‘Double Indemnity,’ 1944.
By Alasdair Bayman
Photo: Paramount Pictures
What happens when you get a femme fatale, a life insurance firm, and a detached member of The American Dream?
Double Indemnity, of course. Made within the reign of the Hay’s Production Code, Billy Wilder’s 1944 film noir is arguably one of the genres finest—a true gem in the catalogue of American film due to its mesmerising script, artful performances and cinematography.
Focusing upon an insurance agent, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurry) and his quest to finally achieve some sort of cohesive position in society and his life.
He seeks the aid of the married, promiscuous Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) to help achieve this idea; the only small problem for Neff and Stanwyck is successfully pulling off a profitable murder scam against Phyllis’ husband, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) and the company that Walter works for, as headed by the enigmatic Edward G. Robinson’s Barton Keyes.
The ability to transcend the basic features of film noir at the time of its creation, by rejecting the societal constraints of its time, is paramount to the plaudits of this fundamental piece in modern film history.
Opening the film with the streets of a dark and dirty L.A.—as opposed to the stereotypical New York, Double Indemnity sets out on a path of switching the known formulaic narratives and features of previous film noir films out of the window.
This is not to discount such classics as Public Enemy and Scarface as inferior to Wilder’s piece, but they lack the creative fluidity that is permeating to Double Indemnity.
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