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Double Indemnity
Year:
1944
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
Billy Wilder
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff
Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson
Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes
Porter Hall as Mr. Jackson
Jean Heather as Lola Dietrichson
Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson
Byron Barr as Nino Zachetti
Richard Gaines as Edward S. Norton, Jr.
Fortunio Bonanova as Sam Garlopis
John Philliber as Joe Peters
George Anderson as Warden at Execution (scenes deleted)
Al Bridge as Execution Chamber Guard (scenes deleted)
Edward Hearn as Warden's Secretary (scenes deleted)
Boyd Irwin as First Doctor at Execution (scenes deleted)
George Melford as Second Doctor at Execution (scenes deleted)
William O'Leary as Chaplain at Execution (scenes deleted)
Storyline: In 1938, Walter Neff, an experienced salesman of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co., meets the seductive wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson, and they have an affair. Phyllis proposes to kill her husband to receive the proceeds of an accident insurance policy and Walter devises a scheme to receive twice the amount based on a double indemnity clause. When Mr. Dietrichson is found dead on a train-track, the police accept the determination of accidental death. However, the insurance analyst and Walter's best friend Barton Keyes does not buy the story and suspects that Phyllis has murdered her husband with the help of another man.
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Reviews
A Superb Noir Film
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.
2002-12-23
A Brilliantly Written Classic
"Double Indemnity" is a great movie with many great attributes but foremost among these must be its scintillating screenplay which combines wit, intelligence, razor sharp remarks and double entendres in such an effective way that, as well as being immensely entertaining, it also contributes strongly to driving the pace of the story. The quick fire dialogue and superb repartee are so engaging that they command the attention of the audience right from the start and also provide added impetus to all the action that follows. Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler collaborated in adapting James M Cain's story for the movie and the end result was nothing short of brilliant and was understandably nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay in 1945.

The characters featured in this evil tale are very memorable and in the case of the two main protagonists are also very immoral. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a fast talking insurance salesman who goes to visit a client and in his absence meets his wife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Their first encounter during which Dietrichson appears dressed only in a bath towel, leads to some flirting and their relationship develops further when Dietrichson eventually convinces Neff to take part in a scheme to sell her husband an accident policy (unknown to Mr Dietrichson) and then to murder him so that the couple can collect the insurance money and enjoy a future together.

Neff advises that the policy will pay out double if the fatal accident occurs on a train and so, when Mr Dietrichson is due to go on a business trip, arrangements are made for him to travel by train. Neff carries out the murder and dressed like Mr Dietrichson (complete with crutches) takes his place on the train journey before the couple place the body on the tracks to give the impression that Mr Dietrichson died as the result of an accidental fall from the observation car of the train.

After having carried out their plan successfully, the events that follow conspire to introduce a series of complications which lead to the couple losing their trust in each other and also to the movie's dramatic conclusion.

Fred MacMurray is perfect in his role as the very self assured Neff who's corrupted by lust and a greed for wealth. His portrayal of someone who thinks he knows all the angles but whose confidence is gradually eroded as things start to go wrong is very convincing and Barbara Stanwyck is also excellent as the cold, manipulative seductress who is utterly ruthless and seemingly devoid of any human feelings. Edward G Robinson appears in the role of Barton Keyes, a claims investigator who works for the same firm as Neff. Barton is very experienced and incredibly good at his job and possesses a strong instinct which enables him to sense immediately if a claim is likely to be fraudulent. He and Neff enjoy a longstanding friendship which involves a good deal of warmth and mutual respect. Robinson's performance is outstanding as he delivers some super-fast speeches and conveys the nature of his character's idiosyncrasies with great panache.

In typical film noir style, the story is told in flashback with Neff's narration providing a particularly matter-of-fact account of what happened. When he says "I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman", there's an inherent poignancy in his words but the delivery is completely lacking in any sentimentality or self pity. The same can be said for his remark that "we did it so that we could be together, but it's tearing us apart".

"Double Indemnity" is a dark thriller which became the prototype for many later movies which told similar stories but rarely with the same style and impact as the original. Billy Wilder's direction is superb and especially successful in contributing to the high levels of suspense that are generated at various junctures throughout the action. This is a film of rare quality and one that, because of its subject matter, will undoubtedly continue to be a source of great entertainment and fascination for movie lovers for many years to come.
2009-12-12
Brilliant, Absolutely Brilliant,right to the very end....
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.
2004-10-12
Try to forget all the film-noir parodies you've seen--this is the real thing
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.
2006-02-04
Great Classic
If you are a fan of the classics, and have not seen this movie, WHY NOT? This truly is one of the great ones. I enjoyed the "old school" language in the movie. I think one of my biggest enjoyments was seeing Fred MacMurray as a bad guy. I have seen this guy in many shows and movies as the good guy for many years. The best one in the flick (in my opinion) has got to be Edward G. Robinson, classic, classic indeed.
2004-01-13
The First Truly Great Noir
"The Maltese Falcon" is generally considered to be the very first film noir, but Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" is the first GREAT noir. With actors that perfectly understood Wilder's penchant for black as tar humour, this film is as seedy, dark and many times funny as they come. Barbara Stanwyck is a knockout as the classic femme fatale, complete with cheap blonde wig and ankle bracelets. Fred MacMurray makes a terrific dope, his silly machimso preventing him from realizing that Stanwyck is one step ahead of him through the entire film. And Edward G. Robinson shines as usual in a small but important role.

For me, this film breaks new ground in the hard-boiled/detective/murder mystery genre. I believe it was a bit of a flop when it came out, but that's easy to understand. Films that in retrospect prove themselves to be cutting edge are frequently dismissed at the time of their release. "Double Indemnity" doesn't have the look of other studio films of its period, not even other gritty detective films of its period. The lighting is stark and grimy; you can almost see every speck of dust in the shafts of light slanting in through the windows. Wilder gets the feel of a corrupt L.A. just right. But even more than its look, the film is years ahead of its time in its moral tone. Not only do the characters in this film not find redemption, they appear to be unredeemable. Each shows him/herself to be colder and more cynical than the other, and there's a "Bonnie and Clyde"-like inevitability to their eventual fates.

Simply sensational. And watch for the list of "supposin'"s MacMurray and Stanwyck throw back and forth at each other in one scene. It's hilarious and perfect, and those who've seen the film will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Grade: A+
2005-07-05
A masterpiece of pure reverse existentialism ...
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.
2012-08-04
Overrated
This film is not a timeless epic, it has aged badly. One whom describes it as a must for film-noir fans is probably doing so for all the wrong reasons. Sure, it has a snappy dialogue, the dame is desirable, the hero both lovable due to his sentimentalism, and exciting due to his high intelligence, the narration is very well done. The acting is not, contrary to popular opinion, that good. The main characters were not so hot, the best piece of acting was actually the portrayal of Keys, his character was almost Holmes-esque. The plot is very generic. Of course, this film may well have been one of the first to carry out such a plot, it may have been a real trend-setter, but I'm sorry that doesn't make it a classic by any stretch of the imagination. Regardless of how it received and how influential it was, it is not a great in its own genre. I adore film-noir and found this a let down.
2011-02-13
Sharp. Really sharp.
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.
2004-02-26
film noir
It was interesting watching this movie having already seen so many movies that clearly used this as source material. The fast talking, witty dialogue, woman with a money making scheme, and the use of romance/feminine wiles to achieve those means are all things that became the cornerstone of film noir. It's easy to see why this movie had such an impact given how perfectly each was executed. It was interesting to watch their so called perfect scheme unfurl bit by bit, especially in regards to how the characters reacted to this.

The only thing that I wish is that I had gotten a little more invested in the romance and the characters themselves. Some later film noir films really nailed making me care about the plot through the eyes of the characters, which is my favorite approach to film. That is just my personal preferences though, and setting that aside, this was an incredibly well constructed film.
2014-04-21
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