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
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!
31 of 40 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?