Double Indemnity (1944)

Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson (Fred MacMurrary and Barbara Stanwyck)

It's been a little while since I've seen this, but it's on TV periodically and if I happen to flip to it I always end up watching it. Double Indemnity is a fantastic little noir. It has all the ingredients: doomed protagonists, murder, lust, fraud, paranoia, deception, unease, tension, and anxiety! Despite how this list of qualities might make you feel in real life, in the film world it is a perfect cocktail for a noir thriller.

Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) is a smoothtalking insurance salesman who, with unhappy housewife Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), conspires to collect on the life insurance of her stuffy husband. Neff convinces Mrs. Deitrichson to have her husband change his insurance plan to include "double indemnity"--meaning it pays double if his death is accidental. The lusty duo elaborately plans the murder of Mr. Dietrichson so that it looks like an accident. Of course, even with all the planning, it never goes as smoothly as intended, which is where the incomparable Edward G. Robinson comes in. He plays Neff's colleague, Barton Keyes, an insurance adjuster who is sure there is something fishy going on with the Dietrichson file. A huge pay-out to someone who just recently changed their plan is always a giant red flag. He begins probing the case, without guessing that the very conspirator is sitting right across the office.

It's a great film, and writing and reading about it just makes me want to watch it again! It's got gorgeous cinematography, excellent direction by Hollywood master Billy Wilder, fun performances by some very talented actors, and a creative narration structure in which Neff confesses the whole scheme right from the top to the audience and his colleague Keyes by way of a voice recorder. This is a highly recommended film and a textbook (and very celebrated) example of the film noir mode.

Neff and Keyes.

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