Classic Film Review: Walter Neff Confesses

Double Indemnity (1944) - IMDb

Double Indemnity is a 1944 film that is considered the definitive film noir where the ending isn’t all that warm, and the protagonists are lacking in morals.  There is a lot of history and unique acclaim attached to this.  It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won none.  It did make a lasting mark on cinema history, so the makers had to live with that.  Billy Wilder was the director of the screenplay which he co-wrote with Raymond Chandler.  It was based on a novella written by James M.Cain.  The cast includes Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.

Most of the story is told in flashback when MacMurray’s Walter Neff staggers into an office, sets up a dictaphone, and starts telling his story of infatuation and murder.  Neff meets the wife of a client who later asks about setting up a life insurance policy without the husband’s knowledge.  Neff figures out that Phyllis Dietrichson is setting up a big payout following the murder of her husband.  He decides that Phyllis is just attractive enough for him to lend a hand.  Not only does he have to  make sure the police has no suspicion, but he has an older colleague who is a good deal sharper than many.

A double indemnity is a clause in the insurance policy which would double the payout depending on how subject meets their death.  That was kind of fun to learn.

This is worth the reputation.  The performances aren’t bad at all.  I particularly enjoyed Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes, who is the colleague who is just a little too nosy for Neff’s good.  All of the cast did pretty well.  Apparently, James Cain thought the movie was better than his original story.  I haven’t read the novella, but I would probably take his word for it.

This is one of those films that I should have been long before now.  It may struggle a little with plausibility, but the overall experience was too well crafted for me to mind all that much.

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