← Back to Reviews

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity (1944)

Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler (screenplay), James M. Cain (novel)
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
Genre: Film Noir

Premise: A cocky insurance salesman, Walter Niff (Fred MacMurray) encounters a notorious married woman, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck)....she seduces him into murdering her husband for the insurance claim which is a double indemnity clause. Walter's friend and boss Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson) is an insurance investigator with the uncanny ability to spot a fake insurance claim.

Review: Double Indemnity is the quintessential Film Noir. It has all of the noir elements: the 'average Joe' being lead into a dangerous situation by a femme fatale, the sense of doomed characters rushing towards a fatalistic climax...all wrapped in a potent story. The story is driven by lust, greed, self motivation and a serious lack of morals.

Director Billy Wilder co-wrote this provocative script with famed novelist Raymond Chandler...basing their work on the novel Double Indemnity by James Cain. This isn't an artsy film or a movie with deep underlying themes. What you see is what you get.

Fred MacMurray who almost always played light comic roles really nails his performance. He's completely believable as the self assured, womanizing, fast talking salesman with an eye for the ladies and a good time. When he locks his eyes on Phyllis we know why he agrees to bump off her husband.

Barbara Stanwyck is the other part of this duo. She too is utterly believable as the cheap, sexy, amoral Phyllis. She looks easy in her cheap blonde wig. From her ankle bracelet to her huge gaudy finger ring and her loud clothes, she looks and acts the part.

Edward G Robinson is the perfect balance to the story idea of an insurance murder plot. He adds the voice of reason and respect. He too is extremely good in his role.

Double Indemnity has such a strong story with gutsy characters that it's easy to overlook the skill and beauty of the cinematography. The use of select lighting in otherwise dark scenes is sublime. The shadows seem to embrace the actors. The composition and layout of the shots makes this film beautiful as well as provocative.