Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). Director: Billy Wilder. Co-screenplay by Raymond Chandler. From a novel by James M. Cain.

Although the voice-over narration is overdone and annoying (as in Sunset Boulevard), you eventually get used to it, caught up in the mesmerizing spell of this great motion picture. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray, in a very good performance) meets unhappy wife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and before long they're conspiring to murder her husband and make it look like an accident that will pay double from Neff's insurance company because of a "double indemnity" clause. Stanwyck, in the archetypal portrait of a sultry sociopathic siren, is simply magnificent. Edward G. Robinson is also superb as Barton Keyes, the older man who works with Neff, and who investigates the death of Dietrichson. But Wilder also made smart casting decisions with the supporting cast, such as Tom Powers as the victim, Jean Heather as his daughter, and Byron Barr as her unpleasant boyfriend, Nino.

The scene when Keyes nearly sees Phyllis hiding in the corridor outside of Neff''s apartment is marvelous, although Hitchcock probably would have done more with it. And frankly it makes little sense that Neff would go into Keyes' office instead of bolting away when he sees a man outside who could identify him and blow his whole scheme to smithereens. Of course, it does lead into a suspenseful scene in Keye's office later when you wonder if the witness will recognize Neff.

The ending to the film is strangely moving. Robinson/Keyes seems coldly disgusted with Neff's actions, not willing to give him any out. Then Neff suggests that Keyes couldn't see the solution because he was too close to the perpetrator, who was, as Neff says, right across the desk. "Closer than that," says Robinson. And you realize how much Robinson loved Neff in his own way and how utterly disappointed he is in him.

Although it may or may not have been an Oscar-worthy performance, one has to say that the casting of MacMurray goes a long, long way to enabling you to feel some slight sympathy for the character he plays (although he certainly showed no pity for Dietrichson).

Verdict: A classic in every sense of the word. ****.


Anonymous said...

One of my favorite noirs, it has a real sourness about it and the three principals all do some great work.
Very enjoyable blog BTW with lots of interesting and diverse reviews. Good stuff.

William said...

Many thanks for your kind words, Livius. I appreciate your comments about Double Indemnity and the GOM blog.

I also think you've got a great movie blog -- RIDING THE HIGH COUNTRY -- and have added it to my blog roll.

Best, Bill

Bacall said...

This my favorite film noir. I think that although Eddie G. had a role that was sort of in the background, he shined like no other. But then, we talking about Eddie G.

Nice blog.

William said...

Thanks, you've got a nice blog too and I've added it to my blog roll.

Robinson is one of the all-time greats! Never seen him give a bad performance.