Double Indemnity (1944)

I was excited to run into this one! Even though I’m not one to consider making noir-type projects of my own (although I suspect that what I am planning to make will still manage to incorporate noir elements of some type if, and only if, they’re called for in the story), there is something about this particular subgenre which is bound to fascinate film buffs like myself to one degree or another.

Based on the eponymous novella by James M. Cain, DOUBLE INDEMNITY follows Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman, who ends up in an affair with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), the wife of one of his clients who wants her husband dead. Neff devises a scheme to take out a policy in her husband’s name without him knowing, and make his murder appear to be accidental which would trigger the titular clause in said policy, doubling the payout of its face value. Meanwhile, Neff’s friend and colleague, claims adjuster Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), suspects that Mr. Dietrichson’s death is not all it appears on the surface.

Film noir historian and Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller rightfully deemed DOUBLE INDEMNITY “the definitive film noir,” and it shows in virtually every aspect, from the witty and provocative dialogue of Raymond Chandler and also-director Billy Wilder’s screenplay, to the riveting characterizations of its leads, to the cinematography of John F. Seitz, whose German Expressionist influences especially set the standard for noirs to follow, to the dissonant and tense musical score of Miklós Rózsa. Each of these elements, superb on its own as they are, combine to create one of the most compelling dramas ever produced for the screen.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY was nominated for seven Academy Awards®, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Stanwyck), but did not win a single one. Possibly more amazing than that is the fact that Robinson’s particularly notable performance did not earn him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. In fact, Paramount had been backing GOING MY WAY which ultimately did win Best Picture and six other Oscars®, much to Wilder’s disgust. On the other hand, this film is among the best proof that you don’t need awards to cement the legacy of a great film, especially one that almost singlehandedly defines what it means to be called a film noir.