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This is one of the best films of all time, not necessarily because of its
story but because of the acting, direction, cinematography, lighting, and
just the way that the story itself was told. At the time the film was
released, the idea of revealing who the killer was in the opening scene was
virtually unheard of, but it ended up being very effective because it
allowed the audience to concentrate more on other elements of the film,
which was the goal of Billy Wilder, the director. Instead of trying to
figure out who the perpetrator was, there is more emphasis on how the crime
was pulled off, what mistakes were made during the murder, who betrayed who,
how close Barton Keyes (the insurance investigator) was getting to solving
the case, and, probably most importantly, what kind of person Walter Neff is
and whether or not sympathy should be felt toward him.
Barbara Stanwyck, in one of the most remembered performances of her extensive career, represents (with nearly flawless ease) the cold and ruthless manipulator who has no difficulty in ruining other people's lives in various ways (including death, if necessary) in order to get what she wants. Known in the film community as the `femme fatale,' this is someone who uses her sexual prowess, seductiveness, and emotional detachment to drag an unsuspecting person (generally an interested man) into a scheme from which she is expected to benefit heavily and he is most likely headed for destruction. In these types of films, the man often either finds his life in ruins or ends up dead, as is often (but not always) also the case with the fate of the femme fatale.
Barbara Stanwyck (as Phyllis Dietrichson, the murderous femme fatale in Double Indemnity) and Fred MacMurray (as Walter Neff, her victim'), have amazing chemistry on screen. Their attraction is incredibly well portrayed, and the development of their relationship with each other is so convincing that what happens between them almost seems normal. Besides that, their mutually calculated interaction, although it seems at first like it has been rehearsed endlessly and ultimately brought unconvincingly to the screen, is exactly as it was meant to be, because it represents each character's intentions, even very subtly foreshadowing their future betrayals against each other. Phyllis has gone through every word she ever says to Walter in her head. She has practiced what she wants to say when she brings up the idea of life insurance to Walter in the beginning and she knows what she wants to say whenever they interact with each other because she has been planning for quite some time the prospect of murdering her husband in order to collect his fortune. Walter, conversely, methodically makes amorous advances as though this is something that he does regularly, and then ultimately he also plans out his conversations with Phyllis because he begins to suspect her and is sure to tell her only what he wants her to hear. This seemingly stiff dialogue brilliantly represents Phyllis and Walter's precise (and sinister) intentions, and it's quick pace creates a feeling of urgency and restlessness.
Probably the most fascinating and entertaining actor in the film, Edward G. Robinson, plays Barton Keyes, Walter's friend and employer at the insurance company where he works. Keyes is a very suspicious man who closely investigates the insurance claims which come into the company, having a striking history of accurately isolating fraudulent claims and throwing them out. His handling of Phyllis's (and Walter's, technically) claim and the way that he gets closer and closer to the truth create a great atmosphere of tension and drama.
Double Indemnity is nearly flawless. From the shocking and unexpected beginning to the already known but still surprising end, the audience is held rapt by the excellent performances, the brilliant and imaginative direction, and the flawlessly created atmosphere. This is excellent, excellent filmmaking, and is a classic film that should not be missed.
This is one of the best-liked classic films of all time and I am among
that large group of fans as well.
Few movies have ever had dialog this entertaining.....at least the conversations between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. I think it's a big appeal to this movie, except to younger folks who look at it as "cheesy."
I read the book, Double Indemnity written by James Cain, and was surprised that the film's snappy dialog was not in it. This is one of the rare times when the movie was far better than the book. That's not a shock after you find out that literary giant Raymond Chandler and Hall Of Fame director Billy Wilder combined to write the screenplay,
For a murder/suspense story, there is very little action, almost none, yet there are no boring lulls. The three main actors - Stanwyck, MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, are what make this so good.
MacMurray's narration is fun to hear as he tells the story in flashback, from the beginning by dictating into an old Dictaphone to his co-worker Robinson. The latter is almost mesmerizing in his performance, the way he delivers his lines. He can even make a speech about something as boring as insurance and still keep you riveted to the screen.
Stanwyck was no sex symbol (at least to me) but she looked great here in the most seductive of 1940s clothing and, like Robinson, has a distinctive voice and accent that keeps your attention.
This film was the inspiration for the 1980 movie, "Body Heat," starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. That, too, was a very, very good movie....but not many films are in the class of this one.
I've now seen this movie 14 times in 25 years, at all times of the
year, in all moods, sober or not etc - but always at night. I recorded
my copy off TV in 1987 so I can only imagine what a remaster would do
for it. With an atmosphere thick enough to cut with a knife it never
fails to engross and enchant me, and although it's been dated for 40
years or more still seems relevant and watchable today. TV, answer
phones, recordable CD/DVD, memory sticks and the internet have all come
between us and yet I can still watch Fred MacMurray speaking into a
Dictaphone without a qualm. Who wears a hat in California nowadays? Who
buys beer whilst driving! Lift attendants have gone but I can still
believe in Charlie working and laughing away in the garage past 11 at
Woman and man agree to murder woman's husband but on the way to the cemetery they face grilling by insurance company. I think everything has been said before on the IMDb - by those who think it's one of the best films ever made! To those who simply think the main problem is that it's dated I wish you could see the TV commercials that dug into DI back in '87 - what a hoot - and compare. I've just noticed the print TCM UK is showing in 2005 is lip-synced out, very wobbly Rosza music track, fading and ageing fast - worse than my 1987 video tape (maybe logically). They're supposed to be encouraging people to enjoy the classics but they won't do that with such inferior screening copies. Dear TCM UK, this is an impressive iconic film - it deserves a billion dollar remaster authorised by the Library of Congress, not repeatedly trotting out unimpressive cheap worn dupes to fill those 2 hour slots.
Everything about DI from the acting, production, direction, and music is superbly dignified and is as "close to perfection" as human beings are probably allowed to get with this form of Art - especially with the more limited technology at their disposal in '44. When most films from now are long forgotten and dated DI will still be getting re-runs on TV and art-house cinemas - God and remasters willing - that is the fact of it.
Fortunia Bonanova certainly was fortunate to have appeared in bit parts in 2 of the best films ever made - Citizen Kane the other.
Double Indemnity is based on a novel by James Cain adapted to the
by great novelist Raymond Chandler, who made here his most important
contribution to the cinema history in his career, though somehow matched
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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Double Indemnity is a film which fully embodies its genre, all the
classic noir elements are present: venetian blinds, diagonal lines, a
femme fatale and a victim of fate.
Fred MacMurray takes the central role as victim of fate, Walter Neff; cast against type, MacMurray gives a thoroughly convincing performance as a typical insurance salesman transformed into a calculating killer.
The estimable Barbara Stanwyck also delivers a typically faultless performance as the coldhearted and seductive Phyllis Dietrichson who enlists Neff in a plot to kill her husband and cash in on the insurance money.
Although this film may seem clichéd today, as many thrillers since have offered similar plot lines, rarely has the story been told so well. For fans of Film Noir, Stanwyck or MacMurray, this is an absolute MUST SEE!
Double Indemnity begins with a car speeding on a dark, rainy night. This
begins the classic film noir plot. Billy Wilder directs a steamy and
grabbing film. Billy Wilder pulls this film together with an awesome cast,
perfect lighting and an amusing script. Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff,
an unsuspecting insurance salesman. He is unsuspecting in the sense that
is unaware of what the femme fatale' is going to put him up to. Barbara
Stanwyck plays the femme fatale', Phyllis Dietrichson, a manipulative
housewife who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
The film begins in present day giving insight into Walter's current plight. Walter Neff gives the voice over as the plot unfolds. It starts in the present time allowing the audience to know what crime has happened without the interesting details to support it. This is an interesting twist to the common film noir plot. Knowing the crime at hand keeps the audience hungry for those details. Walter is the victim of the beautiful woman who manipulates him into pulling off a murderous insurance fraud scam. Walter is an impeccable insurance salesman and Phyllis, in some ways, forces him into providing her with what she needs. Phyllis is the typical femme fatale' who has no problem in using others to get what she wants.
Throughout the film Walter is completely enamored by Phyllis. Walter could have coined the pet name baby' with his fondness towards Phyllis by calling her that throughout the film. He is easily distracted by her beauty and evil charm. He seems to be entranced by Phyllis's ankle bracelet, so much that he mentions it numerous times. This allows the audience to feel the sexual tension between the two. Phyllis, on the other hand, shows the audience that she can use and abuse anyone who gets in her way. While believably attracted to Walter, Phyllis keeps him hopping to fulfill her needs. She pulls him in and handles him like a puppet. She is the epitome of the film noir genre's femme fatale'.
Barton Keyes, played by Edward G. Robinson, is Walter's co-worker and friend at the insurance company where he works. Barton closely investigates all insurance claims that come across his desk. While at one time Walter assuredly agreed with this practice, once Barton starts to unravel the mystery behind Mrs. Dietrichson's insurance claim, we begin to see just how nervous and paranoid Walter is. Walter then begins to see Phyllis in a whole new light. Barton plays the integral part by piecing together details that are thrown around throughout the film. This keeps the tension high for the filmgoer. These details are pieced together perfectly through to the end.
Double Indemnity has the perfect plot with the perfect cast. Walter and Phyllis' attraction are tasty and the crime is wonderfully puzzling. Double Indemnity is the true film noir giant.
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!
"I liked the way that anklet bit into her leg. I wanted to see her again, up close, without that silly staircase between us."--Walter Neff, after meeting Phyllis Dietrichson This is Fred MacMurray like you've never seen him before. He's edgy and sharp, and amoral, although he hides it well from his boss. Barbara Stanwyck's astounding performance set the standard for bad girls in Film Noir for years to come. I love this film because it is a perfect example of how the censorship of the time made it so that filmmakers had to get the sexiness across in a subtle way. This movie is undeniably sexy, and there's not a single 'love scene' in it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is great fun. Sxity years later, it's as taut and engaging and
beautiful as any contemporary story.
It simmers, it sizzles, the tension between Neff and Dietrichson is positively palpable. But, as the tension between Neff and Dietrichson fizzles, the tension between Neff and Keyes heats up.
It's as pure a sample of classic film noir as there is, and it does it with unparalleled style.
This is what movie-making is all about. It's not a labrynth of characters and trick endings and gimmicks. In fact, the movie starts with our tragic hero admitting he's the who whodunit...what are we left with?
The story of how and why he dunit, of how he was intoxicated and bewitched, yet came to his senses, not soon enough to save him legally, but at least to come to terms with his own failure.
This film noir classic may be the best murder mystery of all time in this storied Hollywood genre. Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson are excellent but it is Barbara Stanwyck who really makes the picture come together as a woman without a moral compass. Stanwyck set the standard for tough, calculating, shady women who exploit men without shame or remorse and her masterful manipulation of MacMurray is the movie's central theme. The film's imagery is filled with shadows and low lighting, accompanied by a tense, brooding music score. Stanwyck spins her web of ensnarement like a black widow with her victim seemingly unaware of the danger that enfolds him. MacMurray provides the narrative of the film which is told in flashback and delivers a cryptic account of the events in a confession to a boss who trusted him completely. Robinson is on target as the skeptical and suspicious boss who has a sixth sense about phony insurance claims. A nice supporting cast contributes to this thriller, namely Richard Gaines and Porter Hall.
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