Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman, and a damn good one, to boot. When trying to renew an expiring car insurance policy, Walter meets the wife of his insurance holder, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). She makes quite the first impression, clad in only a bathrobe. Why, you can almost see her knees! Scandalous!
|In the words of Yakko Warner, "Hellooooooo, nurse!"|
|Does this look like MacMurray performing ventriloquism with a Stanwyck puppet? No? It's just me, then.|
The casting of Fred MacMurray was an unusual choice in 1944; this was the first time he ever played anything other than a typical nice guy character. For being his first time as a bad guy, I thought MacMurray did a very good job. He was likable as a salesman, but his passion and naivety were logical extensions of his character. Barbara Stanwyck was excellent as Double Indemnity's femme fatale. Her job was to play an evil, manipulative bitch, and boy does she do good work. I think what I liked best about her performance is how well Stanwyck hinted at Phyllis being...I don't know if "cheap" is the right word, but it's the best I can come up with right now. Her gaudy wig, ill-fitting anklet, and dramatic gestures made it seem as though Phyllis had assumed a fictional persona in her own life; in her final showdown with Walter, her icy core shines through, and it is a treat. The only other actor of consequence in the film is the legendary character actor Edward G. Robinson. I haven't seen much of Robinson's early work, but I like seeing him play wickedly smart characters like he does here. I think the script focuses too much on his "little man," but he was good as a thick-skinned character that secretly had a big heart.
|MacMurray, seriously contemplating a sloppy kiss with Robinson.|
I can't believe that this is the only Billy Wilder-directed movie I have seen. Given his impressive list of credits, I suppose that's a shame on me, but I've seen (and loved) this movie a few times and never thought to look up Wilder's other credits. Huh. Wilder's style isn't too fancy --- aside from a few shots with extreme lighting, like the famous "venetian blind" shots --- but he keeps things interesting by maintaining an excellent pace. It's not that he didn't capture some iconic shots, either; it just wasn't his focus.
|Such a great shot!|
Double Indemnity is a classic film, and with good reason. The acting and directing are great, the writing is sharp, and the story draws you in. There are a few moments when the dialogue gets a little too unbelievable (Walter and Phyllis' car/sex banter, for example) and I'm not a big fan of narrative bookends on principle, but these flaws are so minute that they just add to the charm of this film. Part of me wants to give it a perfect "10" rating, because it is fantastic, but I'm going to lowball it this time because it is missing something. I'm not sure what, exactly, but I never rewind the film to re-watch a scene and I never quote the script. It's damn good, but not quite one of my favorites.