Classic of the Week: Double Indemnity (1944)

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Double Indemnity is a 1944 film noir crime drama directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Heather and Tom Powers.

The film follows the story of insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray), housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), who wants her husband dead and Barton Keyes, a claims adjuster whose job is to find bogus claims.

You first believe everything that Phyllis says about her husband being abusive, then you learn she made it up and wants him dead, because she had fallen in love with Neff. She and Neff try to make a “double Indemnity” clause in her husband’s life insurance policy, from a plan to make the murder of him seem to be an accidental fall from a train. You then learn that Phyllis was never in love with Neff and that she was the abusive one to both her husband and daughter Lola.

This film is outstanding in its portrayal of slyness and criminality. The writing is excellent. Fred MacMurray is exceptional as Walter Neff, as is Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson. Edward G. Robinson does a fine job as Barton Keyes, and though their roles aren’t as big,  Jean Heather as Lola Dietrichson and Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson, did very good as well.

The character of Phyllus Dietrichson, is an iconic one. She is extremely smart, book, street and criminally. She can make a person believe just about anything. Mr. Dietrichson, you learn, wants to divorce Phyllis because of her treatment towards him and their daughter. Lola wants to run away with her boyfriend Nino Zachetti, (who is a little foul mouthed and rude), because of her mother. She wishes her parents would just get divorced.

This is one of the best, not just crime films, but greatest films of all time. It has stood the test of time. It isn’t exciting at all, but intense without being overly gory or scary. Judging by posters of this movie, you think it’s a romance, but it’s actually not, all that turns out to be fake. This is an extremely well written, well acted, masterpiece, that never fails to bore. A one of a kind film, no, one in a million work of art. True originality from beginning to end. 16+ 5/5

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