This is the third in my occasional looks at all-time classic movies.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY has a reputation as one of the best-loved classic films of all time. This verdict is well-deserved as the movie sets a cracking pace. I had always associated Barbara Stanwyck as the matriarch in the classic television series, The Big Valley. Some older readers may remember this. The screenplay for Double Indemnity was written by Director Billy Wilder in collaboration with the great Raymond Chandler who created the private eye, Philip Marlowe.
The story opens in flashback as dying insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) crashes into his office, picks up a dictaphone and tells his story in flashback to a colleague who investigates insurance scams.
Neff is a mess. How did he get this way? While out selling insurance policies he met an extremely attractive young woman, Phyllis Dietrichson, (Barbara Stanwyck) who feels trapped in her marriage to her boorish husband, (Tom Powers). The ultimate femme fatale, Phyllis asks how she could work an insurance scam to murder her husband and collect the insurance.
Infatuated by Phyllis’s charms, Neff proposes a scheme that makes it look as if the crutch-bound Mr Dietrichson fell or jumped off a moving train. All seems to be going well, but the investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson) is suspicious. He feels in his bones that something about the grieving widow’s claim is not right. This has to be one of the best roles of Robinson’s career. He is like a terrier who won’t let go. When he sees something that doesn’t seem right, he worries away at it until he gets to the solution. There’s not a lot of action in the modern sense in Double Indemnity yet there are no boring lulls.either. Instead, the tension builds up gradually through the magnificent performances from Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson. Will they get away with it? What went wrong? It’s powerful stuff.
This classic is now available to a whole new audience on DVD. It’s a perfect example of the film noir genre.