OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Double Indemnity

Must-See Cinema! It may not be the perfect crime, but it's the perfect film noir!

Original poster art for Double IndemnitySix years before a Hollywood screenwriter’s corpse narrated Sunset Boulevard, a dead-man-walking delivered the hard-boiled voiceover in another Billy Wilder inquiry into moral rot in sunny California. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a salesman for Pacific All-Risk Insurance, staggers into the office late one night to record a memorandum regarding the recent death of a policyholder: ‘I killed Dietrichson… for money, and a woman. I didn’t get the money, and I didn’t get the woman.’

There’s nothing but a towel and a staircase between Neff and the woman when they first meet; Neff pays a house call on Dietrichson’s Spanish-revival pile in LA, where old dust levitates in the bands of light through the Venetian blinds, and he encounters the oil executive’s bored, platinum-blonde second wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). She’d like to know if she can secretly procure a life insurance policy for her spouse; Neff knows she’s conscripting him for her husband-disposal unit, and he knows that claims manager Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) will smell a putrefying rat, but they’ve got power-surge chemistry, and that’s a honey of an anklet she’s wearing…

As poised and languorous as a cat, Stanwyck’s definitive femme fatale could be one of the savvy minxes of the actress’ delectable Pre-Code years – the jailhouse alpha female in Ladies They Talk About, the secretary trampolining up the office ranks one bed at a time in Baby Face – grown older and harder, her manicured ruthlessness calcifying into brutal amorality. With diamond-hard repartee by Wilder and Raymond Chandler (by way of James M. Cain’s novel) and ghoulish cinematography by the great John Seitz, this is the gold standard of ’40s noir, straight down the line.

– Jessica Winter, Time Out
 

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