Film Review: “Double Indemnity” (1944) – Ball of Fire: The FIlms of Barbara Stanwyck


Sunset Boulevard. Sabrina. Love In The Afternoon. Some Like It Hot. The Apartment. If you have seen at least one of these afore mentioned films, then you will certainly agree with me that Billy Wilder`s DOUBLE INDEMNITY is arguably one of the best films ever made.  Not because it was written and directed by Wilder himself, or because of the excellent cast, such as Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, but rather because this film has one of the most astonishing bouquets of impressive acting, direction, cinematography, lighting, and adorably wise dialogues. But just the way the entire story itself was told can be called a masterpiece. Simply, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a beautiful flower, a work of art, which will never stop blooming.

Walter Neff, is an intelligent and very experienced salesman for the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co. who meets a charming and attractive women, makes her his wife and she, and ultimately uses her beauty to talk him into a murder/insurance fraud scheme. But soon they will realize that in order to commit the perfectly planned crime, they must not forget about one simple thing – to secure themselves against the consequences that their dreadful plan can bring.

Double Indemnity begins with an injured Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) who calls his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) and leaves a voice message telling his story, which begins in his office. In flashbacks we are taken back to the beginning, where Neff meets a seductive women Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), who later becomes his wife, and who slowly convinces him to eliminate her much older husband. Being totally stunned by her looks, and believing that she is also in love with him, Walter proposes an even better plan where he devises a scheme to receive twice the amount based on a double indemnity clause.

Wilder`s film does not lose its focus when it reaches the point where everything seems to have worked well for the lovers. When the insurance investigator begins digging into the crime scene, the case deepens.  He realizes that there more to this story than it seems, and triggers a massive investigation. Soon Neff understands that there is no way out if he can’t come up with a better plan. By this time Walter understands that he has fallen into a trap created by a femme fatale; that he was a part of her well calculated plan…

Double Indemnity is an absolute endless joy to watch over and over again. The dialogues written are so flawless, creative and smart, that they will bring a pure and satisfied smile to your face throughout the film. It has an extraordinary power to take the audience back in time to 1944 where talented people like Wilder used their extensive imagination to earn respect, trust, and love from an audience that eagerly waited for their next masterpiece. This is why Double Indemnity still looks raw, refreshing, and so clever even after so many long years.

Note, that TIFF still continues the retrospective for the films of Barbara Stanwyck. You can find the complete schedule following this link.

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