Review by Andrea Matthews Clark
“Paramount’s SCHOCKING, SUSPENSE-FILLED MASTERPIECE OF LOVE…AND MURDER.” This was how Double Indemnity was billed when it was released in 1944. The tagline: “You can’t kiss away a Murder!” Immediately we know we’re in for some pulpy fiction fun – a film noir journey that promises to delight.
And Double Indemnity delivers. It crackles with all the fabulous elements of films noir: the wicked blonde, the man she seduces into killing her husband, and the snappy dialogue between our two doomed lovers. Director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay – based on a 1943 novella by James M. Cain – and the perfect alchemy of this trio of talent created one of the most famous films of the genre.
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck bring the aforementioned doomed lovers to life – making a 180-degree shift from their traditionally sweet and squeaky-clean roles. It works beautifully. The film begins with MacMurray – insurance salesman Walter Neff – staggering into his office, bleeding from a gunshot wound. He falls into a chair and records a confession on the newly invented Dictaphone. We know, from the start, that things won’t end well. But not for a minute does this lose our attention. It actually draws us in, eager to witness the apparent downfall of this professional, but broken, businessman. We realize right away that this is going to be a tawdry ride. It’s irresistible.
Neff has partnered with the dangerously intriguing Phyllis Dietrichson, played by Stanwyck, to do away with the latter’s husband. This, after she takes out a life insurance policy with a pretty payoff in case of her husband’s accidental death. Together, they plan the murder of Mr. Dietrichson, their eyes on the prize of the insurance monies and the chance to be together.
But as wily insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) knows, it’s never that simple. “Murder’s never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later, and when two people are involved it’s usually sooner.”
This is great fun to watch. And the gritty Los Angeles setting, the ominous train track that will play a role in the murder, are just right. The cinematographer makes magic, with light peeking through partially closed blinds, creating a black-and-white world of shadow and brightness. These elements, combined with the dialogue, seal the deal; this is film noir at its best.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan or new to the genre, you’re bound to get a kick from this hard-boiled story. I never tire of it. –Andrea Matthews Clark
Double Indemnity screens Thursday, January 29 at 7:30 pm at the Heights. You can purchase advance tickets here.