Monday, February 06, 2012

149 - Double Indemnity (1944)

DVD Box
An insurance salesman is persuaded into killing his client to claim on the double indemnity insurance.

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is one of the rising stars in the insurance industry, impressing his boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). However, when he goes on a routine visit to a client, the client's wife (Barbara Stanwyck) spots a way out from her loveless marriage.

She coerces Walter into killing her husband in a perfect murder to claim on the double indemnity insurance, but little do they know that Keyes' keen nose on spotting a fraudulent claim is right behind their every move.

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Of course, one does have to wonder what would have to be going through Neff's head in order to throw away an opportunity in a job that he would have huge future prospects in. Perhaps this is the most profound reason for the success of the film; the archetypal image of love conquering all - especially common sense.

MacMurray and Stanwyck bring this love to life with a fantastic chemistry, from the moment Walter set his sights on Phyllis it was clear that he was besotted with her. Together, they also offered some hilarious comedy which saw the characters attempting to avoid the attentions of Keyes whilst surpressing their own feelings.

Told as a confession to Neff's boss, director Billy Wilder takes the unusual approach of telling his story with the audience fully aware of the ending. This often has a detrimental effect on a film by leaving very little for the audience to guess on, but Wilder shows his expertise by twisting and turning the film right up until the guilt-ridden ending.

Double Indemnity can come across as dated and clich├ęd - especially in the romantic scenes between MacMurray and Stanwyck - but in other parts of the film it stands the test of time thanks to its deliciously seductive, classic noir storyline.

A classic, from a director with so many.


5 comments:

  1. I interpreted Walter's feelings as greed or lust, rather than love. Also, there's more suspense than comedy? It's a key film because it invented most of the elements of film noir.

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    1. Suspense certainly. I was thinking of the scene with Phyllis hiding behind the door as Keyes is leaving in the lift. Looking back it seems funny, but at the time there was definitely an element of "uh-oh!".

      That's a difficult one, especially with 1940's films. Characters end up deep in love within minutes of meeting. If the film was made today you could definitely say that it was lust, but back then there was very little distinction made if the character was single, as in the case of Walter.

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    2. Yes, I guessed you meant the hiding-behind-the-door scene. (Incidentally, of course the door should open inwards, not outwards.) I think it was intended as a suspense scene, so if you thought it was funny then it wasn't successful.

      Falling in love within minutes in 1940s films - yes, except film noir. Surely Walter's motives are never pure, even at the start? He's just looking for a good time (that's why their conversation on their first meeting is so full of innuendo). Love would be too sweet an emotion for film noir.

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  2. the book by James Cain is phenomenal, could not stop reading it.

    best,
    MOV

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    1. I might have to add it to my reading list then! I'm currently on a movie/book feast reading through the Bourne series so Double Indemnity may make a nice change.

      Thanks for the tip!

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