Only Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler could make life insurance sales so interesting. Double Indemnity is the classic “Killed Him for the Insurance Money” story. Unwitting insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls hard for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). They are blind with love after only moments together, and decide that nothing–especially not Phyllis’ husband– can keep them apart. They secretly insure her husband’s life, and then execute the perfect murder. It looks exactly like a freak accident, that just happens to be covered by a “double indemnity” clause in the policy, causing the policy to pay off double….everything is going perfectly….until…..BAH BUM BUM……
I love everything about film noir– the brooding voiceovers, the longing glances, the clever banter, the climbing suspense in tiny movements, the shadows and secrets. Double Indemnity plays them all perfectly.
I can’t decide whether its a flaw of the film, but Barbra Stanwyck was so easy to dislike. In so many other films, the femme fatale grows on you, and you are disappointed when she is revealed as bad. Her evilness is a betrayal. Stanwyck, however, seems a little sleazy from the get go. It’s not surprising when she goes rotten, and it’s not disappointing either.
I feel foolish even writing a review for Double Indemnity, because it’s the quintessential film noir. It’s been reviewed over and over and over, I’m certainly not adding a new voice to the crowd. Still, I feel like the timeless appeal of film noir is often lost with all the big-ticket explosion films today. If you have any interest in film, a viewing of Double Indemnity is essential.