Double Indemnity (1944)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 3/2/14
Director: Billy Wilder
Written By: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler, James Cain (novel)
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

A masterpiece of film noir. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a smart and successful insurance salesman who falls under the seductive spell of Phyllis Dietrichson (venomous Barbara Stanwyck). She hates her husband and plots with Walter to kill him and run off with the insurance money. Walter devises a plan that will take advantage of a double indemnity clause in the victim's insurance policy, and while the police dismiss the case as an accident, Walter's boss (Edward G. Robinson) suspects murder. As Walter's perfect plan starts to unravel, so does his love affair with Phyllis, and desperation leads both of them to their doom.

What an amazing piece of work! The cast is fantastic and Billy Wilder's direction is flawless. Fred MacMurray sheds his comedic nice guy image to great effect and Barbara Stanwyck is pure seductive poison. Even under the edicts of the Hays Code, the chemistry and sexual tension between the two of them is steamy and subversive. The cinematography is gorgeous and makes excellent use of darkness and deep shadows. The music score is appropriately dramatic, and the tension and suspense never let up. Raymond Chandler's screenplay is wonderful and the dialog is outstanding. Excellent work all around, and a true American classic that stands the test of time. I suppose the dark and wicked hearts of men and women never go out of fashion.