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Double Indemnity Movie Review

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, John Philliber

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Director, Best Musical Score, Best Sound Recording, Best Writing, Best Picture

Before Murder on the Orient Express, Mystic River, Seven, Zodiac, Gone Girl and all the other semi-gruesome murder mysteries we’ve seen come and go from the big screen, there was film noir.

Stories about dark and stormy nights, houses filled with moving shadows, femme fatales with hidden motives, detectives in long khaki coats and fedoras, narrators that always sounded at least a little bit like Humphrey Bogart…all the tell-tale signs of a classic film noir. And if you want to see all of these tactics perfectly executed, look no further than Double Indemnity.

Thought to be one of the first movies to define the film noir genre, Double Indemnity tells the story of Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a greedy, weak insurance salesman who gets tangled up in the trappings of his femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).

The plot is simple…Phyllis uses her ankle bracelets and low-cut blouses to convince Walter to sell her husband a $50,000 double indemnity policy, then arranges the “accidental death” of her husband so she can collect a double payout. Easy enough…

Ironically, the murder goes just as planned, if not better. It’s not until the passion between Phyllis and Walter begins to cool off that each becomes suspicious of the other’s motives. Walter’s insurance company is skeptical of the situation, thinking the death was a suicide, not an accident (and so refuses the double indemnity payout). Phyllis is getting nervous that Walter might break and tell the truth. Furthermore, Walter’s boss begins to suspect foul play is at hand.


The sad thing about Double Indemnity is that the hero of our story is not a villain or a criminal – merely he’s just a weak man who fell into temptation. It’s hard to say if Walter and Phyllis even really like each other. They shoot innuendos back and forth, they call each other “baby” and whisper to each other in the dark corners of the night…but it’s hard to believe they’re committing murder just to get rid of the provocative third wheel…

So what’s the motive? Both bored in life and looking for excitement, it seems the driving factor is simply the thrill of the crime. Phyllis doesn’t care about Walter, she doesn’t care about her husband, about the money or about love in general. It was never about any of that. This was a Bad Boys we-ride-together-we-die-together-style fight to the finish, where it’s better to go down with someone than go down by yourself.


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