Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★★

When I first saw Double Indemnity on TV, I only knew Fred MacMurray as the Absent Minded Professor and the kindly Dad type, so I was a little confused to see him playing such a hardened noir anti-hero. But he, like everyone else in this movie, is absolutely perfect.

Perfection is a word that comes to mind in general. This movie is just so damn tight – not a shot out of place, not a word of extraneous dialogue, not a moment of unnecessary time wastage. It winds up straight away and just cruises straight down the line to that cemetery our characters are headed for, and not a one of us can jump off the train.

Billy Wilder has been said to not fit the auteur mold and I guess that’s true if you define an auteur as someone who pushes a very specific aesthetic throughout their body of work. Wilder was one of those guys like Hawks and Carpenter, for whom style is subservient to the narrative, and if that means he wasn’t an auteur, then maybe the auteur concept isn’t all that useful.

I think it was Kat Ellinger on the Projection Booth podcast who said she measures pretty much every film noir up against Double Indemnity and that makes sense – it’s the perfect yardstick because you know this movie is an artistic success on every level. It’s funny to think how many writers these days try so hard to capture that Raymond Chandler vibe in their character dialogue. This isn’t an adaptation of a Chandler book, but Wilder actually managed to get Chandler to rewrite all the dialogue for the film – it’s a bit like writing a period play and being able to get William Shakespeare in to polish up the language for you.

If you are unfamiliar with film noir and want to see why people get so passionate about it, this is the absolute perfect first movie to watch. It’s like the textbook standard of the genre. Never has 108 minutes flown by so quickly.

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