Double Indemnity (1944)
Reviewed on 2011 July 18
This is an almost cartoony-dark noir, with Fred MacMurray once again working with Billy Wilder script and playing a heel with no moral compass. Here, he makes his Sheldrake satyr from The Apartment look like a good guy.
Walter Neff (MacMurray) is an insurance salesman smitten with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a client who innocently widens her eyes as she asks about piling the accident insurance on her husband, “just in case”. She laments his long hours and dangerous job requirements, and wants to prepare for the unthinkable. She just happens to be wearing a sexy slit skirt, anklet, and apparently fine perfume as she asks Neff for his advice. Neff reads right through this smokescreen, though he’s still smitten with the woman, and winds up helping her plot to get the husband out of the way, so they can enjoy all that money and each other. The only potential problem is Neff’s co-worker, Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Keyes is an insurance analyst legendary for his ability to spot insurance fraud, and he sees Neff every day. If Neff does this, he’s really risking everything — but Phyllis is just too much for him to resist.
I always thought Wilder wrote some of the best scripts in Hollywood, and this one he adapted (together with Raymond Chandler) a James M. Cain novel, so you know you’re in for a good story. It’s an older movie, and somewhat dated in terms of dialogue, but to me that doesn’t detract from it in the least. It’s interesting to watch the cat-and-mouse stuff once the film gets rolling, and all three leads do a remarkable job. Historically it’s interesting to see how movies from this era telegraphed things. Phyllis has to be a bad girl with that anklet and that hair. The plot was involved without being too byzantine, and you have to marvel at Neff’s ingenuity, even while you’re repulsed by his lack of a soul.
Three chocolate morsels and an iced tea, unless it’s the maid’s day off.