Double Indemnity (1944) Poster

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One of the best films noir ever, Double Indemnity communicates with amazing effectiveness the depths of depravity, greed, lust, and betrayal of the seemingly innocent and beautiful.
Michael DeZubiria8 November 2000
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.
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Justifiably At The Top Of Most Film Noir Lists
ccthemovieman-123 December 2005
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 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.
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It fits together like a watch
Gary1704592 May 2004
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 night.

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.
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Some times, when they least expect it.....
jotix10017 July 2005
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!
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A Superb Noir Film
The_Experiment_In_Terror23 December 2002
If you are a noir fan then this film is an absolute must see. The screenplay itself is a work of art in its charater construction, plot structure and dialogue which is delievered by an ensemble of first class actors divying up first class performances. Barbra Stanwyck as the deadly, smouldering, scheming Phyllis Dietrichson turns in a performance that is right up there with Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Fred McMurray delievers a performance of a smart but desperately lovelorn patsy and Edward G. Robinson is perfect in the role of Barton Keyes and just about steals the moment every time he appears on screen.

I personally love a good Noir film and this is right up there with the best of them. Billy Wilder should be proud of this work eventhough the Academy didn't see it fit to reward him for his efforts, however I personally think this film is an absolute winner.
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The Not-So-Perfect Crime
jet14152 December 2001
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 he 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.
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The definitive Film Noir.
Hotstar13 April 2004
Warning: 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!
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best American Film Noir ever made
Mmmavis16 March 2004
"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!
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Ultimate film-noir
Ilya Mauter12 June 2003
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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Timeless Classic
MovieMusings4 July 2004
Warning: 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.
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An all-time Hollywood classic
NewEnglandPat11 August 2003
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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A film noir masterpiece that received no less than seven Oscar nominations…
Nazi_Fighter_David16 January 2009
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…
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Try to forget all the film-noir parodies you've seen--this is the real thing
marissas754 February 2006
For years, I was entertained by film-noir homages/parodies like Garrison Keillor's "Guy Noir, Private Eye" and the Coens' "The Man Who Wasn't There," but I'd never seen an authentic noir. I finally got my chance with "Double Indemnity," which helped establish the genre as we know it. The expected elements are all here: Shadow-filled black-and-white cinematography. An ordinary man (Walter Neff, played by Fred MacMurray) who becomes an amoral criminal under the influence of a femme fatale (Phyllis Dietrichson, played by Barbara Stanwyck). Abundant cynicism, pessimism, and fatalism. Tough, stylized dialogue, including voice-over narration with a kind of hard-edged poetry to it.

However, because in the 21st century we see film noir parodies more frequently than the real thing, we've been conditioned to laugh at some of the excesses of the genre--especially this sort of narration. Thus, lines like "How could I know that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?" or "I got to thinking about what cemeteries are for--they're for putting dead people in!" strike us as much funnier than they were probably intended to be. Instead of helping create a dark, gritty atmosphere, they actually jolt us out of the movie by prompting our scoffing laughter.

In short, "Double Indemnity" does a great job of establishing the rules of the world in which the story takes place, but we now have trouble accepting that world on its own terms. And I do believe that this movie was intended to have some humor to it--but of the grimly ironic kind, not the "isn't this a little ridiculous?" humor we find in it today.

Still, there is much to admire about "Double Indemnity." It has a very strong plot--simply but elegantly constructed, and even though its general outlines get revealed within the first five minutes, the movie always remains interesting. The relationship between Walter and Phyllis is intriguingly ambiguous--it's not clear whether they are motivated by lust, greed, or something else entirely. (Roger Ebert's Great Movies essay has some noteworthy theories about this, and made me realize that this ambiguity is an asset, not a flaw.) Most impressive and unexpected is the character of insurance-claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Though Keyes functions like a detective, his role doesn't indulge in any "film-noir detective" clichés. Instead, he's the most real-seeming person in the movie: rumpled, gruff, blustering, detail-obsessed, highly conscientious, and very funny. And gradually, the film reveals that the relationship between Walter and Keyes is even more complex and interesting than that between Walter and Phyllis.

"Double Indemnity" will always be watched because of its role in establishing the conventions of film noir, but more importantly, it's still an entertaining movie--even if, sixty years later, it's sometimes entertaining for reasons the filmmakers never intended.
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Double Indemnity
FilmFanatic092 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
From the first time he sees that ankle bracelet, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a doomed man. As Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) descends her California home's spiral staircase, we are as enraptured as Neff. And it takes little time to figure out that being enraptured by this femme fatale is a very dangerous position to find oneself in. Is it accidental that the bracelet is worn around her ankle, as opposed to the more traditional wrist? Is it accidental that the sunlight streaming through the windows cast shadows not unlike bars across the living room? I suspect it's about as accidental as Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) eventually ending up dead along the railroad tracks. We must remember that Billy Wilder is doing more than evoking noir here, he's inventing it. And how brave he is! Beginning the film by all but divulging the ending is hardly the route most directors choose to go when directing a thriller. But as he's well aware, the audience doesn't care half as much about where they end up as they do about the thrill of the ride it takes to get them there.

The structure of the film is familiar to anyone who has seen "Body Heat," or any other knockoff. "Double Indemnity" is the original however, and it's intricate plot revels in its complexities nearly as much as Walter and Phyllis do in their convoluted plot to dispose of an unwanted husband. The audience learns only a minimum about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Dietrichson, but we easily surmise that their union was not out of love. If the marriage was one of convenience, than the murder certainly is. It seems unlikely Phyllis is after the freedom to continue her heady tryst with Walter, and even the money provided by the double indemnity clause of Mr. Dietrichson's life insurance policy seems more like a bonus than a motivation. In other words, Phyllis just wants her husband dead. And Neff obliges.

Several times while watching "Double Indemnity," I felt my pulse physically quicken. These scenes were most notably the ones in which it looked as though Walter and Phyllis' trolley car had finally reached the end of its line, and discovery of their crime was inevitable. The scene where Phyllis is forced to hide behind a door, knowing that incrimination awaits if the person on the other side sees her, is unrelenting in its suspense. After all, we want this reprehensible act to go off without a hitch every bit as much as they do. That is the sign of a good film. It also stands to reason, seeing as how we were there when the elaborate scheme was being plotted. That makes us accessories. And if they get caught, God help us, so do we.
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Sharp. Really sharp.
allar10026 February 2004
This is a dynamite piece of filmmaking by Billy Wilder. Wilder is in my opinion a very underrated director, much like John Houston. The acting is in top form from all of the players. The cinematography is crisp, and beautiful. The sound is nice and clear, and the direction is arguably some of Wilder's best. However, the real star is the screenplay. First off, it was taken from excellent source material. James Cain is always great for a story where nobody wins out. Check out The Postman Always Rings Twice for an example. But it is Chandler who I think really put this one on the map. Chandler has a way with dialogue that makes it all ring in your ears. The lines are smooth, and the characters always say something that makes me wish I could be that clever and smooth in everyday situations. Chandler knows dialogue, Chandler knows LA, and Chandler knows how to deliver a story. Check out any of his novels, and you will see this. This is a teamup that I really wish would have happened again. Oh well. If you don't mind voice over narration, then this is a film for you.
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enjoyed this dark Who-dunnit...
ksf-24 April 2004
Barbara Stanwyck (multi bw movies "Lady Eve", many others) and Fred MacMurray (also many bw movies, then the dad on My Three Sons TV series) meet as an insurance salesman attempts to sell an insurance policy to a California housewife. They both play dark, sinister roles, unlike what they are both known for. I love the playful banter as they flirt and tease each other before things get more serious. Plot also has several clever twists, and the viewer squirms several times when the investigators almost catch people in compromising positions in a Hitchcock manner. Edward Robinson is MacMurray's boss helping to track down the clues. Billy Wilder directed. Movie was remade later in 1973 with richard crenna, but stick with the old b/w version.
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Simply brilliant
perfectbond7 November 2003
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.
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Classic tale of double cross
gcd708 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Classic tale of double-cross and scheming is done to a nicety. Never mind the fact that the script is formulaic and predictable, and the characters are all selfish and self-serving. Just sit back and enjoy some great acting and smart direction.

Billy Wilder knew exactly how far to stretch this tale of an insurance salesman who fatefully falls for the femme fatale who would spell ruin for him. He knew the strengths and weaknesses, and he let it ride from there.

Fred MacMurray gleefully overplays his stereotype hero guy. He's got the smarts, the looks and he's almost got the dame. As said beauty, Barbara Stanwyck is a must, and few could do this sort of thing better. Cap all this with the dry, witty performance from Edward G. Robinson who lives and breathes insurance claims. He gets all the best lines and devours them.

In a nutshell you have here a must for any 40's film buffs.

Sunday, November 1, 1998 - Astor Theatre
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Chandler's influence....
c532c2 July 2004
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.
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Lies, Deceit, Sex and Murder.....No Not America in 2003, Try 1944 Instead.
tfrizzell3 November 2003
Woody Allen once called "Double Indemnity" the finest American movie ever made. That may be going out on a limb a bit, but then again Allen is more than a film-maker. He is a historian, a listener, a writer and a supreme judge of movies. While I am not going to agree that this is the finest movie ever produced in the U.S., I am still going to say that this is easily one of the very best films ever conceived and executed through the history of motion pictures. An insurance man (Fred MacMurray) goes to renew an automobile policy for the ridiculously wealthy Tom Powers. Instead of finding his man though he meets Powers' super-wicked and highly sexual wife (Barbara Stanwyck, in an unforgettable Oscar-nominated part). They flirt immediately. There is something more than friendship there and a crazed affair starts. Stanwyck, a master manipulator tells sob stories to MacMurray about her abusive husband (embellishing quite a bit in the process). MacMurray, only having eyes for Stanwyck, comes up with a plan with her to have Powers killed so they can collect the insurance via the titled policy. Naturally though Stanwyck does not think near as much of the relationship as MacMurray does and the duo must constantly dodge pesky insurance investigator Edward G. Robinson (in one of his finer roles) and Stanwyck's suspicious step-daughter (Jean Heather). All told through intense flashbacks by MacMurray, "Double Indemnity" is quite possibly co-writer/director (Oscar-nominated in both categories) Billy Wilder's finest contribution to the cinema. As time passes, many film scholars confuse this as one of Alfred Hitchcock's productions. Looking back, this is a very odd movie for Wilder (considering latter triumphs with movies like "Sunset Boulevard", "Stalag 17", "Some Like It Hot" and "The Apartment"). However Wilder would continue a similar trend immediately following this in 1945 with the Best Picture Oscar-winning "The Lost Weekend", an intense character-study of one man's (Ray Milland) bout with alcoholism. "Double Indemnity" has nothing wrong with it. I cannot think of one negative throughout the film. I never found Stanwyck very attractive, but she has a way about her that makes her deceptively sexy here. MacMurray, one of those actors who never got any credit, does probably his best work ever in this one and Robinson is his usual dominant, scene-stealing self. Wickedly brilliant, fun to watch, dramatic, darkly comical, superbly written and flawlessly directed, "Double Indemnity" is one of those movies that should be embraced by all fans of the national and international cinema. 5 stars out of 5.
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Collusion with Angora
dataconflossmoor9 May 2011
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!!!!
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Anytime You Want A Husband Turned Into Cold Cash
bkoganbing16 December 2006
Billy Wilder's cynical self came to public attention in this classic noir film about a luckless insurance salesman and one coldhearted dame. Double Indemnity skirted the very edges of Code morality and it took years before someone brought James M. Cain's novel to the screen.

According to a book on Billy Wilder the casting of Barbara Stanwyck was a must for Phyllis Dietrichson, otherwise the film might never have been made. Barbara Stanwyck was that rarest of players, one who could be good and convincing in all kinds of parts. Look at the films she got her four Oscar nominations besides Double Indemnity, Stella Dallas, Ball of Fire, and Sorry Wrong Number. Not one of those is similar to any one of the others and Stanwyck was acclaimed in all of them.

Fortunately for Wilder and for Paramount's budget, their leading man was right on the lot. Fred MacMurray who has been playing comedic foils for folks like Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, etc. up to that time, made the most of playing the feckless Walter Neff who gets sucked into a homicidal scheme through passion.

Double Indemnity is a landmark film in that it's two leads are really rotten people. Barbara Stanwyck has a husband in Tom Powers she can't stand and would like to bump him off for an insurance settlement and MacMurray's the insurance salesman she beguiles into her plot. Funny thing is that when the mechanics of the murder plot are discussed and formulated, the ideas are all MacMurray's.

Billy Wilder made two other films similar to Double Indemnity where a weak protagonist gets caught up in a filthy scheme. In Sunset Boulevard William Holden plays the gigolo way to well and can't break from unto pain of death. And Kirk Douglas's scheme about exploiting the tragedy of a man trapped in a cave brings him down all the way in Ace in the Hole. I'd be hard pressed to say which of the three men was worse.

The man who brings them down is Edward G. Robinson, the claims investigator in the insurance office where MacMurray works. Robinson is gradually putting the whole thing together and Wilder is at his best with the scenes of Robinson explaining the progress of his investigation to MacMurray with Fred trying to stay one step ahead.

Robinson doesn't usually get enough praise for Double Indemnity. He's got a little man, Hercule Poirot has those little grey cells. Either way both are up to the challenge of solving what looks like a perfect crime. Lot's of Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth in James M. Cain's Barton Keyes.

Wilder for the one and only time in his career worked with another great mystery writer in Raymond Chandler on the script. It was not a pleasant experience for either. Chandler complained about the working conditions of Hollywood and Wilder complained about Chandler's dissipation. Both were probably right.

Among the supporting cast look for a nice performance by Porter Hall who turns out not to be as valuable witness as Robinson originally thought. The man from Medford may not lie, but he's not above a little chiseling.

Double Indemnity is one eternal classic it will be studied and dissected by film students for centuries.
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The sort of film you love to tell people about
Vladimir23 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein

Double Indemnity is another piece of classic film noir with all the classic elements of mystery, plotting, femme fatales and snappy dialogue. I just finished watching it and I have to say it's possibly the best I've seen.

Not only is it a beautifully and craftily worked noir story but also a complex fable about greed and revenge, remorse and regret. From the moment it starts you know it's going to hit you, and it certainly does.

Fred MacMurray plays insurance salesman Walter Neff, who relates the story to us by leaving a memo for his claims manager Keyes, played by Edward G Robinson. His intermittent voiceovers take the guise not only of the narrator but also of Neff's conscience as he retells the story of his involvement in the murder of his client Dietrichson after he plotted with Dietrichson's wife. They thought it would be the perfect murder, but as Keyes so rightly points out, no murder is perfect. It comes undone sooner or later, and when there's two people involved, usually sooner. Particularly in this case as Mrs Dietrichson and Neff begin to plot against each other. It becomes less about claiming the insurance money and more about which one, if either, gets away with the murder.

As you can tell from my clearly blithering attempt to ruin the plot, it's a fantastic film. You come away from it and you want to ruin the ending for someone else because it's just so exciting. Billy Wilder directs with absolute precision, he blends perfectly the romance, frequent suspense, and dramatic irony dispersed throughout the film in absolute drones. The fact that Neff is present in all but one of the scenes in the film is a constant reminder of the irony of the story, the fact that he is involved on all sides and in all facets of the plot.

Barbara Stanwyck also plays one of the best femme fatales I've ever seen on screen, it's not only a masterful performance but a masterful character in itself. The success of this film owes a lot to both her performance and the way the script works her in. Fred MacMurray is occasionally overly winsome at the start of the film, however, he definitely pulls his performance together at the end and it is not enough to detract entirely from the overall effect.

A crafty, enjoyable and suspenseful film noir filled with anti-heroes, mystery, morals, and just good all-round entertainment. Not quite perfect but about as close as it can come. ****1/2 / *****
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