Double Indemnity

An insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) is seduced into murder and fraud in Billy Wilder’s classic dark thriller, adapted from the novel by James M. Cain.

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Introduction

“Double Indemnity, one of the highest summits of film noir, is a film without a single trace of pity or love. The script is as tart as a lemon.”
Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, Hollywood in the Forties, 1968

Double Indemnity was one of the original handful of cynical American thrillers which, when released en masse in France after the war, gave rise to the term film noir. This shady cycle often featured treacherous women (femmes fatales) duping guileless men. Few of these were more alluring than Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who ensnares policy salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in her scheme to do away with her husband and claim the insurance payout.

Adapted from a James M. Cain story by émigré Billy Wilder and novelist Raymond Chandler, and told within a clever flashback structure as Neff leaves a taped confession for his wily colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), the film is a wellspring of the noir style, with John F. Seitz’s cinematography a textbook in angles and shadow.

Cain’s work was the basis for two subsequent classics of 1940s noir: Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

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