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|Index||333 reviews in total|
This film was nominated for seven Oscars and probably would have won
them all if it had not been going up against Going My Way.
Billy Wilder wrote and directed this outstanding film with Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson in a role that has to be seen to be believed.
Robinson to me is a gangster (Little Caesar, Key Largo, Larceny, Inc), but he is apparently more than that because he was simple incredible as a claims adjuster in this film. The lines Wilder gave him were brilliant and he delivered them without flaw.
McMurray was the original Absent Minded Professor and, of course, the father on My Three Sons. he plays the insurance salesman who gets over his head with Stanwyck (The Big Valley). Here she is a hot blond and McMurray falls like a rock.
This is one of Wilder's best and one not to miss.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The long silent street of film noir, a street where it is always night,
and where the songs are always sad. That street is usually a dingy
urban alley or a dank sidestreet, but in Billy Wilder's Double
Indemnity, it was a deceptively quiet suburban avenue. "Down these mean
streets a man must go who is not himself necessarily mean," wrote
novelist Raymond Chandler, and as a screenwriter, he joined Wilder in
sending one Walter Neff, insurance investigator, down the crookedest of
these dead end lanes of the spirit.
The streets of Los Angeles are busier and deadlier than they were in Chandler's heyday. Yet Chandler's disquieting, existential take on the City of Angels transcends fashions in both transportation and crime. Those mean streets remain mean, and mementos of Double Indemnity can still be seen all over the city. The Hollywood Bowl where Walter and Lola Dietrichson meet; Walter's apartment at the Château Marmont; the Glendale train station where the "perfect crime" begins... And the "death house" of Double Indemnity, where Phyllis and Walter meet, plot murder, and where their strange love finally reaches its apocalypse, still stands, secluded and quiet, high in the Hollywood Hills, at 6301 Quebec Street, in Los Angeles. Exteriors were shot there, and sets were modeled after the inside of the house. The house seems to rear up in the summer twilight, remembering the night fifty years ago when a cruel woman brought her husband out to a big LaSalle sedan idling in the garage, with a killer in the back seat. The house's silent, stuccoed cloisters look gloomily down on Quebec Street, while Walter Neff's disembodied footfalls echo off the asphalt.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Walter Neff is an insurance salesman who meets the sultry Phyllis
Dietrichson and falls madly in love with her. Together they hatch a
scheme to forge a life insurance policy on Phyllis' husband and then
bump him off. The plan seems perfect, but once the deed is done
Walter's nerves start to fail him and a cunning fraud investigator at
his office begins to dig a little too close to the truth ...
Billy Wilder's career was just a bit too acclaimed and strewn with accolades for me, but this classic adult film noir is deserving of all the praise it receives. The script, by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, is a dazzling adaptation of James M. Cain's pulp fiction classic. The murder sequence is both exhilarating in its detail and chilling in its realism - these are not gangsters or psychopaths, but ordinary people who do something monstrous borne out of lust and greed. Both MacMurray and Stanwyck (despite a silly blonde wig) give career-best performances which are charming, dazzling, amusing and chilling, all at the same time. Stanwyck is the ultimate cold-hearted femme-fatale (just pipping Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth in my opinion), and right from the moment she first appears (dressed only in a bath-towel), she eats up the screen. MacMurray is brilliant as Neff; a sap, but not a fool, who learns all too late he doesn't have what it takes to be a killer, and that women are never quite what they seem. Both are surpassed however by old pro Robinson as the wily claims investigator, who can smell a phoney setup a mile away. Robinson is amazing; a man for whom facts and statistics are never wrong and rule human nature, at least when it comes to money - a sad but profound truth. Equally good is the extremely dark photography by John Seitz (see also Sullivan's Travels, This Gun For Hire, Invaders From Mars and many others), with daring foreground shadows (Neff looking out his apartment window), stunning use of closeups (the big one of Phyllis while the dirty deed is being done) and many rule-breaking moments (when the husband is talking and signing the forms the focus should be on him, but it's on Phyllis). Best of all is Chandler's ricochet dialogue, which revs up the frisson and tumbles crookedly out of the actors. There are too many classy lines to mention, but my favourite is when Phyllis says, "I wonder if I know what you mean.", and Walter hits back with, "I wonder if you wonder.". Although movie adaptations of Dashiel Hammett's books kick-started this genre (The Thin Man, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon), this is the pivotal Hays-Code-ignoring lurid murder potboiler of the forties, followed by such greats as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Deadly Is The Female/Gun Crazy and D.O.A. (and later Blood Simple and Red Rock West). This is a stylish, extremely well acted movie of a great book, and a real treat for all fans of classic crime fiction.
The premier "film noir" entrée, DOUBLE INDEMNITY stands as the model
for the genre. Told entirely in flashback, it is the grim, yet
seductive story of a life insurance agent who falls for a treacherously
sultry married woman plotting to do her husband in for the payoff.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY is nothing less than a requirement for anyone who
asks, "What is film noir?" For all the ingredients are present: the
cold-hearted criminal plot, the adulterous romance, the step-by-step
implementing of the deed, the anxiety-ridden moments as a steadfast
mind zeroes in on the guilty parties, and the inevitability of the
final justice---all filmed in grim black and white.
Did Fred MacMurray ever have a greater moment in his acting career playing Walter Neff, the Los Angeles insurance agent knocked out by a bored housewife who ropes him into her diabolical web? Did Barbara Stanwyck ever really overcome the powerful persona of Mrs. Dietrichson, the calculating murderess standing at the top of the stairs in a bath towel? And could there have been a better screen writer for DOUBLE INDEMNITY than the assiduous Raymond Chandler (THE BIG SLEEP, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, THE LONG GOODBYE), who remains the unequaled master of the Los Angeles detective genre?
Not to be outdone, Edward G. Robinson turns in a yeoman's performance as Keyes, MacMurray's boss. Keyes is a walking encyclopedia of fraudulent insurance claims and is nearly infallible in his ability to sniff out the rotten stench of not-so-accidental death. In one memorable scene, Keyes reduces his own superior to pulp as he lectures him that "no one ever committed suicide by throwing themselves off a train moving at 5 miles per hour." He cites the statistics of death by poisoning, drowning, lightning strikes, and electrocution straight off the top of his head. At what point Keyes becomes suspicious of Neff is never quite clear; but he is certainly suspicious of Stanwyck from the start--and Neff had taken Stanwyck's life insurance policy just before her husband supposedly went off the caboose.
One certain proof that a detective drama is succeeding is the identification the audience has with the villains. A cold-blooded murder has been committed, yet we somehow squirm nervously for the perpetrators hoping their plot succeeds. The epitome of this identification occurs in the scene after Neff impersonates Dietrichson on the train. MacMurray races back to the car where Stanwyck awaits and the car engine stalls. He tries to turn it over again and again. We actually want the car to start!
The only soft spot that exists in this sensationally crafted Ramond Chandler script is MacMurray's character transformation. He simply evolves from cavalier life insurance salesman to murderer far too soon after falling for Stanwyck. Moreover, Neff's seemingly air-tight plot to erase Dietrichson materializes a bit too quickly and precisely in his mind.
What is central is that in the end it isn't Neff's boss Keyes who throws the light on the murder--it's the adulterous relationship between MacMurray and Stanwyck itself. No one other than the plotters themselves was needed to undo the evil, for the villainous collaboration contained the seeds for its own destruction. In the end, the lovers turn on one another and the twisted relationship destroys both of them.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY is simply one of Hollywood's movie detective classics. And anyone who fails to include DOUBLE INDEMNITY in an all-time list of greats knows very little about films.
The classic "Double Indemnity" is one of the greatest of all "film noir"
movies, and it has everything you could ask for: great acting, interesting
characters, an imaginative plot, and lots of tension. Put all this under
the direction of the incomparable Billy Wilder, and it's one of the best
films of all time.
The three lead actors all give terrific performances. Fred MacMurray is at the center of everything, as an insurance salesman tempted in more than one way by an alluring customer (Barbara Stanwyck). MacMurray's character is torn between what Stanwyck offers, and his close relationship with his company's claims manager, played by Edward G. Robinson. MacMurray is excellent in portraying his struggle between his desire to grab the illicit pleasures offered by Stanwyck, and his deep admiration for Robinson as a person and as an example. Stanwyck in turn is perfect in her role as a woman who uses everything she has to get what she wants. Robinson's performance may be the best of all in bringing his character to life - a straight-arrow, perceptive and diligent worker who also comes across as a thoroughly enjoyable character.
The three leads are so good that the film gets away with some occasionally dated (overly "hard-boiled") dialogue in some of the voice-overs and confrontation scenes. The actors were in such good form, though, that they were able to make any line sound pretty good.
The rest of the cast all have much smaller parts, but they all fulfill their functions well, especially Porter Hall in one of his many fine character roles, and Richard Gaines, who is perfect as a clueless insurance company executive.
Wilder uses his skilled touch to complete the atmosphere of intrigue and suspense. The overall result is a great film noir whose characters and tensions are as alive today as they were in the 40's. It is worth watching over and over.
Author James M. Cain virtually created a new genre with his
extra-tough, sin-blackened, and sex-drenched novels--and they were so
successful with the public that not even 1940s Hollywood could resist.
The result was three of the most famous films of that decade: MILDRED
PIERCE, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Although
POSTMAN is probably the better film, INDEMNITY is the most
famous--possibly due to the story's truly psychotic edge, which is
given full life by Barbara Stanwyck in one of her most celebrated
Like POSTMAN, INDEMNITY offers the story of a married woman who plots with her lover to murder her husband. Given MacMurray's typically "good guy" image, I didn't expect to believe him in the role of Walter Neff in the role of skirt-hungry Walter Neff--but MacMurray's performance is exceptionally good here, and all the more effective because it so completely unexpected. But while MacMurray has most of the screen time, it is really Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson who dominate the film. Stanwyck is truly memorable here, and gives us a woman who seems at once sexed-up and completely frigid, at once completely natural and absolutely artificial. It is a remarkable and often disturbing effect. Robinson, who endured decades of type-casting, is equally good as the blustery, slightly comic, and absolutely honest insurance man whose job it is to ferret out suspicious claims; it is largely due to his performance, which gives the film a moral center, that we are able to buy into the otherwise off-beat performances that drive the action.
This was one of director Billy Wilder's first major hits, and he deserves considerable credit for making the weird elements of the story work as a whole, keeping the film smartly paced, and heaping it up with atmosphere. So influential that its impact would be difficult to over-estimate, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a touchstone for the entire film noir genre. Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
This film hits the screen like a well trained Olympic runner with
comfortable shoes who can feel the gold around his neck before his heels are
even in the blocks. It's what they call `film noir,' because from the
opening frames you know that the guy doing the talking is looking at a
no-win situation, that he's going to lose and lose big. Oh, sure, he knows
it now; everything you're about to see has already happened, his goose has
already been cooked, and now he's going to tell you about it, let you in on
what went down, how it went south and why. He'll even give you the heads up
on the irony of the whole thing right out of the chute, how like our Olympic
runner he could feel the gold in his hand before the ink on the insurance
paper was even dry-- yeah, that's right it was an insurance scam, see, and a
good one too-- all the bases were covered and checked for chinks, but in the
end-- and here's where the irony comes in-- in the end, he didn't get the
money and he didn't even get the girl who put the whole thing in
`Double Indemnity,' a classic `noir' thriller in anybody's book, was directed by Billy Wilder, a guy who knows all the ins and outs, ups and downs and double shuffles of the business better than a short jockey on a tall horse. He's the `go to' guy in a game like this, because he knows all the angles, he knows the lingo and more than that, he has the insights to make it play out like it was the real deal; this guy knows what makes people tick, what motivates them and it's an ace up his sleeve that he plays like a trump card when the chips are down or even if a stack or two looks like they're about to go over. He knows the whole layout, from top to bottom and side to side because he wrote the script along with another guy you might have heard about, Raymond Chandler, another member of the club who just happens to know his way around the block and back again. This is a guy who doesn't need a road map to tell him which way to go; he's the guy who `invented' the map. And when a couple of the boys like Wilder and Chandler get together to make it up and put it down, it's as good as in the can, especially when they're getting the skinny in the first place from James M. Cain, who it just so happens wrote the novel this movie's based on. Besides which, they got the names Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck down on the dotted lines, the ones that count, the ones that say they're the ones who are the stars of the picture, see? Let's face it, that's like having Ruth, Mantle and Mays in the outfield at the same time with Sandy Koufax on the mound and Don Drysdale warming up behind him in the bull pen. The opposition might as well climb back on the bus and take the long ride on the short pier, because Wilder's team already has the big `W' next to their name in the box score.
Like I said before, and I'm going to say it again because if there's one thing I've learned during my time on the planet it's that sometimes people just don't listen, or maybe there's some things they just don't want to hear. But like I was saying, this story's about an insurance scam, a dirty deal that all starts when Mr. Walter Neff (MacMurray), a salesman with a head a couple of sizes too big for his hat, makes a house call and runs into a dame, and not just any dame; her name is Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), a woman with the kind of beauty that stops traffic, turns heads and makes monkeys out of guys like Neff, guys that think they got it knocked when all the time they're standing in quicksand and don't even know it till they're in up to their ears and gasping for that last breath. But that's the name of the game; Neff isn't the first guy to find his tiller on the wrong side of the mule because of a pretty face, moist lips and the sweet smell of perfume that sells it all like the siren's song, and he won't be the last to have the deal closed by promises of something that never will be and never has been, though it's victims are heaped along the side of the carefree highway like mounds of bark dust just waiting to be spread or lost in the wind.
Maybe that's not a pretty picture, but everything can't be a glossy print on Kodak paper, and you can take that to the bank because history's full of stories like this. Let's face it, Monet didn't have good eyesight, Van Gogh was down an ear and neither Mona nor her sister Lisa knew how to smile. And when a pair like Walter and Phyllis get together to cook a stew, there's always a Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) waiting in the wings for them to screw up, take a wrong step or flash a tell that attracts a guy with a nose for fraud like a metal rod drawing lightening.
It takes some real `pros' to play the game at this level, and that's Wilder's team all right; but he needed some support to win this big, and he got it from the likes of Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson), Jean Heather (Lola), Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson) and Byron Barr (Nino). This film will give you the kind of ride a Six Flags park could only dream of, and that's what makes `Double Indemnity' one you're going to remember like a first kiss on a warm night in summer. 10/10.
In 1938, the experienced salesman of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co.
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) meets the seductive wife of one of his
client, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwick), and they have an
affair. Phyllis proposes to kill her husband Dietrichson (Tom Powers)
to receive the prize of an accident insurance policy and Walter plots a
scheme to receive twice the amount based on a double indemnity clause.
When Mr. Dietrichson is found dead on the trails of a train, the police
accepts the evidence of accidental death. However, the insurance
analyst and Walter's best friend Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) does
not buy the version and suspects that Phyllis has murdered her husband
with the help of another man.
In my opinion, Billy Wilder was the greatest director of Hollywood ever, directing many masterpieces including "Double Indemnity" among them. This is the second time that I see this magnificent film-noir, now on DVD recently released in Brazil (the first time was in the cable television, since this masterpiece has never been released on VHS in my country). The story and screenplay are stunning, disclosing a sordid story of lust, love, greed and betrayal. Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwick and Edward G. Robinson have magnificent performances. The cinematography is simply spectacular, with an awesome use of lights and shadows and the music score completes one of the best movies Hollywood has ever produced. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Pacto de Sangue" ("Pact of Blood")
If you haven't seen this movie yet, go out and buy it or rent it, you will not be disappointed. If you don't know much about movies and need to learn what movie Buffs consider as some of the best Movie classics of all time, then look no further then these, Double Indemnity,Citizen Kane,Sunset Boulevard,Out of the Past,Criss Cross,The Asphalt Jungle,Vertigo,Witness for the Prosecution,North by Northwest,Gaslight,The Good,the Bad and the Ugly,Cape Fear and All About Eve. Double Indemnity is the King of all 1940's crime melodramas, told in a flashback style. A urban crime dramas in which a greedy, weak man, Fred MacMurry, is seduced and trapped by a cold, evil woman. Phyllis Dietrichson, Barbara Stanwyck, seduces the insurance agent Walter Neff Fred MacMurray into murdering her husband to collect his accident policy. Of course things turn out differently and things are not all as they seem. Chilling ending to an unforgettable movie.
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.
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