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Double Indemnity (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on April 25, 2014

I watched this last night with my girlfriend (who had the superb taste to love it, or else I’d have to rethink this whole relationship) in honor of the 70th anniversary of the film’s premiere.  I struggled with how I was going to write this review, and considered skipping it entirely.  After all, what can I possibly say that hasn’t been said already?  But then I thought, why reinvent the wheel?  If it’s been said already, then just quote it.  What could be more appropriate for a movie that’s so quotable itself?

Everything noir is debatable. What was the first film noir? Is film noir an American cinematic movement or is it international in scope? Did the French create it, or just define it? Is it qualified by its content or its style? Must a movie end badly to truly be noir? Can noir be in color? Is noir dead, or does it live on in new films?  Open for argument, every last damn thing.  Except for one chiseled-in-stone fact. The most important film noir ever made is Double Indemnity. Don’t even attempt a counter argument – there isn’t one. – Eddie Muller

“Double Indemnity” was [Wilder’s] third film as a director. That early in his career, he was already cocky enough to begin a thriller with the lines, “I killed him for money — and for a woman. I didn’t get the money. And I didn’t get the woman.” And end it with the hero saying “I love you, too” to Edward G. Robinson.Roger Ebert

Told in flashback by a wounded Neff, confessing into his office dictaphone, the crime, it seems, wasn’t so perfect after all.  Closer to perfection is the screenplay and direction. Raymond Chandler’s dialogue, like Walter, shoots along at around 90 miles an hour, as he and Phyllis spar verbally in lieu of jumping into bed – this is cleverly implied. MacMurray and Stanwyck sparkle as the amoral duo out for themselves and Robinson provides the perfect foil as the office know-it-all.Amber Wilkinson

Stanwyck is just a movie star, end of story. She knows how to control a screen and get the viewer to both oogle over her presence and be amazed at her character’s situation and concerns. Adam Kuhn

Double Indemnity has a rightful place in the list of great film noirs. It also demonstrates Billy Wilder’s great dexterity as a filmmaker and storyteller. Edgar Chaput

Billy Wilder keeps things hot, heavy, and always ready to fly over the edge, and every second of Double Indemnity is a glorious excursion into a seedy world that demands exploring.Bill Thompson

Greatly improving on Cain’s novel, the film approaches perfection with its crackling dialogue, total absence of sentimentality, and depiction of Los Angeles as a new kind of anonymous, amoral, amorphous city.Philip French

Wilder gets us to root for a criminal who’s killed an innocent man, and that turnabout is a perfect example of why Double Indemnity still works nearly 70 years after its original release. Dan Heaton

The air positively crackles as Neff and Phyllis are all at once magnetically entwined and totally repelled by one another. Droll lines are delivered like the crack of a whip – and it smarts. “We’re both rotten,” declares Phyllis. “Only you’re a little more rotten,” answers Neff. If all the sharp edges and stark shadows send a shiver up the spine, Edward G Robinson brings heart as Neff’s boss and moral compass. It all makes for a lusciously black brew that renders modern noir pale by comparison. Stella Papamichael

Like Casablanca, this movie is great not because it illuminates the human condition or stands as a fine work of art, but because it’s a flawlessly executed piece of entertainment. It’s perfect exactly how it is, and it’s the kind of movie that immediately sucks you in and doesn’t let go.Martin Teller

Yeah, I slipped myself in there.  So sue me, I’m a narcissist… straight down the line.  Rating: Masterpiece (98)


7 Responses to “Double Indemnity (rewatch)”

  1. Precious17 said

    A piece of trivia: There is a story that Billy Wilder being a pal of Marlene Dietrich, named the Stanwyck Character Phyllis Dietrichson and modeled her hairstyle on the one Dietrich had in the 1941 Raoul Walsh movie “Manpower” -it is pretty identical.
    I saw a piece of The Lana Turner performance in the cult “the Postman Always Rings Twice” the other day and could not help but think how Stanwyck was a far superior film noir actress. It’s a Great movie.

  2. Evan Staats said

    Babs truly is tops, every time out she impresses. She’s my favorite actress of all time (and I know you once said the same, give or take the great Madhabi Mukherjee). I really love this movie and was lucky enough to see it on the big screen at the Film Forum in NYC with my girlfriend and her brother. I was afraid they wouldn’t like it, but of course like your girlfriend, they had the superb taste to love it. It really is one of those classic Hollywood movies like “Casablanca” that seems impossible to improve upon. Great movies are still made every year, but that era was truly special. I watch both of those movies about every other year and they always live up to the hype.

    I really enjoyed this review Martin. I think incorporating so many different voices along with your own really hit home how great this movie is. I’m looking forward to your new top 100 and will have to give “Once” another look. I liked it the first time for sure, but your review made me think I may appreciate it even more on a second viewing.

    • Thanks so much, Evan! Lucky you to see it on the big screen, and with appreciative company.

      My updated top 100 will be coming in July, maybe early August. Probably not too many surprises for anyone who reads this blog, but I am hoping to shake it up a bit.

  3. Dan Heaton said

    Wow, that quote from me sounds brilliant! Of course, I don’t remember writing it. Interesting approach to a review, with lots of great material. Your quote at the end is one of the best.

  4. […] 58. Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder) […]

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