Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson
Director: Billy Wilder
The film opens with a wounded man staggering into his office and making a confession. As he talks, time spools back and we learn he is Walter Neff (MacMurray) an insurance agent who has gotten caught up in something bad. Neff meets a beautiful blonde called Phyllis (Stanwyck) when he goes to her house to talk about a policy renewal. She asks him discretely about taking out a life insurance policy on her much older husband, and he senses trouble and leaves, only to be drawn into her scheme to murder her husband when she seduces him later at her apartment.
They make a huge amount of money on the double indemnity clause by making the murder look like a suicide on a train, but trouble looms. Barton Keyes (Robinson) is a dogged claims investigator who suspects something not right about the claim, and soon the couple are wondering who is double crossing who in their fears of the murder being found out.
Billy Wilder is a marvelous director, with an ability to find humor in the dark and the darkness in humor. Here he takes a lead actor known for being a good guy, and makes him a bad guy to great effect. (He would do this again with MacMurray in The Apartment, where he also plays a cad). For this film, he enlisted Raymond Chandler to adapt the screenplay from a novel, and created a classic film noir with a delightfully seductive and stunning femme fatale in the person of Barbara Stanwyck.
In the film noir genre, crime never pays. We know from the opening scene that there’s not a lot of hope for our anti-hero. But it’s the way the story unfolds that’s the reward and that keeps you guessing. You want to know what the femme fatales real game is and to watch the seduction as she uses herself as bait. You’re not sure whether the crime is going to go awry or if they’ll get away with it, but get caught later. There’s something delightfully cynical about all film noirs, and Billy Wilder certainly has a way of handling them that’s extra delightful. Throw in the against type MacMurray and a sparkling blonde Barbara Stanwyck, and you have a crime classic.
See It If: you’ve ever considered a get rich scheme! A wonderful, twisting film noir from master director Billy Wilder and a Raymond Chandler script.