Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★½

Letterboxd Season Challenge 2018-2019! Week 9 - a pre-50s noir film!

How bout we just not have any big idea framework this week and just talk about how good I find the film? Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity had a hell of a route to the big screen , working through almost a decade of objections from the Hays office, constant clashes between Wilder and novelist cum screenwriter Raymond Chandler, misgivings from all three leads about signing up, and a dark shooting style that ran the risk of alienating middle America in the final years of WWII. For all those difficulties, the madmen pulled it off, and sparked a trend of imitators, clones, and style replications, which, alongside cinematic hardboiled detective stories like The Maltese Falcon, formed the basis for the latter identified film noir grouping.

The distinguishment's definitely earned. Fred MacMurray's Walter Neff brings us into the life of a schlubby sap of an insurance agent not terribly disgruntled with his lot, a man whose prospects change when a mistimed house call introduces him to Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson, a rich housewife who hates her husband and has none-too-subtle ways of indicated she'd gladly see him dead. Instantly smitten, Neff starts to playfully dissuade her from the thought... and then starts dropping hints about how easy it would be with an insurance man on her side... and sympathizes with her plight and oh how much better things would be were she with him and he with she... and oh goodness gracious would you look at those slanting venitian blind shadows across the sets, listen to those nervously scintillating strings filling the air, I do believe the sucker's gone for it! Paranoia becomes our watchword for the next hour and a half, with the forbidden lovers spitting Billy Wilder's trademark snappy dialogue through terrified death masks, as they carefully consider every possible angle necessary to get away with murder and run away with double indemnity-boosted insurance money.

Course, it can't possibly be that easy, and they find themselves on the wrong side of every possible factor. On the wrong side of a narrative in which no little detail is forgotten, and tiny slip-ups transform into paralyzing plot points. On the wrong side of one another's mistrust and mutual greed, one embracing their inherent rottenness, the other justifying and sliding further into the life of a heel the whole way. On the wrong side of the law, societal standards, and good taste of the day. On the wrong side of Edward G Robinson, who might as well have a massive sign advertising his show-stealing properties in every scene featuring his fast-talking, faster-thinking, all-too-trusting claims manager and the best written/delivered lines in the film. They never stood a chance.

My review this time is less a conventional dissection of the film's virtues, and more a simple listing of its major plot points and elements with descriptive language indicating my strong affection for them. This comes down partly to burnout, but I justify the execution of this review by noting it's also partly thanks to the film containing such a plethora of witty lines, atmospheric scenes, performances from mains and bits alike, and a killer final scene that they speak for themselves on the surface. I could just link you to Edward G Robinson's ranting monologue about suicide statistics, or the Conspiracy score that punctuates so much of the film, or even simply the opening scene, and you'd think to yourself, "Yep, it's a fantastic film alright!" Billy Wilder's work scarcely needs me to argue its strengths when I simply need quote, "How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?" and all the pieces fall into place on their own!

Check back in this space when we watch one of Roger Ebert's favorite films - Werner Herzog And Klaus Kinski Try To Kill Each Other In A Jungle.

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