Double Indemnity

1944, Movie, NR, 106 mins

Review

DOUBLE INDEMNITY
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A seminal work in the emergence of film noir as an explosive movement in American film. Based on the notorious Snyder-Gray case of 1927, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is both a starkly realistic and a carefully stylized masterpiece of murder.

Walter Neff (MacMurray), bleeding from a bullet wound, staggers into an office building. As he speaks into his dictating machine, we learn in flashback that he is an insurance salesman who becomes involved with the sleek Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck). Phyllis convinces Walter not only to help her take out a life insurance policy on her husband (Powers) without his knowledge, but also to help her murder him in order to collect on it. Staging an unlikely accident in order to qualify for the "double indemnity" clause in the contract, the deadly duo must next face claims adjustor Barton Keyes (Robinson), whose instinct tells him that something suspicious is afoot. Their faith in their story and each other sorely tested, Walter and Phyllis finally square off in a fatal game of cat and mouse.

Wilder's typically passionless direction fits beautifully with this sinister story. On his first studio assignment, screenwriter Chandler peppered the dialogue from Cain's original with his distinctive brand of hardboiled cynicism. The results, as when Phyllis and Walter flirt by using the extended metaphor of a speeding motorist, are terrific. Rosza contributes a typically edgy score and Seitz's cinematography makes great use of such noir trademarks as sharp camera angles, heavy, sculpted shadows and light slatted by venetian blinds. But it is really the starring trio which lends bite to this compelling crime classic. Stanwyck, in a deliberately phony blonde wig, remade her career with her striking portrayal of an icy woman whose boredom and desire fuel a plot of murder and intrigue. MacMurray, in a great change of pace, gives the performance of his career as the shifty loner excited by a challenge and a deadly dame's anklet. Robinson, meanwhile, beautifully gives the film its heart. His speech about death statistics, rattled off at top speed, is one of the film's highlights. Lifelessly remade for television in 1954 and 1973. leave a comment

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