Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★½

Great performances - Barbara Stanwyck

Double Indemnity is everything you could want in a noir and more. The characters amount to much more than shady protagonist and powerful femme fatale. Phyllis and Neff's layered relationship and the effect it has on other people has so many different levels as we see them push each other to the limit. Started by Stanwyck's Phyllis (easily the best female performance in any noir I've seen so far) this tug of war between motives and morals seems to preserve nobody yet when things are revealed through Neff's recording there is glimmer of hope for decency and friendship. Phyllis cooks things up and pulls Neff into a pot from where there is no way out as his superior and friend Keyes breaths down their neck. Reaffirmed by the ending the close bond between these two insurance men (often perceived as a slimy business) is wonderful juxtaposition to all the shadiness right under Keyes' nose. He questions everybody except the man closest to him which shows the tragedy of relationships and trust. People closest to you surprise and hurt you the most. Maybe unintentionally and out of force but maybe because they’re not who you think they are. This motif about trust is just one of the dozens of questions I've had since my first watch.

How long has Phyllis kept up her show and what has gone wrong in her life? What makes Neff do this? Is it love and pity for Phyllis, impassable opportunity, irresistible temptation or a simple misstep? All left in the air but unlike Phyllis Neff seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or is he? What do they want from each other exactly? That will most likely never be clear to me but that is the beauty of this film. It makes me want to put it on again and again.

It's wonderful to watch the direction, camerawork and dialogue create such a perfect package. The mood and tone is established instantly by starting from the end and laying the basic premise in front of you. It is the meticulously laid bits and pieces you should put together as the doomed man with a slick tongue searches for a way out of this trap. Racing score and shadowy lighting, like always, hit the big notes while the voice over and Stanwyck and the boys (MacMurray and Robinson respectively) take care of bringing all the depth in the less dramatic side. Chandler's airtight script and Wilder's pacing makes you immediately think about putting this film on again because how could you beat spending time with the cream of the crop when it comes to ambiguous and scheming characters in a world full of them. Wilder is one of the greatest directors. Perhaps the greatest.


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