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A murderer for money never thinks that he or she
Will be found out like all the rest who murdered foolishly.
“Those others never thought it through; they never planned it out;
They just weren’t careful to remove the slightest shred of doubt.
They acted on an impulse, failed to hide the fatal flaw,
But we would know exactly how to circumvent the law.
We’re smarter, right? More clever, right? When one of us commits,
No justice could contend in this, the coldest war of wits.”

Deep down within the killer’s mind, unconsciously or not,
They soothe themselves with thoughts like these to justify their plot.
And always they delude themselves, for justice, soon or late,
Will find out every criminal and lead them to their fate.
________________________

Rating: Passed/Approved (an easy PG)

Darn, I did not expect to post only one review in the whole month of May, but college is as college does. Nevertheless, I’m back to continue my long-delayed Blindspot series. (Now I’m only four behind this year!) I’ve heard of Double Indemnity for years, noticing its high placement on lists by AFI and other film organizations, yet I never really knew what the name even meant, not being versed in insurance terminology. As it turns out, I’ve seen versions of this plot plenty of times on true crime shows, but this influential film noir treatment brought it to a national audience way back in 1944.

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Based on a James M. Cain novella, the script for Double Indemnity was the result of a tenuous collaboration between director Billy Wilder and famed detective novelist Raymond Chandler. As such, it utilizes a clever tool for narration; right from the beginning, insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) admits into a dictaphone his role in the death of a man named Dietrichson, beginning an extended flashback of his plot. After meeting the man’s alluring wife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), Neff allows her to talk him into a murder conspiracy to get rid of her distant husband and collect on some ill-gotten life insurance, with Neff using his insurance experience to sweeten the pot with a double indemnity clause (which doubles the payment in the case of certain unlikely causes of death, such as a train accident). Yet, their “perfect crime” slowly unravels as Neff’s boss (Edward G. Robinson) becomes more and more suspicious during the investigation.

I haven’t seen many films of the film noir genre, but Double Indemnity certainly fits the bill with its shadowy angles and conspiratorial tension and indeed predates the widespread use of the term by a couple years. Plus, Barbara Stanwyck is a quintessential femme fatale figure, manipulating McMurray’s everyman character into taking charge of the plot she initiates. The film was apparently controversial for its portrayal of murder, which is tame by today’s standards, but the characters’ growing anxiety after the deed is done translates well to the audience. As Neff is forced to “assist” Robinson’s skeptical insurance man in following a trail that leads back to him, I happened to think of other similar plots that must have taken some inspiration from this one, such as 1987’s No Way Out.

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Double Indemnity is a Grade-A film noir, but I can’t say it’s a new favorite since film noir is far from my favorite genre. Neff and Stanwyck do a fine job as the conspirators, but their cynically flowery dialogue, sometimes clever, is also sometimes a bit much, carrying on metaphors in ways people just don’t talk, though that’s mainly at the beginning. Robinson, though, is in top form here, stealing his scenes with a vocal panache that can’t be taught. I don’t always have to love a film to recognize it as a classic, and Double Indemnity is, another cinematic testament to the lesson “crime does not pay.”

Best line: (Neff) “Do I laugh now, or wait till it gets funny?”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
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