Sunday, May 22, 2011

Double Indemnity

"How could I have known that murder sometimes smells like honeysuckle?" Double Indemnity is the classic film noir about an insurance salesman who gets seduced into committing murder and insurance fraud. Walter Neff played by Fred MacMurray is a successful insurance salesman in Los Angeles. He pays a visit to a potential client, a Mr. Dietrichson. However, when he arrives, Mr. Dietrichson isn't at home. In his place is his wife Phyllis played by Barbara Stanwyck. Neff becomes automatically entranced by Mrs. Dietrichson and tries his best to make a good impression. When Phyllis shows up at his doorstep after their second meeting, Neff knew he had done a good job. It is at this point though that Phyllis reveals she has had feelings of killing her husband and filling out life insurance in his name before doing so. Eventually Phyllis gains Walter's trust and he says he will help her do the crime. As the film unfolds, the trials and tribulations of committing murder begin to show, and the strains on their relationship may be too much for Walter and Phyllis to handle.

Double Indemnity came out at the peak of the film noir genre in American cinema. After the success of films such as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, film noirs were being made rapidly. Double Indemnity was one of the rare few to shine as bright as it's predecessors. It perfected the art of having the story narrated by the main character. It had all the twists necessary in any mystery genre film. And the acting performances were superb. Edward G. Robinson's Barton Keyes, another insurance salesman investigating the Dietrichson claim, is brilliant. Robinson did a great job in stepping back from main roles to provide this supporting character, and his effort shows. I give much of the credit to director Billy Wilder who went out on a limb to obtain the high quality actors this film has. Not many people wanted to be seen as adulterers as the main characters in the film are. But it all came together in the end and the film earned seven Academy Award nominations.

Grade: A

Complex concepts and themes - Oscar
Unforeseeable twist - Oscar
Unique and creative direction - Oscar

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