Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

"I couldn't hear my own footsteps.  It was the walk of a dead man."

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) has a pretty swell life.  He has a cush job as an insurance salesman (semiannual sales record..twice in a row!), he has a cozy apartment and a nice car.  Then his life is turned completely upside-down when he's introduced to Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).  An outwardly beautiful woman with the soul of a bull shark.  From the very second they lay eyes on each other, it's fireworks!  I love that first scene with them alone together.  There's so much rapid fire double entendres and shit-talking going back and forth, that I couldn't do anything but sit there grinning like a fool, jealous of the brilliant dialogue written by screenwriters Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler.

Anyway, without him even knowing it, from that very first meeting, Phyllis has her claws sunk into Walter's soul and he's doomed.  He tries to play it cool, but then, when she finally admits that she not only wants his help in murdering her husband, but in also setting up an expensive accident insurance policy on him, Walter topples like a house of cards.  He sacrifices his entire life over some sex...but then again, isn't that the short history of humanity?

DOUBLE INDEMNITY is considered a landmark in American cinema and justifiably so.  At the time it came out, there was pretty much nothing like it in regards to the way it looked (darkness everywhere; dust in the air; the shadows of the Venetian blinds going across Walter to look like prison bars, etc.) and the absolute sordid behavior of the lead characters, especially Phyllis Dietrichson.  She's evil through and through.  Just look at her face while her husband is being brutally murdered.  That subtle look of gratification that goes beyond sexual pleasure and into malevolence is extremely disturbing.  And that's really saying a lot about the acting abilities of Barbara Stanwyck (at least to me, because I think that she is the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen).  She's gorgeous, but at the same time completely repulsive.

Fast pace, venomous dialogue, perfect acting, interesting Los Angeles locations, deep shadows, psychosexual themes, costume design by Edith Head, a Raymond Chandler sighting, extremely influential photography that is still being copied today.  Plus...it has the immortal line "They know more tricks than a carload of monkeys." Holy shit!  Hahaha!

I could go on for hours about DOUBLE INDEMNITY (if I had any friends), but I'll just cut it short and say that it is required viewing by every classic movie fan.
Raymond Chandler (seated)