Movies We Like
If you know nothing about film noir, start with Double Indemnity. This classic by director Billy Wilder was among the first bona fide pictures in the postwar genre, and it contains all the essential elements – lust, greed, violence, betrayal – that animated this wondrous American style during its great epoch of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Based on a novel by hardboiled fiction forefather James M. Cain, the biting script was co-authored by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe. The brutal, sleazy tale is recounted (in traditional voiceover style) by canny but weak-willed Los Angeles insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who is ensnared by the scheming trollop Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). The pair hatch a complicated plot to murder her wealthy husband and collect a large double indemnity insurance policy. But they don’t reckon on the acute intuition of Neff’s friend and co-worker, claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), whose “little man” in the pit of his stomach tells him something isn’t quite right.
The crime isn’t perfect, but the movie certainly is. MacMurray -- who excelled at playing heels and chumps before moving into lightweight family fare late in his career – is at his best. He’s matched step for step by Stanwyck, at her most seductive, and Robinson, who’s a delight as the dogged insurance sleuth. The dialogue crackles, the story zigs and zags entertainingly, and the screen, like the plot, is swathed in expressive darkness.
They don’t make ‘em any better than this. (DVD: Universal)
Double Indemnity was nominated for 7 Oscars including, Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay.