Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Movie Review: Double Indemnity (1944)
A taut film noire, Double Indemnity is a classic tale of lust-fuelled murder. Director Billy Wilder assembles the pieces with slick expertise, and with the help of a terrific cast delivers the story of a deliciously doomed evil plot.
Just when it seems that all has gone according to plan, Walter is confronted by the sharp investigative instincts of his boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who leaves no stone unturned to ensure that the insurance payment is legitimate. Also causing unexpected complications are Lola (Jean Heather), Phyllis' daughter in law, and her shady boyfriend Nino (Byron Barr). Walter begins to realize that smart as he is, he may have been as much of a victim as Mr. Dietrichson.
Wilder directs with an energetic economy that keeps the tension building as the story of greed unfolds. The events are recounted in flashback as a confession by Walter, and Double Indemnity starts with him already shot and bleeding badly. Walter's astounding lack of judgement becomes the central theme of the film, and MacMurray is perfect as the man who had a stellar reputation and the full trust of his employer, and threw it all away. Wilder uses shadows, contrasts and particularly blinds to enhance the downward spiral of Walter's drama, with every frame masterfully assembled.
Edward G. Robinson enjoys portraying Barton Keys as the only character with the depth of thinking to match wits with Phyllis. Always craving a cigar but never finding a lighter, Barton relies on instinct and his acute physical reaction to deception in order to reassemble the truth from the mess of lies that surround him, and gets close enough to the real story to rattle the cage of the co-conspirators and disrupt their road to riches.
Double Indemnity pays out handsomely on a policy of hard-boiled noire entertainment.
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