Double Indemnity (1944)

double indemnity poster 1944 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking, classic film that helped define a genre


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Double Indemnity

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  April 24, 1944 (Brazil)/July 6, 1944 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

double indemnity barbara stanwyck

Would I lie to you?

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman who has fallen in love with one his clients.  Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) is unhappily married to her husband (Tom Powers), and she wants him dead.  With Phyllis’s help, Walter intends to set-up a double indemnity clause for Phyllis’s husband to die and reap the benefits.  Unfortunately, Walter’s boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) has a feeling that something isn’t right about the claim…and Keyes’ gut could destroy the whole plan.

Directed by Billy Wilder (Wilder also wrote the screenplay with Raymond Chandler), Double Indemnity is a crime-noir thriller.  The film was based on the James M. Cain novel that was first serialized in Liberty in 1936 and later collected.  The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Stanwyck), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography—Black-and-White, Best Sound Recording, and Best Score (Dramatic or Comedy) and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 1992.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1126).

double indemnity murder train fred macmurray

The plan is in play

Double Indemnity is one of those movies that I thought I saw before but then when I watched it, I wasn’t sure.  It was part of a group of noir films I watched while reading the books…and I know Double Indemnity was part of the books I read.  The reason Double Indemnity feels so familiar is because it is a classic story…and the type of story that helped make the noir genre.

The story is presented as a flashback as Walter Neff tells what has happened, so essentially you know he’s alive but nothing has gone right.  You have all the classic makings of a noir with a straight laced guy caught up (through lust) by a femme fatale who starts out seemingly innocent but is revealed to be a wolf in disguise.  It is smartly crafted with winning dialogue…you know where it is going to end, but you love getting there.

The casting is different in that it goes against the wholesome nature of Fred MacMurray.  Originally George Raft was tapped, but he wanted the film to end happy with him being an undercover detective out to catch Phyllis.  Barbara Stanwyck is perfect as the conniving woman who just oozes with innocence before she’s cornered.  Edward G. Robinson questioned being not the lead but took the role in spite of it (and it paid out for him).  There is a small cameo by Raymond Chandler as the man reading the magazine outside of the office.

double indemnity meeting grocery fred macmurray barbara stanwyck

Yep, you guys don’t look suspicious at all…real casual

The movie is a perfect black-and-white film and utilizes the look entirely.  Noir movies often play with light and dark, and Double Indemnity like The Maltese Falcon really digs in with the visuals.  Crime and black-and-white go together…and Double Indemnity uses what it has to add to the story.

Double Indemnity is another movie must.  It is a building block of cinema and helps you understand movies…but it also just a great picture.  The movie is a rather quick watch and is compelling throughout with great performances.  If you need a great example of noir, pick up this classic…and see how it shaped Hollywood along with other countless films that helped form the foundation of the movies we see today.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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