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. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When "Double Indemnity" was first published in 1935, offers of up to $25,000 were tendered but nothing came of it at the time because the Hays Office considered the novel unsuitable for filming. James M. Cain was ultimately offered $15,000 by Paramount. He was to get half on signing and the other half if the script was approved by the Hays Office. See more »
Although set in 1938, Walter Neff makes reference to the "The Philadelphia Story", which did not debut on Broadway until 1939, and on film until 1940. See more »
Well, hello there, Mr. Neff.
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Double Indemnity is based on a novel by James Cain adapted to the screen by great novelist Raymond Chandler, who made here his most important contribution to the cinema history in his career, though somehow matched by following screenwriting work for 1946 Howard Hawks' classic The Big Sleep, and Billy Wilder, who previously worked as a screen writer for Ernest Lubitsch and had been already nominated three times for Academy Awards in the process before making Double Indemnity, which nevertheless played the key role in establishing him as one of the best writer-directors in Hollywood, and giving him his fourth Oscar nomination as a writer and his first one as a director.
Double Indemnity was the third feature Wilder directed after 1942 The Major and the Minor and 1943 Five Graves to Cairo, but it was definitely the first film, his primary American tragedy where the author for the first time revealed his black and somehow hopelessly pessimistic view of the American society and of the human society in general, blackishly desecrated in the film simply by populating it with exceptionally sordid characters, who independently of being a victim or victimized, of being the protagonists or just simple supporters are never really able to transcend the utterly low and devilish motivations in theirs as a consequence sordidly painful lives and reach such a state where the viewer might get relieved by considering one of them as a positive element. Instead the characters' lives shown in a continuous noir flashback of Fred MacMurray's not-a-confession are driven from the start to the very end by an utter greed in a form of double and not only indemnities with consequential and inherent to it risks and fears in a rather unsure world of insurance.
An insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a man with `no visible scars', starts to lose his already shaky dominance over his mind's yearnings when glimpses on a horizon a possibility of becoming a recipient of a monetary fortune along with no less seductive desire from a part of unhappily married and as devilishly beautiful as resourceful in pursuing her zany in its deadliness schemes, an ultimate femme fatale blond Phyllis (marvellously portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck).
Initially apparent as a romantic, the relationship gradually mutates into double confrontation of the two fears of the two characters in their greedy and ambitious pursuits, a conflict which at one point apparently results in a sort of humanization of Phyllis' character, appearing hiding the eyes of her soul behind the sun glasses, a humanization which is let to happen by her only to accentuate later her unchangeably fatal nature.
The double confrontation gradually evolves into a triple one when the threatening presence on the scene of no less and probably more resourceful character of Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) becomes more and more evident, as a result of his continuous and obsessive investigation conducted with different but nor less ambitious motives. A motives which find its ultimate revelation in a most touching, but finally most hypocritical scene of declaration of love (I love you - I love you too) between Walter Neff and Barton Keyes in the end, exactly reflecting the same nature of previous interactions between Walter and Phyllis, where such moments with the very words used, such as the supreme word of loving affection - Baby lowered to an unthinkable extent, only were a mere preparation to struck another blow in yet another outburst of hate caused by a new misfortunate complication in carrying out so well devised and apparently perfect plan.
Permeated right from the start to the very end with the flavour of unstoppable fatality in an extent that a few other film-noirs achieved, accentuated by the wonderful music score by Miklos Rozsa, Double Indemnity's story is motored by the money like in nearly all of Billy Wilder films. But in this case all the misery produced by it as evident as never before resulting in utter corruption of already corrupted characters and their descent into a such a deep abyss of human misery as probably never before or after in a Hollywood film history, an abyss with no exit, with omnipresent hypocrisy, with no place for sincere human feelings of love, friendship or affection, an abyss to where the characters descent under the monotonous tune of Miklos Rozsa's score, which serves as a reflection of their monotonously hypocrite and ultimately doubly doomed lives. 10/10
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