Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★★

A sleazy insurance agent and a desperate housewife make for double the trouble in Billy Wilder's landmark film-noir drama, Double Indemnity.

Wilder directs from a script he co-wrote with legendary author Raymond Chandler and the result is a tightly wound tale that is sure to keep you glued to your seat, much like so many of Chandler's vintage page-turners. This was Wilder's first big hit and it earned seven Oscar nods. While it didn't win a single award (proving that the Academy has been out of touch since before most of us were born), it paved the way for a fruitful career for Wilder and helped to shape the noir genre as we know it.

Like most classic film noir, Double Indemnity has a pretty low opinion of women but perhaps an even lower view of the men that willingly step into their webs. Bringing these colorfully corrupt characters to life are Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. For his part, MacMurray is working against type here, playing a morally ambiguous man who seems to follow no particular set of rules and is easily distracted by his fetish for ankle bracelets. Opposite MacMurray, Stanwyck simply sizzles as the manipulative matron to whom deception comes naturally. The pair make a dynamic duo that you can't help but love to hate. Supporting this terrible twosome is Edward G. Robinson, whose career was on a downward slide at this point. Robinson is a pro and provides a warm presence, both as a familiar face and as the film's moral compass. It's deliciously ironic that the owner of an insurance company also happens to be the most morally sound character in the whole story.

Watching this for the first time this morning, I couldn't help but be drawn into the magnetic performances and was more than happy to be strung along by the perfectly crafted story. I wanted these characters to fail in their scheming every bit as much as I wanted them to hop into bed together. Double Indemnity is an airtight effort, a film without a single frame wasted and a pace that never lets up. It's saucy, smart and rather subversive for its time, and that effect hasn't worn off in the intervening eight decades since its release. Its reputation is no doubt insured for generations to come.

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