Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The colour palette is black and white, but morality is shades of grey in this film noir from Billy Wilder. Telling a tale that was almost too racy for the censors of its time, Double Indemnity has travelled well over the last 50 years.

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray, playing against his usual nice guy type) is an insurance salesman with an eye for the ladies. One day, he makes a routine visit to talk to a client about motor policy renewal and, instead, meets the man's wife, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck, in fine femme fatal form).

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He comes on strong and fast ("around 90 miles an hour") and she, sporting a racy anklet that can only signify she's speedy herself, doesn't hold back. Before long, it's "honey" and "baby" all round, as they plot to bump off her uncaring spouse for the insurance money in what Neff intends to be the perfect crime, to fool even his super-efficient colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson).

Told in flashback by a wounded Neff, confessing into his office dictaphone, the crime, it seems, wasn't so perfect after all.

Closer to perfection is the screenplay and direction. Raymond Chandler's dialogue, like Walter, shoots along at around 90 miles an hour, as he and Phyllis spar verbally in lieu of jumping into bed - this is cleverly implied. MacMurray and Stanwyck sparkle as the amoral duo out for themselves and Robinson provides the perfect foil as the office know-it-all.

The failings, which include Richard Gaines - more wooden than Neff's desk, in his role as the company boss - are few. Also, there is an obvious mistake, which is confusing at first; MacMurray sports a wedding ring, despite his character being single. There are other continuity glitches, according to the booklet that comes with the DVD, but they don't get in the way of the plot.

Sizzling and sassy, this thriller still cuts it amongst today's effects-laden offerings.

Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2005
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Double Indemnity packshot
An insurance salesman falls for a beautiful woman and concocts the "perfect crime".
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Director: Billy Wilder

Writer: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler, based on the novel by James M Cain

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Porter Hall, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova

Year: 1944

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

Festivals:

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