Directed by: Billy Wilder
Screenplay by: Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler
Tagline: “You can't kiss away a murder”
Love-struck insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) lives to regret the "perfect" murder plot he's cooked up with femme fatale client Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who's counting on Neff's inside knowledge to cover her tracks as she stages her husband's "accidental" death to score a big payout on her life insurance policy. The only thing standing between the guilty pair and big money is canny claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) – and he smells a rat.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY was nominated for the Best Picture award. The film received seven Oscar nominations; no wins.
With "Double Indemnity," director Billy Wilder provided a hard-boiled crime drama with true impact. Wilder received a nomination for best directing.
Proverbs 5:3-5 For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil. But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
The story is told by narration in a series of flash backs, from Walter Neff's point of view, which is very effective and well done.
The story begins with insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) calling upon the luxurious abode of the Dietrichsons to renew Mr. Dietrichson's car insurance. Upon arriving at their mansion, Walter Neff finds out that Mr. Dietrichson is not at home, but that his wife, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) is there in her husband's place to carry on the business at hand.
Struck by her beauty and purring sensuality that Phyllis isn't shy in showing this male visitor, Walter Neff and Phylis are soon involved in a flirting game which goes down the slippery slope into a passionate affair, 1944 style. It becomes apparent that Phyllis Dietrichson knows how to manipulate the unthinking, weak male's heart and soon has drawn dumb bunny Walter Neff into a murder scheme to off her husband for the insurance money. While the audience must of been yelling at Walter to run like hell from this woman, he blithely follows her in an unaware state of mind, into calamity and plenty of hot water, from the frying pan into the fire, only to discover that he has been "played" by this narcissist woman, and that life as he knows it is about to get very difficult and sticky indeed, and may not end so well for him. He finds himself in the position of not only having to deal with her, but also trying to dodge the scrutiny of his pretty sharp boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who has ambitious motives of his own, and the suspicious step daughter, Lola (Jean Heather).
"Double Indemnity" is considered to be a classic example of the Film Noir genre, made very popular in the time period after World War 2, a genre that takes a dim view of the nature of human beings, and the world that they create from the worst part of themselves. As with other Film Noir productions, it was filmed in black and white, which enhanced feeling of the wonderful screenplay by Billy Wilder and talented screenwriter / dialog genius Raymond Chandler, who together created a story based on James M. Cain's novel, which tells a dark tale of lust, greed, betrayal and murder, all mixed together with cynicism and paranoia. The dark side of human weakness and nature of all the characters is the star of the plot line, brought to life with a bang by a stellar cast of actors and actresses, under the insightful direction of the late great Billy Wilder.
Fred MacMurray excels as Walter Neff, a man without a moral compass, heading for a world of problems once he foolishly follows his heart and sinful nature down the path to his own sorry future.
Barbara Stanwyck also is diabolically stunning as the manipulating, narcissist love temptress who pretends to love, knows how to manipulate others to accomplish her own self-serving agenda - Not the kind of woman you take home to mother! Her performance in this role was considered her best, and Barbara received her third Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Edward G. Robinson does a wonderful job portraying insurance investigator, Barton Keyes who has a gut that never fails him, and has the drive, smarts and determination to follow through on his hunches, which supports his own dark motives as well.
My favorite series of scenes are those between MacMurray and Robinson. Although Robinson suspects MacMurray, he toys with him, like a cat "playing" with a dazed mouse, before having it for dinner.
This film is unrated, but I would give it a PG-13 due to subject matter, and the film's gloomy opinion of the human race. It would go over the heads of children but would perhaps open a dialog with teens about how choices based on momentary feelings, not on a moral base of beliefs can lead to deep trouble. Doing what feels good at the time can lead to foolish choices and disastrous results.