LIKE MOST OF THE GREAT FILM NOIRS FROM THE FORTIES, THE FILM BEGINS WITH A NARRATION AND THE NARRATIVE UNFOLDS IN A FLASHBACK
Walter Neff, successful insurance salesman for Pacific All-Risk Insurance returns to his office building in downtown Los Angeles late one night. Clearly in pain, he sits down at his desk and tells the whole story into a Dictaphone for his colleague Barton Keyes, a claims adjuster.
DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
BOTTOM LINE:The greatest of the film noirs that Hollywood churned out from the mid-forties into the fifties, this 1944 crime thriller was directed by Billy Wilder, co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler and produced by Buddy DeSylva. The screenplay was based on James M. Cain’s 1943 novel of the same title, which appeared as an eight-part serial for Liberty magazine in February 1936.
The film stars Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman, Walter Neff and Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, the black widow spider who traps him in a plot to kill her husband and then claim the insurance money. Edward. G. Robinson also stars as MacMurray’s boss Barton Keyes, a claims adjuster whose job is to find phony claims. The term “Double Indemnity” refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies that doubles the payout in cases when the death is accidental.
All three stars are superb, with Stanwyck and Robinson giving Oscar-worthy performances. At least Stanwyck was nominated, but she unjustly lost out to Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight.” In contrast, neither MacMurray nor Robinson got any love from their peers. Robinson’s absence from the Best Supporting Actor lineup that year is, arguably, the most egregious snub in Oscar history.
Wilder has stated in various interviews over the years that he believes the real love affair was between Walter (MacMurray) and Keyes (Robinson). You can feel the deep attachment between them all the way through to their final beautiful and very moving scene together. The dynamic between Neff and Dietrichson (Stanwyck) seems to be more about power than genuine emotion. There is no love there.
The film is also redolent of Los Angeles, it being the first Hollywood movie to go out and capture the sights and sounds of the city’s varied locales:
- The Dietrichson House in Glendale (actually in the Beachwood Canyon area), where Walter first meets Phyllis (and her ankle bracelet) for the first time.
- The Market in Los Feliz, where Walter and Phyllis have their clandestine meetings.
- Walters’s apartment on Melrose Avenue.
- The corner of Franklin and Vermont, where Walter drops off Lola (Jean Heather), Phyllis’ step-daughter who suspects that her mother is up to no good.
- Walter and Lola lying on the grass beinf the Hollywood Bowl as a concert shimmers in the distance.
- Downtown Los Angeles where the Pacific All-Risk insurance offices are located.
The magnificnet score is by Miklos Rozsa. The cinematography is by John F. Seitz who also photographed Wilder’s Oscar winning “The Lost Weekend” and “Sunset Boulevard”.
CATEGORY: My Favorites
SUBCATEGORY: Queer Film | Classic Film Noir | 30s 40s
STREAMING: Amazon Prime and Apple TV+
REMADE AS BODY HEAT IN 1981 BY LAWRENCE KASDAN WITH WILLIAM HURT AND KATHLEEN TURNER