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Double Indemnity

   

Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Raymond Chandler

Synopsis of Double Indemnity

 Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in the gripping film noir classic Double Indemnity, directed by Academy Award winner Billy Wilder. A calculating wife (Stanwyck) encourages her wealthy husband to sign a double indemnity policy proposed by smitten insurance agent Walter Neff (MacMurray). As the would-be lovers plot the unsuspecting husband’s murder, they are pursued by a suspicious claims manager (Edward G. Robinson). It’s a race against time to get away with the perfect crime in this suspenseful masterpiece that was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

[last lines]
Walter Neff: Know why you couldn’t figure this one, Keyes? I’ll tell ya. ‘Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.
Barton Keyes: Closer than that, Walter.
Walter Neff: I love you, too.

Cast of characters

  • Fred MacMurray (The Caine Mutiny, My Three Sons) … Walter Neff. Insurance salesman, who’s smitten by Phyllis. To the point of being willing to help murder her husband. But then, can the two murderers trust each other?
  • Barbara Stanwyck (Titanic 1953, The Two Mrs. Carrolls) … Phyllis Dietrichson. The femme fatale, who twists Walter around her little finger. And uses him to murder her wealthy husband.
  • Edward G. Robinson (The Stranger, Scarlet Street) … Barton Keyes. Walter’s supervisor and friend. A human bloodhound, who smells something crooked about the death of Dietrichson. An excellent performance.
  • Porter Hall (His Girl Friday) … Mr. Jackson. Witness, whom Walter thinks will be his alibi. Until Barton talks to him …
  • Jean Heather (Going My Way) … Lola Dietrichson. Dietrichson’s daughter. She suspects her stepmother of murder. So, Walter begins “dating” her, to see what she knows. Which only serves to make Phyllis suspicious.
  • Tom Powers (Destination Moon) … Mr. Dietrichson. The murder victim.
  • Byron Barr (Tokyo Rose) … Nino Zachetti. Lola’s jealous boyfriend.
  • Richard Gaines (Ace in the Hole) … Mr. Norton. Supervisor at the insurance company.
  • Fortunio Bonanova (Citizen Kane) … Sam Gorlopis. Insurance customer, who tries insurance fraud. But can’t fool Barton.
  • John Philliber (It Happened Tomorrow) … Joe Pete.

Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Raymond ChandlerEditorial review of Double Indemnity courtesy of Amazon.com

Director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard) and writer Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) adapted James M. Cain’s hard-boiled novel into this wildly thrilling story of insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who schemes the perfect murder with the beautiful dame Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck): kill Dietrichson’s husband and make off with the insurance money.

But, of course, in these plots things never quite go as planned, and Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) is the wily insurance investigator who must sort things out. From the opening scene you know Neff is doomed, as the story is told in flashback; yet, to the film’s credit, this doesn’t diminish any of the tension of the movie. This early film noir flick is wonderfully campy by today’s standards, and the dialogue is snappy (“I thought you were smarter than the rest, Walter. But I was wrong. You’re not smarter, just a little taller”), filled with lots of “dame”s and “baby”s.

Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale in "Double Indemnity"

Stanwyck is the ultimate femme fatale, and MacMurray, despite a career largely defined by roles as a softy (notably in the TV series My Three Sons and the movie The Shaggy Dog), is convincingly cast against type as the hapless, love-struck sap. –Jenny Brown

Trivia

  • Author Raymond Chandler has a cameo appearance. He reads a magazine outside Keyes’ office.
  • The movie was based on the novel by James M. Cain. That was based on the true story of Ruth Snyder, the subject of a notorious 1920s murder trial.

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