April 1st, 2014

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) ****

Fred MacMurray stars as an insurance salesman who falls big time for Barbara Stanwyck, the sexy wife of a client. They start meeting in private and try to come up with a way to bump her husband off and collect on the insurance. Because he has a double indemnity clause, it means the policy will pay off double if he is killed on a train. So Fred and Barbara kill him and make it look like he fell from a moving train. The police are satisfied and it looks like the homicidal duo will get away with it, until MacMurray’s boss (played by the great Edward G. Robinson) starts to poke holes in the story.

Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is a classic film noir to which all others should be judged. The dialogue (written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler) crackles. The banter between MacMurray and Stanwyck is some of the best dialogue you’ll ever hear. When you hear their rapid-fire delivery, you can definitely tell that’s the standard guys like Mamet and Tarantino were aiming for.

And the performances by MacMurray and Stanwyck are incredible. They simply smolder on screen together and few onscreen couples ever matched the chemistry they had. MacMurray is cast against type and still manages to knock it out of the park. And Stanwyck essays one of the greatest femme fatale characters of all time. Edward G. Robinson is straight-up awesome in this movie too. The scenes where he wracks his brain trying to figure out the mystery while MacMurray quietly stews are a lot of fun to watch.

Wilder was at the top of his game here. The scenes of MacMurray and Stanwyck plotting are engaging, and the scenes where everything starts falling apart at the seams are still suspenseful. And the ending is note-perfect. I still say that Detour is my favorite film noir flick, but this is a close second.

Next week at the Clayton: The Glenn Miller Story!