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|Index||331 reviews in total|
No need to recap the plot or echo consensus points.
From the minute he sees her slinking down the stairs in that spangled ankle bracelet, he's hooked. Walter Neff's already boarded that long, lonely trolley down the one-way track. Yes indeed, sultry Phyllis appears to be just the ticket he's been looking for. Great noir classic. All in all, Neff should have paid attention to that other member of the oddball triangle. Old man Keyes may be a born cynic, but despite himself, he's a father figure looking for a son to take his place, and warning Neff about the "Margie's" of the world. What he doesn't know is that this "Margie" definitely doesn't drink out of a bottle. What's more, Neff's already chosen to ride with the flashy crowd, get out of that dumpy apartment, and get into Phyllis's vicious little insurance swindle. As Keyes tellingly remarks, "You're not smarter than the rest, Walter, just a little taller. I like to think that Walter finally realizes his folly in that brilliant final scene, even if it is too late. Still, the film's cynical veneer is misleading. Because beneath all the deceits, betrayals, and ironies, lies a lighted match and one of the odder father-son relationships in Hollywood annals.
Everyone knows this film and everyone loves it.
I tried to observe some flaws if there are any in it. The actress playing the daughter looked too old for the role. Stanwyck was 37 when this was made and Mc Murray was 36.
I agree with the reviewer who stated Mc Murray's later roles in TV sit coms and so forth tainted his image. It's true it was hard to take him seriously.
A new Cadillac driving around the rail road tracks might attract some notice especially in 1939 (the year this is supposed to take place).
Also you have to suspend disbelief that Mc Murray would be so smitten by Stanwyck he would attempt anything like this. She is not especially at 37 (or any age!) the most attractive woman in the world. The blond wig? I guess was supposed to make her look ?? maybe cheap or tainted. She can carry any role though plouging through it like a bulldozer.
But these are so minor. I loved the movie watch it and read the other reviews.
There are many ideas out there on what constitutes a great film. Many
would say a great filmin other words, artis not necessarily an
entertainment piece, but a movie which makes comments about life and
pushes the audience to do some thinking even when the screening has
ended. Personally, I've never stood with the idea that all great films
are merely absorbing and never entertaining. That silly idea that films
are intellectual stimulants and movies are just trash pumped up in a
way that comes across as giddy. Although I do agree that many great
films probe the audience to think, one of my solutions is this: when I
finish the screening, I sit there afterward and tell myself that there
was nothing else I would have rather done in those two hours. That
sensation swelled me when I finished watching "Double Indemnity" for
the first time about a year ago, and it has returned with me every time
I have seen it since.
This marvelous film-noir, directed by Billy Wilder, shoves a dagger into the idea that art cannot be entertaining, only observable. Now "Double Indemnity" does not make its central plota salesman co-opting with an unhappy housewife to murder her husband for a $100,000 insurance clauseinto something excitingsomething people might want to try out at home. In fact, as the movie progresses toward its third act and the two murderers start to lose their grip on what's happening, it poignantly resolves the seemingly tired idea that crime doesn't pay. But there is a certain level of joy to be had from this film. Most of it comes from the brilliant performance of Edward G. Robinson as a comically brilliant claims manager on to the big scheme, and the rest of it comes from the way director Billy Wilder brings tremendous energy out of a leisurely paced story.
As much as I've enjoyed his lighthearted performances, I had always felt that Fred MacMurray was capable of putting darker edges on himself. "Double Indemnity" does not give him the coldblooded meanness I always felt he could play effectively, but it brings him somewhat close to that level. A man who is more clever and intelligent than he appears (not just a dumb salesman, although he does allow femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck to manipulate him), not afraid to undergo any task he puts before himself. But what is also brilliant about MacMurray's performance is the way he gets us the care. That is tricky. The character is a murderer; he planned it out; he arranged it. The movie does not condone his crime, even though his victim is hardly the world's nicest guy. And yet the audience follows MacMurray's story with a certain affection for him, and by the end, much to our shock, we actually sort of wish that he might be allowed to dodge the authorities. Or at least escape the gas chamber. The screenplay by Billy Wilder and novelist Raymond Chandler provides the motivation, the dialogue, and the drama, but MacMurray rounds it off with an easygoing, effortless shine of a performance. I do not know of Fred MacMurray was the sort of actor who took methods and concentration to a deep level, but he was one of those talents who made good acting look easy.
I give MacMurray special attention, for I feel even the film's greatest admirers have more or less taken his work for granted. I do not by any mean wish to demean Barbara Stanywck's performance. She, too, is excellent. I'll go even further and say this is one of the best villains ever put on-screen. At one point, she looks up at MacMurray, we see the white in her eyes as she smiles, and shivers always run down my spine. I do not begrudge her, it is just that everybody mentions her character first of all when discussing the acting of "Double Indemnity." The movie's got three great performances, and the third goes to Edward G. Robinson, once again, as that eccentric claims manager. Robinson provides most of the movie's bits of comic relief, such as when he stands up to his own boss during a claims dispute, sides with the victim, and goes on a rant about "six volumes of suicide" and "suicide by poisons, subdivided by types of poison" and so forth. Robinson is the straight-shooter of the story, and his dynamic with the MacMurray character is a very fascinating sort of friendship. MacMurray even says "I love you, too." Today, we might take that as some sort of homoerotic subtext. Ignoring the fact that that was utterly forbidden in 1944 films, "Double Indemnity" plays it as a strong friendship. So as the movie progresses, the audience again starts to feel empathy, this time for how Robinson might react when he finds out his best salesman is a murderer.
"Double Indemnity" has all the makings of a great film. The photography is rich and wonderful (the Venetian blinds are used at their ultimate here), and Miklos Rozsa's string-dominate music score is more than something that just plays in the background like an out-of-tune jukebox. The film has a snappy motif theme that repeats at just the right moments and never wears out its welcome. And Billy Wilder, the director, always finds the right decisions on how to shoot a scene and when. When to keep his camera locked for a long stretch of time and when to cut away. The screenplay sure paces itself well, but Wilder was the one who had to figure out how to keep things interesting. And he did with flying colors.
Here is another test for a great film. Watching a movie that you know is great with friends or relatives, and not only relishing in the fact that you love the movie, but when you can tell your associates are loving it too.
Words will not define the things that I achieved by viewing this film.
The fascinating part that comes into my mind before going further is
the extraordinary narrative that binds you physically as well as
mentally. The film follows the journey of a sales person of an
insurance company who gets into a number of events which made the whole
film. It is a mix of attraction, cheating and surprises.
Without a fascinating story, the film would not have been this better, so most of the credit I would give to it. Then I liked the narration which was because of the actor's firm voice. The acting is superb by all the actors. The story starts with a very fast pace from the starting itself and maintained this till the end which was beautiful. The different instances in the film are shown so properly that you would not feel that it is from the forties.
Found the film absolutely perfect.
MESSAGE: "You can't escape longer."
VERDICT: "A must watch for anyone."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Directed by Billy Wilder in 1944, "Double Indemnity" set the standards
of film-noir, inaugurated by Huston's "Maltese Falcon", a genre that
captures the pessimism of post-war America and within which "Double
Indemnity" is not only a masterpiece but also a reference, always
imitated, but never equaled.
"Double Indemnity" is a tale of greed and lust, incarnated by one of the most controversial movie couples: the insurance salesman Walter Neff (with two 'F' like in Philadelphia) played by the handsome and everyday looking Fred McMurray, and the flirtatious housewife Phyllis Dietrichson, Barbara Stanwyck, both sensually dangerous and dangerously sensual. Together, they mastermind the perfect crime: killing Mr. Dietrichson and disguising it as an accidental jump from a train, to guarantee the 'double indemnity' in the life insurance, the clause that doubles the payoff for an unusual accident.
Based on a 1935 novel from James M. Cain, the story was inspired by the case of Ruth Snyder, the woman executed in Sing Sing prison in 1928 for a similar crime. But it couldn't make its way to Hollywood, the Hayes Code Cerberus judged the material too sordid as the way it glamorized crime would negatively influence younger viewers. But one decade later, Billy Wilder bought the rights granted his film would never convey the idea that crime pays. And to a certain extent, the Hays Code restrictions elevated the film by privileging the atmosphere, the relationships and the tension, instead of action, the subtlety of sexual innuendo and double entendre instead of explicit dialogs. The brilliant 'speed limit' exchange is one of its greatest illustrations.
Indeed, the film was voted #38 in AFI's Top 100 Thrillers, yet it opens with a wounded Neff coming to his workplace by night and talking to a Dictaphone. Neff addresses a confession to his colleague and friend Keyes (Edward G. Robinson): "I killed him for money and for a woman", he adds: "I didn't get the money. And I didn't get the woman". We know who committed the murder and we know the plan failed. What's left for the suspense? Well, the point is that the story contemplates the motives of the characters, the feelings lying beneath their actions. Why a man like Neff would associate with a woman like Phyllis? This question is crucial because it sets the most important characteristics of the 'femme fatale' figure.
And Phyllis Dietrichson, #8 villain of AFI's Top 50, is the quintessential femme fatale: a cheap broad using her luscious charms to lure a man into deadly actions. Neff comes to her house, expecting her husband for a car insurance renewal. She appears at the top of the stairs holding a bath-towel around her torso, throwing lust and temptation at Neff's face. It's one of the most legendary screen character's entrances because it establishes the character's personality in one iconic shot. At the second meeting, she climbs down the stairs with an ankle-bracelet, high-heeled shoes, like a viper determined to attract Neff to her nest. Neff understands what she's into when she asks if he can buy a life insurance without telling her husband. He leaves the house, but it's too late, he's already obsessed.
"Double Indemnity" centers on Neff's tragic choices. Wilder makes it clear that the passion was consummated. But it's not love, not yet anyway: Phyllis hates her husband more than she loves Neff. Their passion rises below society's morality, and both despise its mediocrity. The Dietrichson's house is vast and luxurious, but the cinematographer used aluminum dust to create an impression of total carelessness. Phyliss is tired of her monotonous life, and Neff would probably love to break his routine. Why do they commit a crime together? In fact, it's because they found themselves together that they could do it. Phyliis catalyzed Neff's lowest instincts. She's indeed a great 'femme fatale' (also with two 'F') "Double Indemnity" is not about a crime, but human motives, not quite money, not quite lust but pure reverse existentialism.
And Robinson admirably carries the psychological aspect of the film as Barton Keyes, the claims adjuster capable of detecting the phony claims. He's a living encyclopedia when it comes to statistics and his 'little man' never failed him. Only a man like him could have tried to figure the motives with this scientific accuracy, not an average detective. Keyes has a fondness on Neff, and it's reciprocal, their exchanges are punctuated with the film's only running gag: Neff giving Keyes a providential match to light his cigar, he eventually retorts to an insult by a tender "Yeah, I love you, too". Yet, Neff fears that his demise might come from his friend, the iconic venetian blinds' shadow on Neff's face almost feel like prison bars. How Robinson and McMurray didn't get nominated is beyond me. The film lost all its Oscar nominations for "Going my Way", more feel-good and less cynical I guess.
But it's not a cynical film, it's about people tired of their own society's standards: marriage, fidelity, honesty, all hypocritical: Mr. Dietrichson hates his wife, his daughter Lola lies to him and people are just the lousy bunch of consumers. It's significant that Phyliss and Neff regularly meet in a supermarket, an 'un-film-noir' place illustrating the world they try to escape from, but can't because they're trapped and Neff knows it. And as Keyes predicts, it ends up in an exchange of bullets. Phyllis dies, and Neff, wounded, confesses. He couldn't escape his condition, he couldn't even escape from his office and reach the elevator, he collapses, agonizing in front of Keyes.
Keyes lights his last cigarette, the last as a free man, a deserved one. because if him and Phyllis were both villains, within his own confession, Neff found a bit of redemption.
In order to begin a story with the ending and still maintain suspense
throughout the movie a film-maker needs to be quite sure of his skills
to capture the attention of his audience. Director/writer Billy Wilder,
assisted by established novelist Raymond Chandler with the screenplay,
knows how to do it. He presents his film noir entirely in flashbacks,
narrated in atmospheric voice-overs leading eventually to what we've
already seen in the introduction. And despite the fact that we know
where it's all heading we're still glued to our seats. New at the time
and often copied ever since, but rarely done that well.
Central point is the mutual plan of an insurance rep and the wife of a rich husband to commit the perfect crime and literally get away with murder. Said salesman Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) not only commits the crime, but is also supposed to investigate it along with insurance inspector and friend Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Reluctantly but inevitably he stumbles into his own demise, which he is unfortunate to experience from either side of the law. What makes this dark existential dilemma so exciting is not so much what happens but how it is presented to the viewer and how the components fit together to form a supreme whole. Thanks primarily to an amazing script and aided by Wilder's flawless direction that leaves nothing to desire for a film noir devotee the film indeed lives up to the expectations of its promise and has since become an invaluable reference. Aside from McMurray and the terrific Robinson there's also Barbara Stanwyck playing the ensnaring femme fatale, and all of them deliver sharp dialog. Add to that high-contrast black and white cinematography, effective lighting, multiple Oscars winner Miklós Rózsa's score - all the best ingredients for a touchstone of film noir experience, complete with fatality drive. Classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This 1944 film noir directed by Billy Wilder is fantastic. Written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, the words sizzle as the 3 principle actors fire out lines that are white hot. Walter Neff played by Fred MacMurray, Phillis Dietrichson ,(Barbara Stanwyick), and Barton Keyes, (Edward G. Robinson) are all sensational in a movie that ticks every box. Insurance Agent (Neff) makes an unlikely pact with Mrs. Dietrichson after he becomes infatuated by her. Neff doesn't know it, but he has made an alliance with the original femme fatal. After they get rid of Mr. Dietrichson (for financial reasons) there relationship begins to unravel. Neff gradually begins to realize he has a dangerous and cunning "partner in crime". Edward G. Robinson as claims Manager Barton Keyes is very good at his job,and has deep instincts. His "little man" knows all ...and soon he smells a rat. Could Neff...his co-worker and friend...do the unthinkable? This fabulous movie was the great Billy Wilders third attempt at directing.
Greetings again from the darkness. "I wonder if you wonder." Every time
I hear Walter Neff say those words to Phyllis Dietrichson as their
initial encounter concludes, I smile and settle in for another round of
Double Indemnity (1944) ... one of my all-time favorites. Though I have
seen it many times over the years, I recently saw it for the first time
on the big screen ... and from a 35mm print! So much of the subtle
filmmaking becomes apparent - the variance of lighting, the intensity
of shadows, and the vividness of close-ups. This reinforces my belief
that we should never miss an opportunity to view good films in a
theatre setting ... just as the director intended.
Since this film was released 67 years ago, it's difficult to discuss without noting a key plot point or character reaction. If you haven't seen it and plan to, you might stop reading here. If you would like a little insight, then let's keep going. Billy Wilder (left) directed the film and his place as a Hollywood legend is quite secure. He was nominated for 21 Oscars (Director, Writer, Producer) and had 3 wins. Some of his classics are: The Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Front Page. Many think of Wilder as a comedic filmmaker and he certainly had success in that genre, but if you watch closely, even his comedies have a dark element to them.
Double Indemnity is based on the novella by James M Cain, who also wrote Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Wilder was a fan of Cain's book, but knew the dialogue wouldn't work well on screen. So together with Raymond Chandler they wrote a screenplay filled with crackling lines and a constant feeling of dread and pending doom. As great as the script is, it is heightened by a wonderful cast that includes Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Richard Gaines and Byron Barr.
For me, MacMurray's performance is what brings the words to life and jumps the film to the "must see" category. He is playing against two Hollywood heavyweights in Stanwyck and Robinson, but we are somehow sympathetic to this not-so-bright guy who gets played like a fiddle by the villainous, wily woman he lusts after. Even as he is recording his confession, a part of us understands how he got drawn into MURDER! Not just any murder, but one for money and love ... only there is no money, and there is no love.
Ms. Stanwyck is perfectly cast as the femme fatale who weaves her web of deceit and destruction. She quickly spots the vulnerability of MacMurray's character and uses her assets just enough to hold the leash tight. It is a testament to her screen presence that she can pull off the sultry siren while sporting a less-than-desirable blonde wig. At the time, the wig was so controversial that the producers compared it to George Washington and wanted it trashed. However, filming was too far along and now it's impossible to imagine her looking any other way. Besides, MacMurray only seems to notice her anklet!
Edward G Robinson made a name for himself as a tough-guy actor ... cop and mobster all rolled into one. Here he plays the insurance investigator with a sixth-sense for fraudulent claims. He is a hard-nosed, dedicated employee who takes his responsibility very seriously and has no sympathy for those who cheat his cherished system. He has a soft spot for co-worker MacMurray, even though he is one of the back-slapping salesmen he so loathes. Their relationship in the film is one of respect and about as close as two professional men could be, given the era. When Robinson goes off on his rant about suicide research, he is a joy to behold. This guy could flat chew scenery.
In addition to the infamous wig, you might also notice that MacMurray is wearing a wedding band throughout the film, even though his character is clearly a single man. Wilder and MacMurray stated many times over the years that was simply a mistake and not "caught" until post-production. Expect a chuckle when MacMurray, as the narrator, enviously describes a Spanish style Los Angeles home as costing $30,000 ... probably less than the property taxes would be on that house today. The film originally was to end with MacMurray in the Gas Chamber and Robinson looking on (inset), but this was deemed inappropriate. One last little nugget: early in the film, MacMurray walks out of Robinson's office and past a man sitting on a hallway chair reading a paperback book. That man? Raymond Chandler, in his only on screen appearance.
The film is often described as quintessential Film Noir. Another prime example of Film Noir would be The Big Sleep (1946), based on a Raymond Chandler novel, directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. While Film Noir might not be an easily definable term, there are certain elements that must be present. Lighting is key. Shadows must be prevalent. Some type of detective story is usually at the center, and we typically get some poor schlub of a guy being yanked around by the femme fatale. The right "mood" is essential ... as a viewer we know things are headed down the wrong path, but we just can't save the characters from their own poor choices. But neither can we look away. That helpless feeling is a strong indicator that you just watched a terrific Film Noir.
From the moment it starts, you know you're in for an incredible movie.
At almost 70 years old, this movie still has one of the most incredible
and memorable scripts. There are so many memorable lines. Those
delivered by Fred MacMurray are the most believable. Less than two
minutes in to my first viewing of this movie I knew I was in for
something special. That was about 15 years ago and after dozens of
viewings, I know I will never tire of it. A true American classic.
One of the first, and still best, films de noir. It doesn't get much better than this.
It's still a "honey of an anklet, Mrs. Dietrichson!"
I have not read the book or anything concerning the original case, and this is the only version that I've watched. If the novel is this spellbinding, I may have to get a copy. I suppose I should address something before I get into the review itself; yes, the story is quite similar to The Postman Always Rings Twice(and while this is superior, I would definitely suggest giving that one a whirl, too... the original, that is). It's the same author, and they aren't identical. They are also both somewhat reminiscent of Macbeth. Other than that I did not find myself falling in love with these leads(as I did in the Garfield/Turner one), I really cannot complain about this film(and I won't even attempt to argue against the immense chemistry that this duo has; they light the screen on fire). I have not seen a lot of Wilder's work, but I thoroughly enjoyed Some Like It Hot, as well. This is a classic piece of noir, and ought to get a viewing by every fan of such. The brilliant dialog and narration is full of metaphors, plays on words(and the like) and every line is carefully phrased, with several utterly unforgettable exchanges. Editing and cinematography are excellent. The lighting and use of shadows... incredible. This does an amazing job of building suspense and tension. The plot is well-written, and the twists are impeccable. Every acting performance is spot-on. The characters are credible and well-developed, and the women are allowed strong-willed moments. MacMurray is rather cool. There is a little racism and sexism(on account of when it was made), some innuendo and brief mild and not graphic violence in this. I recommend this to everyone into these movies. 10/10
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