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Double Indemnity ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Double Indemnity ~ A Capsule Movie Review By Allen Kopp

Bored 1940s California housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) uses her bewigged allure to get malleable insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to help her kill her repulsive husband for the insurance money and for “love.” After Phyllis and Walter execute as neat and ingenious a murder as has ever been committed to celluloid, their happiness is short-lived. Astute claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who works with Walter, does not believe the story that is being put forth about how Phyllis’s husband died and contests payment of the insurance money. As the story progresses and as the figurative noose tightens around Walter’s neck, we learn that Phyllis is not all we thought she was (or not all Walter thought, which is the same thing) and has only been using Walter to attain her ends. She has been messing around with her stepdaughter Lola’s boyfriend, Nino Zachetti, and has probably murdered before. And will murder again if she gets the chance.

Double Indemnity is a genre film and is the best of its genre, which can loosely be classified as film noir. It was made in 1944 and appropriately reflects the cynical wartime mood the country was in. It is such a perfect movie (if such a thing is possible) that seeing it for the first time is something of a revelation. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson are at the top of their form. Screenwriters Billy Wilder (who also directed) and mystery novelist Raymond Chandler take a good story by James M. Cain and make it even better. It is a perfect example of lean writing without any fat. Down to the tiniest detail (cinematography, music, art direction), Double Indemnity is meticulously and beautifully crafted. On a high-definition TV (as broadcast by TCM), it is as clear and crisp as if it was made yesterday instead of sixty-nine years ago.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

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