Thursday, May 31, 2012

Film Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Fred and Barbara in the second of three
films together.
Photo Courtesy of
TCMDb: An insurance salesman gets seduced into plotting a client's death.

     Whenever someone talked about this film, I felt as though I had committed an unforgivable sin, broke a law, or thumbed my nose to the world of classic films because it wasn't until very recently that I finally watched it. After having watched it, I feel as though it should be one of the first ten any new classic film lover should see (and that's saying something).
     I like a lot of films; the selected ones, the one that I love, however, are in an elite group all of their own. I'm glad to say that Double Indemnity is now a part of that elite group.
The opening credits.
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Does anyone ever pay at-tention to the title sequences? If they have a design to them, or any animation? Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. Some really great ones that I really like are the title sequences for The Man with a Golden Arm (1955) and the ones to Ocean's 11 (1960) both which were created by Saul Bass, a graphic designer known for his film posters and his title sequences. In the case of Double Indemnity, I found it highly interesting for an injured man walking, or rather hopping, with crutches comes slowly forward until his front blacked the camera out, and the film finally begins. Plus, with the music in the background, it just adds to it. It immediately gave me a sense that I was going to be in for a good time.
Walter Neff telling his side of the story.
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     The film first starts out with Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) driving back to his office, starting up a recorder, and begin to tell his friend, Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), a fellow insurance salesman, that he had been right all the time about the Dietrichson case not being an accident--that there had been a murder; the only thing he had been wrong about was who had killed the old man. He got it wrong because it was "so close up to your nose, you couldn't see".
     It's then when he begins to go into how he, Walter Neff, had come to killing the old man Dietrichson.
     He killed him "for money and a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman"--the same ol' same ol'.
     To be quite honest, I hate it when some of my favorites are bad guys. I like them to be a good guy--or good woman, and I suppose in a way that's typecasting. I know that some of them loved to stretch their wings and play against type, got to show their acting chops a little bit. I understand that, and I admire them for it, but that still doesn't change the fact that I don't really care for them to be a bad guy. So, while I have to admit that Barbara Stanwyck was superb in Double Indemnity as was Fred MacMurray, I didn't really care for them to be so heartless--especially Barbara.
Murder at first sight.
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     Barbara gave one her best performances, if not her best, ever as Phyllis Dietrichson. I think her most chilling moment on screen was as she sits in the driver seat and listens to Fred MacMurray kill her husband. The look on her face is one of self-satisfaction of a good job well done. She thinks she's gotten away with it, in fact she knows she's gotten away with, and there's nothing no one can do about it.
     And she would have gotten away with it . . . they both would have had it not been for Keyes and "the little man inside of me". I don't know anything about murdering anyone since I have no desire to, so I have no idea if this murder would still hold up today, but considering the fact that Edward G. Robinson figured out what really happened--even though he initially got the wrong man--I don't think it would.
     Apparently there really is no such thing as a "perfect murder"--too bad they didn't know that. If they had known that, however, we wouldn't have a film, now would we?
Edward G. Robinson, or as I like to call him, Eddie G., as
Martin Keyes.
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     I think my favorite thing about the whole film besides the fact that everybody in it was superb, was the amazing dialogue. I ask you, why can't they write dialogue like this anymore? Why do they have to try and see how many f-bombs they can drop in one sentence? I'm not saying all movies are like that today, but too many of them are in my opinion. I think what some of the writers ought to do is sit in a little room with as many other writers that can possibly fit and watch the classics to get an idea as to how they should really write. They don't have to use the slang because, lets face it, some of it is dead, but they should definitely learn how to play on words, and instead of right out saying something, write in such a way that leaves the audience going: Did he mean what I think he meant when he said that?
Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson. The poor sap has no idea
what's coming to him.
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     Here's just a few of the great lines in Double Indemnity:

Walter Neff: You'll be here, too?
Phyllis Dietrichson: I guess so, I usually am.
Walter Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis Dietrichson: I wonder if you know what you mean.
Walter Neff: I wonder if you wonder.


Walter Neff: It's just like the first time I came here, isn't it? We were talking about automobile insurance only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.

Plus the numerous times that Fred MacMurray said, "Baby" . . . I don't think I've heard anyone say "Baby" quite the way he did.

Keyes lighting Neff's cigarette.
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     In the end, Phyllis Dietrichson got what she deserved, and though you start to feel sorry for Fred MacMurray near the end because you find out that he was going to be the fall guy the entire time, you know also he gets what he deserves . . . after all, murder doesn't pay, especially backing during the Code, and so you know that Walter Neff can't live as a free man. And so, with Keyes lighting the wounded Neff's cigarette--a nice touch by Wilder considering through out the whole film it was Neff lighting the fumbling Keyes cigar--you are left wondering if he even lives.
     I give this film a 4/4 stars, and highly suggest that it be one of your first classics to watch if you are a newbie.


azw596 said...

I confess to being a newbie when it comes to really appreciating classic Hollywood, and am most grateful for your suggestion that this be among the first classics to watch. Reading your carefully prepared review again after watching, I realise how well it does the film true justice,and I learned a lot from many of the points you mention. Many, many thanks!

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