Cast: Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson), Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes), Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson), Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson), Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson)
Director: Billy Wilder
My rating: 7.5 / 10
Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) gets roped into a murderous scheme when he falls for the sensual Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who is intent on killing her husband (Tom Powers) and living off the fraudulent accidental death claim. Prompted by the late Mr. Dietrichson’s daughter, Lola (Jean Heather), insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) looks into the case, and gradually begins to uncover the sinister truth.
What’s to Like
Having the two main leads both being the ‘evil’ characters of the movie, the double crosses, the suspense especially the car temporarily stalling when Walter and Phyllis are trying to get away from train crime scene.
What’s not to Like
The wig that Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson) wore was very distracting.
This movie originally had great difficulty in being created as the subject matter was not usually allowed in particular the leads of the movie premeditating murder of an innocent individual (Phyllis Dietrichson’s husband).
The movie is mostly spot in flashback as we start with Walter Neff already having been shoot. From here we learn how and why this occurred and it doesn’t paint him in a good light even if he did pull back and stop Mr. Dietrichson’s daughter Lola and her boyfriend from further harm.
The real villain of the movie is the seductress Phyllis Dietrichson. It’s implied that she murder Lola’s mother in order to marry Mr. Dietrichson and she definitely murdered her husband. Phyllis uses her charms to convince Walter help her commitment the murder but he is a willing participant. He does have the sense to try to convince Phyllis to not claim the insurance money when his friend and insurance investigator Barton starts to feel uncomfortable about the circumstances of the death but Phyllis wants that double payout.
The term “double indemnity” used in the movie title refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies that doubles the payout in rare cases when death is caused accidentally, such as while riding a railway which is what drives the fatal outcome for Mr. Dietrichson.
I enjoyed this movie as it paints the darker impulses of people and what they are capable of doing to each other. For it’s time it is a rare movie with a strong female lead, even if she is the seductress Phyllis takes action herself not always needing her ‘man’ to do the action.
In some ways the broken friendship between Walter and Barton and the disappointment Barton has in Walter for his terrible actions hits a stronger emotional note then the earlier murder. Walter’s decisions have cost an innocent man his life, a daughter her father and all for following the false dream of a woman who really didn’t exist.
- Best Picture – nominee
- Best Actress in a Leading Role (Barbara Stanwyck) – nominee
- Best Director (Billy Wilder) – nominee
- Best Writing, Screenplay (Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder) – nominee
- Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (John F. Seitz) – nominee
- Best Sound, Recording (Loren L. Ryder) – nominee
- Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklós Rózsa) – nominee