Double Indemnity (Universal Legacy Series)
Tagline: It's Love And Murder At First Sight!
Plot Outline An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator's suspicions.
Plot Synopsis: Smooth talking insurance salesman Walter Neff meets attractive Phyllis Dietrichson when he calls to renew her husband's automobile policy. The couple are immediately drawn to each other and an affair begins. They cook up a scheme to murder Mr. Dietrichson for life insurance money with a double indemnity clause. Unfortunately, all does not go to plan...
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Director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard) and writer Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) adapted James M. Cain's hard-boiled novel into this wildly thrilling story of insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who schemes the perfect murder with the beautiful dame Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck): kill Dietrichson's husband and make off with the insurance money. But, of course, in these plots things never quite go as planned, and Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) is the wily insurance investigator who must sort things out. From the opening scene you know Neff is doomed, as the story is told in flashback; yet, to the film's credit, this doesn't diminish any of the tension of the movie. This early film noir flick is wonderfully campy by today's standards, and the dialogue is snappy ("I thought you were smarter than the rest, Walter. But I was wrong. You're not smarter, just a little taller"), filled with lots of "dame"s and "baby"s. Stanwyck is the ultimate femme fatale, and MacMurray, despite a career largely defined by roles as a softy (notably in the TV series My Three Sons and the movie The Shaggy Dog), is convincingly cast against type as the hapless, love-struck sap. --Jenny Brown
On the DVD
If there's anything you ever wanted to know about Double Indemnity or film noir, you're likely to find it in these special features: two feature commentaries; an in-depth documentary; and an introduction by Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies to put the movie into context. Osborne's introduction of Indemnity, "by far one of the best film noir dramas ever made," succinctly sets the background, noting how many pieces of this delicate film puzzle almost never came together, and some of the issues will seem almost quaint to modern viewers (the producers had difficulty casting actors in 1944 who were willing to be in a movie with a plot centered on adultery and murder), which is key to understanding the edge this movie had upon its release. If you've never seen the movie before, you may want to watch the 37-minute documentary Shadows of Suspense first to pique your interest. Shadows does an excellent job of showing why and how noir came to be, and how Indemnity is at the vortex of that movement, illustrating the dramatic history of the film itself and the numerous obstacles that had to be overcome to get it onto the screen. "If I had one movie to explain to people what noir is, it's Double Indemnity" states author Eddie Muller at the start of Shadows. Muller also states that noir is Hollywood's only organic artistic movement, making Indemnity a movie that is a symbol of a watershed era in American film. The two commentary tracks-–the first by film historian Richard Schickel, the second by screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman together-–go in-depth beyond the points raised in Osborne's introduction to flesh out the characters in the movie, as well as the characters behind the scenes like director Billy Wilder and co-writer Raymond Chandler. Taken together, the two commentary tracks could make a decent film-school lecture session. The second disc contains the forgettable 1973 television movie version of Double Indemnity starring Richard Crenna and Samantha Eggar. This 75-minute long version may only be interesting as a comparison to the original, proving the old adage that "they just don't make 'em like they used to." --Daniel Vancini