Same chair, same perfume, same anklet. New edition.
From the opening notes of the dramatic—nay, operatic—score for BillyWilder’s 1944 classic Double Indemnity, it’s clear that if someone can see only one film noir in his or her lifetime, this should be the one. Walter Neff (Fred My Three Sons MacMurray) is your average, everyday insurance salesman, door-to-dooring his way through life. But everything changes for our “hero” when he falls for the very married Mrs. Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Together they cook up a murderous plot to off her cantankerous husband and collect on the valuable insurance claim that Neff, conveniently, has set him up with.
Too bad things get tricky as a broken leg, a nosy train passenger and an even nosier daughter all manage to complicate Neff’s perfect crime. As Neff’s claims manager co-worker Barton Keyes, trying to crack this fishy-smelling claim wide open but never suspecting just how close the culprit is, film legend Edward G. Robinson spits out chunks of scenery long enough to deliver some of the smartest dialogue of his illustrious career. It took a genius auteur and two pulp/noir literary lions (Raymond Chandler adapting James M. Cain’s novel) to craft a screenplay as razor-sharp as Indemnity’s. Snappy patter laced with countless clever metaphors flying a mile a minute keeps the script fresh and crisp long past any expiration date suggested by the film’s technique. Sure, if this flick were made today (and R-rated), things would be a lot different. It would show a lot more blood, a lot more murder and a whole lot more of sexy siren Dietrichson. But great noir doesn’t need to punch anyone in the gut with gratuitous imagery; it’s powerful enough just from pointing its soft light straight through the venetian blinds at humanity’s seamy side.