Thursday, November 5, 2015

10 reasons to watch Double Indemnity (1944)

Title: Double Indemnity
Director: Billy Wilder
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman who helps Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) kill her husband in a way that will increase the life insurance payout.

"Double Indemnity, Life Magazine" Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Walter's friend and colleague, claims adjuster Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), begins to suspect that Mr. Dietrichson's death wasn't an accident.

Why is Double Indemnity worth watching?

1) Edward G. Robinson's monologue on the statistics of different kinds of suicide.

2) The contrast between two relationships: Walter and Phyllis vs. Walter and Barton. Walter and Phyllis' relationship feels hurried, the build-up too quick. His relationship with her comes across as suicide, as if he's deliberately self-destructing; it's not even fully clear why, only that he's courting death, and Phyllis loves death. The bond he shares with Barton is deeper. Their friendship is an important part of the movie; and Walter's betrayal of Barton feels like a crime separate from the murder and fraud.

3) I like that Stanwyck brings an insectile quality to her character. She's small and wiry, with sharp eyes and a caressing voice. Her character creeps into fantasies. (Stanwyck wore a strangely fitted blonde wig in this movie; it didn't look like real hair. But somehow this weird wig fit her character.)

4) Want to see a great piece of acting from Stanwyck? The scene where Phyllis watches her husband get murdered. She looks entranced, fascinated. All of this suggested in her eyes.

5) And Edward G. Robinson, he's a pleasure as the insurance claims adjuster with integrity.

6) The use of window blinds - in the Dietrichson home, in the insurance office, causing bars of darkness and light to fall on Walter Neff. Both like prison bars and his checkered soul.

7) The scene on the train, with MacMurray limping. Physical and moral brokenness.

8) The association of honeysuckle and murder. ("How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?")

9) The way the movie ends. In part, it involves one character saying to another, "I love you, too," in a slightly soppy way and under grim circumstances.

10) Walter hanging out with the daughter of the man he murdered and oddly finding peace in that as the net closes around him.


Brian Joseph said...

This is one of my favorites!

One more reason for me to love this film: I have been in the Insurance Industry for 20 years. The film is full of insurance folks and insurance talk. Edward G. Robinson is the most awesome of Insurance fraud investigators!

HKatz said...

Edward G. Robinson is definitely the best character in the movie :)

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi Hila,

I watched this film many years ago and have to agree with both yoursef and Brian, that it was one of the best.

However, whilst I agree that Edward G. Robinson, was indeed one of the great actors of his time, I have to say that I agree with IMDb in their assessment of Fred MacMurray ...

"Fred MacMurray was likely the most underrated actor of his generation. True, his earliest work is mostly dismissed as pedestrian, but no other actor working in the 1940s and 50s was able to score so supremely whenever cast against type."

Also, Barbara Stanwyck never failed to turn in a fantastic performance, whether it be on the big screen, or small screen television productions.

Thanks so much for bringing back some lovely teenaged memories for me :)


HKatz said...

I haven't watched a lot of Fred MacMurray's work, but he was good in this - just didn't stand out as much as his co-stars, though he gave a solid performance; I guess he's underrated with me now too :)

Barbara Stanwyck is becoming one of my favorite actresses from that time.

I'm glad this brought back some good memories :)