Double Indemnity was released in 1944, and is often considered to be one of the best known film noirs. It was directed by Billy Wilder, director of such films as Some Like it Hot, The Apartment and Stalag 17. The screenplay was written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler. Chandler was responsible for creating the classic Philip Marlowe character, which has been portrayed many times on screen. The main players in the cast were Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and the ever reliable Edward G. Robinson.
The film follows Walter Neff (MacMurray), who works as an insurance salesman for the Pacific All-Risk Insurance Company. One day he visits the Dietrichson household, so he can finalise a deal that he had been previously discussing with the husband. However, Mr. Dietrichson is not home, so he has to deal with his wife Phyllis (Stanwyck). There is an instant attraction between the two. He then agrees to return another day when her husband is home. Phyllis later confides that she would like Neff’s help in killing her husband, so she can benefit from his accident insurance policy. He agrees to the plan and comes up with the idea of a ‘double indemnity’ clause, which means the payout will be doubled if her husband dies in a highly unusual way. They follow through on the murder but must contend with Neff’s highly tenacious work colleague, Barton Keyes (Robinson).
The script in this film is really superb and offers many great lines. The rapid-fire, back and forth dialogue is incredible at times. Look out for Robinson’s scene about suicide statistics, which is a real head-turner. The movie is also funny in places, but never overly so, and does not detract from the serious nature of the story. It has a real air of authenticity that was often lacking in films of the forties.
The acting on show is excellent, especially from MacMurray and Robinson. MacMurray plays his role perfectly, managing to come across as both strong and weak with equal aplomb. Edward G. Robinson is his usual mesmeric self and is the star of the film for me. He completely takes over the screen whenever he appears. His adherence to cold, hard facts, his speeches about his ‘little man’ and his constant irascible nature make him truly memorable. Incredibly he was never even nominated for an Oscar, or any other prestigious acting award. Barbara Stanwyck is also good in her role, but is handicapped by an absurd blonde wig, which looks like a carpet sample perched on her head.
It was nominated for seven Oscars, winning none. It lost out to Going my Way, a vehicle for Bing Crosby. It is safe to say that Double Indemnity had the last laugh in terms of staying power. This picture is a real delight and continues to impress with every viewing. Watch this and you will not be disappointed.
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