Reviews

Double Indemnity

5

Based on James M Cain's novel, scripted by Raymond Chandler and directed clinically and cynically by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity pretty much wrote the film noir rulebook.

It begins with Fred MacMurray's insurance salesman stumbling into his office late at night. Dripping sweat and oozing blood, he clutches a Dictaphone and begins a confession, his hardboiled patter forming the movie's voiceover as his monstrous crime unspools in flashback. It's an insurance scam (natch ), MacMurray's cocky schmoe teaming with Barbara Stanwyck's bored, icy housewife to orchestrate the `accidental death' of her stinking rich hubby. The payout? A cool $100,000.

Coming three years after TheMaltese Falcon and deep into World War Two, Wilder's classic is coal-black and diamond hard - disenchantment packaged as entertainment ("Murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle," spits MacMurray). Inky shadows devour every frame. Contorted angles bend the world out of shape. And duplicitous characters circle like predators, snarling sharp little words loaded with guilt, suspicion and sexual innuendo. MacMurray is magnificent, his wide forehead and blank face matching his cool, ironic dialogue (""I'm crazy 'bout you, baby...""). Stanwyck is even better, glacial and feral as she toys with the boys to kill off her ennui. But it's Edward G Robinson who pitches up to give Double Indemnity a murmuring of heart, his dogged claims-manager sniffing a swindle when the "little man who lives in my stomach" starts flipping somersaults.

Double Indemnity is a great film, still compelling and relevant 60 years on. Watch it and you'll wonder why the Coen brothers even bothered with their arch stylings, knowing subversion and emotional detachment. It's all here.

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