Sunday, August 7, 2011


(September 1944, U.S.)

When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of the local TV channels was still airing reruns of MY THREE SONS. I didn't care for the show too much and I thought actor Fred MacMurrary was one of the biggest dorks I'd ever seen. Never would I have imagined that decades earlier he'd played a "not very nice" guy in what I consider to be one of the greatest American film noir classics of all time, Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Barbara Stanwyck portrays perhaps THE quintessential representative of the femme fatale (even in her badly chosen blonde wig), namely the kind of woman you want to fuck as soon as you meet her and the same kind of woman who will ultimately fuck you (and not in a good way!) in the end.

Walter Neff (played by MacMurray), a seemingly innocent and perhaps even dull insurance salesman first meets the sultry Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Stanwyck) during a routine house call to renew an automobile insurance policy for her husband. A flirtation develops, at least until Phyllis asks how she could take out an accident insurance policy on her husband's life without his knowing it. Neff realizes she's contemplating his murder, and he wants no part of it...not for the moment, anyway. The term "double indemnity", by the way, refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies that doubles the payout in cases when death is caused by accidental means. This is, of course, more than tempting for two "not so very nice" people who ultimately want to plot the murder of the woman's husband and collect on his insurance. Their carefully-planned scheme has left nothing to chance and seems to go off without a hitch when they finally execute it. Only problem is they have an insurance claims adjuster named Keyes (played by the great Edward G. Robinson) on their ass whose job is to find phony claims, and he's definitely one stubborn, persistent son of a bitch! But even stubborness may not prevail because the guilty person is standing in front of Keyes the whole time and he's just too close (to Neff) to realize it. But if you've watched enough film noir in your time, you can often expect that the scheming couple will likely double-cross each other in the end and both end up dead. In the end, crime doesn't pay but you almost wish it did because you've come to enjoy the chemistry, heat and murderous antics between a couple who are "not so nice" to watch on film.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY is cited as a paradigmatic film noir and as having set the standard for the films that followed in that same genre. Its black and white photography helps to develop the noir style of sharp-edged shadows and shots, strange angles and lonely Edward Hopper-type settings.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Phyllis Dietrichson: "Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30. He'll be in then."
Walter Neff: "Who?"
Phyllis: "My husband. You were anxious to talk to HIM, weren't you?"
Walter: "Yeah, I was. But, uh, I'm sorta getting over the idea if you know what I mean."
Phyllis: "There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff; forty-five miles an hour."
Walter: "How fast was I going, Officer?"
Phyllis: "I'd say around ninety."
Walter: "Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?"
Phyllis: "Suppose I let you off with a warning this time?"
Walter: "Suppose it doesn't take?"
Phyllis: "Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles?"
Walter: "Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder?"
Phyllis: "Suppose you try putting it on my HUSBAND'S shoulder?"
Walter: "That tears it."

This kind of dialogue by 1940's standards would probably have been considered a strong form of sexual foreplay. You see - even THEN, there was plently of fucking on film, only in much more subtle forms.

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