Double Indemnity (1944)

















This review contains SPOILERS
"Double Indemnity" is typical 1940s noir. The darkness of the streets reflects the people's moods and everyone and everywhere is shrouded in a cloud of smoke.
Walter Neff stumbles into his boss's office at the beginning of the picture. He appears to be hurt and he's definitely drunk. Covered in a thick sheen of sweat, he starts recording a confession on his boss's automatic memo machine. He lets his boss, Keyes, know that he killed a man that the insurance company they work for was investigating. Keyes had thought it was suicide and then murder and he was right—he just didn't know who killed the man and Neff is admitting to the crime. He says that he did it for money and a woman; neither of which he got.
As Walter talks about his crimes and how they came to be, the audience goes into his memory to see the events unfold.
On a chance meeting when Walter was out selling insurance he stumbles across the Dietrichson household. The husband is away but the wife says she'll talk to the man at the door. Immediately, Walter is smitten with the beauty and poise of Mrs. Dietrichson. She's the classic femme fatale and the audience realizes this but poor Walter doesn't.
He wants to be with her and lets her know as soon as he's talking to her but she chides him and sends him along his way. A few days later she lets him know that she would like to here a little more about "insurance".....right! So he obeys her summons and then she lets him know she wants to take out an accident insurance policy on her husband but she doesn't want the husband to know. Walter calls her out and tells her that it's impossible to get away with it. For a while she feigns indignation but then comes clean.
Walter, being smitten, decides that he will help her get rid of the husband.
Why does she want to kill the husband? Because he fusses at her for buying hats and dresses...yeah, I'm not buying it either. It was too risky to write abuse into a script in the 1940s; but I would like to believe that that's precisely what the writers are hinting at. The other possibility is that Phyllis Dietrichson is just plain crazy which I think is an equally satisfying alternative.
What I don't understand is why Walter decided to go along on the merry little game of murdering. He supposed to be smart yet when any blonde haired seductress bats her eyes at him, he's completely helpless.
Anyway they go along and plan a perfect crime...which, because of the opening scene, obviously didn't work out. It's how it doesn't work out that the whole movie hinges on.
It's a risky move, to let your audience know the ending at the beginning but I guess it's been done before and it will be done after. "Double Indemnity" is not Billy Wilder's finest work. Yes, it's fun but it's also somewhat dull.
Fred MacMurray plays Walter in an evil Jimmy Stewart fashion; and Barbara Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson and it's a really good role for her.
But I found that I was enjoying Edward G. Robinson as Keyes the best of any actors. He escapes the noir style of acting and convinces you of his character.
"Double Indemnity" places #38 on AFI's list of classic movies and Phyllis Dietrichson is #8 on the best villain list.
For me, it just wasn't that good. It was okay and slightly above average but it's not better than many movies that are placed below it like "Jaws", "Fargo", "Platoon", "The Silence of the Lambs", and "Network".
While it may appease some, it's not thrilling enough and doesn't have enough suspense.


Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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