen it many times over the years, I recently saw it for the first time on the big screen ... and from a 35mm print! So much of the subtle filmmaking becomes apparent - the variance of lighting, the intensity of shadows, and the vividness of close-ups. This reinforces my belief that we should never miss an opportunity to view good films in a theatre setting ... just as the director intended.

Since this film was released 67 years ago, it's difficult to discuss without noting a key plot point or character reaction. If you haven't seen it and plan to, you might stop reading here. If you would like a little insight, then let's keep going. Billy Wilder (left) directed the film and his place as a Hollywood legend is quite secure. He was nominated for 21 Oscars (Director, Writer, Producer) and had 3 wins. Some of his classics are: The Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Front Page. Many think of Wilder as a comedic filmmaker and he certainly had success in that genre, but if you watch closely, even his comedies have a dark element to them.

Double Indemnity is based on the novella by James M Cain, who also wrote Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Wilder was a fan of Cain's book, but knew the dialogue wouldn't work well on screen. So together with Raymond Chandler they wrote a screenplay filled with crackling lines and a constant feeling of dread and pending doom. As great as the script is, it is heightened by a wonderful cast that includes Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Richard Gaines and Byron Barr.

For me, MacMurray's performance is what brings the words to life and jumps the film to the "must see" category. He is playing against two Hollywood heavyweights in Stanwyck and Robinson, but we are somehow sympathetic to this not-so-bright guy who gets played like a fiddle by the villainous, wily woman he lusts after. Even as he is recording his confession, a part of us understands how he got drawn into MURDER! Not just any murder, but one for money and love ... only there is no money, and there is no love.

Ms. Stanwyck is perfectly cast as the femme fatale who weaves her web of deceit and destruction. She quickly spots the vulnerability of MacMurray's character and uses her assets just enough to hold the leash tight. It is a testament to her screen presence that she can pull off the sultry siren while sporting a less-than-desirable blonde wig. At the time, the wig was so controversial that the producers compared it to George Washington and wanted it trashed. However, filming was too far along and now it's impossible to imagine her looking any other way. Besides, MacMurray only seems to notice her anklet!

Edward G Robinson made a name for himself as a tough-guy actor ... cop and mobster all rolled into one. Here he plays the insurance investigator with a sixth-sense for fraudulent claims. He is a hard-nosed, dedicated employee who takes his responsibility very seriously and has no sympathy for those who cheat his cherished system. He has a soft spot for co-worker MacMurray, even though he is one of the back-slapping salesmen he so loathes. Their relationship in the film is one of respect and about as close as two professional men could be, given the era. When Robinson goes off on his rant about suicide research, he is a joy to behold. This guy could flat chew scenery.

In addition to the infamous wig, you might also notice that MacMurray is wearing a wedding band throughout the film, even though his character is clearly a single man. Wilder and MacMurray stated many times over the years that was simply a mistake and not "caught" until post-production. Expect a chuckle when MacMurray, as the narrator, enviously describes a Spanish style Los Angeles home as costing $30,000 ... probably less than the property taxes would be on that house today. The film originally was to end with MacMurray in the Gas Chamber and Robinson looking on (inset), but this was deemed inappropriate. One last little nugget: early in the film, MacMurray walks out of Robinson's office and past a man sitting on a hallway chair reading a paperback book. That man? Raymond Chandler, in his only on screen appearance.

The film is often described as quintessential Film Noir. Another prime example of Film Noir would be The Big Sleep (1946), based on a Raymond Chandler novel, directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. While Film Noir might not be an easily definable term, there are certain elements that must be present. Lighting is key. Shadows must be prevalent. Some type of detective story is usually at the center, and we typically get some poor schlub of a guy being yanked around by the femme fatale. The right "mood" is essential ... as a viewer we know things are headed down the wrong path, but we just can't save the characters from their own poor choices. But neither can we look away. That helpless feeling is a strong indicator that you just watched a terrific Film Noir.
2012-01-05
Another hit for Billy Wilder
This wonderful film, with its brooding 1940's atmosphere and superb black-and-white photography (by John Seitz) is one of Hollywood's best. Fred MacMurray's performance, as the insurance man besotted with Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G Robinson's as his boss help make this film memorable. The turns of the plot and the highly-charged suspense ensure that the viewer will not be disappointed. Another of Billy Wilder's hits. Well done!
2001-04-09
Simply brilliant
I'm not sure I can think of any new original praise for this film. All I can say is that the suspenseful twists and turns of the the classic film-noir plot and the moral ambiguity of Walter and Phyliss brought to life by truly memorable performances by MacMurray and Stanwyck (and Robinson in his key supporting role as Keys) left an indelible mark on my cinema mad mind even before I had become aware of the film's deserved legendary reputation. When I think of this film, I think of Proverbs 5:3-5 For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil. But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
2003-11-07
Collusion with Angora
In 1943, director of the film, "Double Indemnity", Billy Wilder, was painstakingly determined to complete a motion picture about this compelling novel written by James M. Cain. Cain is known for other great novels such as "Mildred Pierce" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice". In the process of creating this major motion picture, several actors, including George Raft and Alan Ladd, turned down the job as the sinister leading male role in this movie. Finally, the part was offered to squeaky clean, Fred MacMurray, this appointment is literally, out of character for MacMurray! Barbara Stanwyck received the honor for the lead female role in "Double Indemnity", and Edward G Robinson was given the third billing as a star in this picture. This post of third billing was something that had not happened to Edward G Robinson since his prior acting days before "Little Caeser", which was made in 1931. Robinson capitulated to a third billing spot because he had a great admiration for the concept that the film "Double Indemnity" so intricately purported! The whole genre to "Double Indemnity" was set up flawlessly, as it orchestrated a deliberately contradictory dynamic. Behind the sunny pleasantry of Los Angeles, there lurked a deep rooted and conniving chicanery amidst a couple of masterminds who began implementing a horribly dark aspect of human behavior. The film, "Double Indemnity" manifested the rough exterior that the United Staes was besieged with because of their involvement in World War II. The American movie goer had become a little less naive since the advent of WWII, and, this reflected itself accordingly with regards to the type of movie they wanted to see. The film noir captivated the American public, and, now, the movie industry encompassed a myriad of wry depictions that were germane to the pejorative side of an individual. This dubiously sensationalistic technique by the motion picture industry was perceived as intriguing by the newly enlightened movie audience of the early 1940's!! The film "Double Indemnity" epitomizes the entire film noir pique, right alongside with the uncanny masterpiece "Maltese Falcon". "Double Indemnity" did not win for best picture in 1944, that year, the Academy Award was given to "Going My Way". As we all know, there are times when life simply does not make any sense, especially since a prominent Philadelphia critic rated "Going My Way" the worst Academy Award winning film in the whole history of the American cinema! "Double Indemnity" is considered to be Billy Wilder's best directing effort! The next year, Billy Wilder's directorial ability was totally vindicated, as he received his rightfully deserved acclaim with the film, "The Lost Weekend", which won for best picture in 1945. Billy Wilder received the Academy Award for best director that year as well. The film, "Double Indemnity" is truly remarkable!! The itemized and avaricious intensity to this movie was something that had not been depicted in films before the movie "Double Indemnity" was made. This film's wiles of malice and deceit were not expedited with a derivative and visceral disposition, rather, these antics were carried off with a dedicated fervor and paramount gratification. Fred MacMurray's character was perpetually afflicted with a relentless angst that infiltrated an acrimonious reveille to him about the primary repercussions of personal greed! His character, Walter Neff, endured a narrative agony which perpetuated a compulsive pontification about how people really are, as opposed to the way they are suppose to be! Barbara Stanwyck established her formidable status as a revolutionary femme-fatal in the Hollywood world of movies, with her performance in "Double Indemnity". Charismatically charming while wearing her diverse onslaught of angora sweaters, her beauty and allure became a necessary ingredient to the making of this film! The wig that Barbara Stanwyck wore for this movie, signified the overall mendacity to her heinously lethal and obsessive persona!! Stanwyck's intellectual ambiguity to this role was attributed to her overtly callous set of pecuniary priorities! Edward G. Robinson's character was the perennial voice of reason. Robinson was the legal eagle who would ultimately prevail in his tenacious quest to resolve all of these dubiously manufactured and felonious escapades! The final scene with MacMurray and Stanwyck was an all-time noir classic. This last scene with MacMurray and Stanwyck was one of the best scenes of any movie whatsoever, definitely head to head with the extraordinary last scene of the movie "The Killing". A respected production company ranks this ending the sixth best ending of any and all movies ever produced! The dramatic ending to "Double Indemnity" was rated right above "Casablanca" and right below "City Lights". The heightened glamor to the final scene for MacMurray and Stanwyck exuded a zenith within the realm of the classic film noir mystique. The emphatic, yet subtle, overtone to the song "Tangerine" playing in the background, became a melodic element to this final scene which was conducive to a sexually sedate form of apocalyptic doom and despair! Throughout the entire duration of this movie, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck were always seducing each other with salacious innuendos! This ending wound up emulating a philosophical perspective used by writers of ancient Greek tragedies! Filming a movie in black and white is primarily advantageous to the quality of a film, as it obviates any disorientation to the impact of the characters' emotions!! AFI (AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE) ranks "Double Indemnity" the 29th best film out of the top 100 American movies ever made! This website ranks "Double Indemnity" 53rd out of the top 250 films ever produced. Last, but certainly not least, America's Writer's Guild East, ranks "Double Indemnity" the 26th best written script ever in the history of American films!! The director, Billy Wilder, does a tremendous job with consummating the aggregate megalomania and rancor to this movie. The acting was sensational. "Double Indemnity" was up for seven Academy Awards in 1944! Without question! "Double Indemnity" is one of the greatest films ever created... FIVE STARS... PERFECT TEN!!!!
2011-05-09
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.
2015-08-21
A film noir classic. Close to perfect.
James M. Cain's 'Double Indemnity' is one greatest crime stories ever written. It's not even novel length, only 80 pages or so, but close to perfect. I approached the movie version with some trepidation. I was aware that it was regarded as a film noir classic, and Billy Wilder is a great director, but I was put off by the casting of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the lead roles. I grew up watching endless re-runs of 'My Three Sons' on TV so MacMurray was the last person I could imagine to play tough guy insurance salesman Walter Neff, and Stanwyck is one golden age actress I've never warmed to, and I don't think she was anywhere near as seductive enough to play Phyllis. However I needn't have worried, both actors are excellent, and screen legend Edward G. Robinson steals every scene he is in. A few things were changed from Cain's original novella by Wilder and collaborator Raymond Chandler, especially the ending, which is nowhere near as dark and pessimistic as the book version, but I have no complaints, as a movie it is close to perfect. 'Double Indemnity' is without doubt one of the best crime movies I've ever seen, up there with 'Rififi', 'Out Of The Past', 'The Killing', and a handful of others. Highly recommended.
2003-06-04
Honeysuckle and murder
I teach critical viewing of film in high school and since this is the best film noir ever made, I showed it in the fall of 2005 to my classes, only to be met with universal hatred and scorn. Nothing about the film pleased and I was rather disheartened. Later in the year, however, several kids said that they think they probably couldn't appreciate it that early in the course and suggested that I save it for later in the year.

So, I showed it in spring of 2007 and got a completely different reaction! The kids loved it and several were rather bowled over by the use of light and shadow and how it contributed to the over-all tone of the film. I also had by this time a really good documentary to show with it that gave good insights into the making of the film which I think helped as well.

Anyway, my hope in the ultimate taste of the adolescent restored, this film will remain a late entry in my syllabus.
2007-07-09
A masterpiece of Film Noir
Double Idemnity is very fine film-making - with both Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder on board and a killer cast (pun intended) it's a winner all the way.

For us it's the script, the cool, almost bebop rhythm of the words, staccato and tense - it must have been amazing to hear this first time round - a use of language that just blows you away every time.

An excellent plot, brilliant filming, and great acting all the way - murder never seemed so easy or the guilt and repercussions so brilliantly handled.

It still works - 65 years on this is still a fresh slice of cinema that deserves each of its seven Oscar nominations - dark, cold, twisted - brilliant!
2009-02-07
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.
2009-03-06
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