Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson
Screenplay by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder
Based on the novel by James M.Cain
Directed by Billy Wilder
Our last film was Fargo - the tale of a kidnap plot that goes very wrong and the dreadful (and hilarious) consequences that ensue. Double Indemnity also begins with a criminal scheme being hatched but this time the victim is the husband and the conspirators are his beautiful, amoral wife played by Barbara Stanwyck and a weak-willed and malleable insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray)
James M. Cain based his original novella on the case of Ruth Snyder, a New York woman who along with her lover was convicted of the murder of her husband in 1927. Like the homicidal pair in Double Indemnity they had taken out a special insurance policy which would pay out in the event of an unusual death. Billy Wilder collaborated on the screenplay with Raymond Chandler - whose hard-boiled detective stories are among the greatest ever. The two men fought continuously throughout the writing process but between them produced one of the finest scripts in the history of the movies - tense, terse, witty and chock full of brilliant dialogue.
The cinematography by John F. Seitz uses light and shade in a way reminiscent of German Expressionism - contrasting the bright Californian exteriors with dark brooding interior spaces. Double Indemnity is often said to be the first real Film Noir - a genre of crime movies that would permeate American cinema throughout the 40s and 50s and continues to influence filmmakers strongly to this day.
The casting of the lead characters is perfect - Barbara Stanwyck excels as Phyllis, the seductive, treacherous femme fatale while Fred MacMurray is brilliantly cast against type as her all-too-willing accomplice and lover Walter Neff. On their trail is Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes - the abrasive and persistent claims adjuster whose stomach tells him when something is suspicious.
Director Billy Wilder went on to make some of Hollywood's finest including Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment but in Double Indemnity he created an acid masterpiece that has truly stood the test of time.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter Neff: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around ninety.
Walter Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter Neff: Suppose it doesn't take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Walter Neff: That tears it.