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Double Indemnity (1944) is an American film noir starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. The film was directed by Billy Wilder and adapted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from the novella of the same title by James M. Cain which first appeared in 1935 as an abridged 8-part serial in Liberty magazine.

The story was based on a 1927 crime perpetrated by a married Queens woman and her lover. Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to kill her husband Albert after having her spouse take out a big insurance policy—with a double-indemnity clause. The murderers were quickly identified and arrested.

Double indemnity refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies where the insuring company agrees to pay twice the standard amount in cases of accidental death.

Plot

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a successful insurance salesman for Pacific All-Risk returning to his office building in downtown Los Angeles late one night. Neff, clearly in pain, sits down at his desk and tells the whole story into a Dictaphone for his colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), a claims adjuster.

He first meets the sultry Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) during a routine house call to renew an automobile insurance policy for her husband. A flirtation develops, at least until Neff hears Phyllis wonder how she could take out a policy on her husband's life without him knowing it. Neff realises she intends to murder her husband and wants no part of it.

Phyllis pursues Neff to his own home, and persuades him that the two of them, together, should kill her husband. Neff knows all the tricks of his trade and comes up with a plan in which Phyllis's husband will die an unlikely death, in this case falling from a moving train. Pacific All-Risk will therefore be required, by the 'double indemnity' clause in the insurance policy, to pay the widow twice the normal amount.

Keyes, a tenacious investigator, does not suspect foul play at first, but eventually concludes that the Dietrichson woman and an unknown accomplice must be behind the husband's death. He has no reason to be suspicious of Neff, someone he has worked with for quite some time and views with great affection.

Stanwyck and MacMurray.
Neff is not only worried about Keyes. The victim's daughter, Lola (Jean Heather), comes to him convinced that her stepmother Phyllis is behind her father's death because Lola's mother also died under suspicious circumstances when Phyllis was her nurse. Neff begins to care about what might happen to Lola, both of whose parents have been murdered.

Then he learns Phyllis is seeing Lola's boyfriend behind her back. Trying to save himself and no longer caring about the money, Neff believes the only way out is to make the police think Phyllis and Lola's boyfriend did the murder, which is what Keyes now believes anyway. When Neff and Phyllis meet, she tells him she has been seeing Lola's boyfriend only to provoke him into killing the suspicious Lola in a jealous rage. Neff, now wholly disgusted, is about to kill Phyllis when she shoots him first. Neff is badly wounded but still standing and walks towards her, telling her to shoot again. Phyllis does not shoot and he takes the gun from her. She says she never loved him "until a minute ago, when I couldn't fire that second shot" and had been using him all along. Neff coldly says he does not believe this new ploy. Phyllis hugs him tightly but then pulls away and looks pleadingly at him when she feels the gun pressed against her side. Neff says "Goodbye, baby," then shoots twice and kills her.

Neff drives to his office where he dictates his full confession to Keyes, who arrives and hears enough of the confession to understand everything. Neff tells Keyes he is going to Mexico rather than face a death sentence but collapses to the floor before he can reach the elevator.

Cast

The main characters include:

Other cast



Production

Wilder shot an alternate ending to the film (to appease censors), featuring Neff paying for his crime by going to the gas chamber. This footage is lost, but stills of the scene still exist. Chandler appears in a fleeting cameo, glancing up from a novel he is reading as Neff walks past on the sidewalk.

Locations

Exteriors for the Dietrichson home used in the film were shot at a 3,200-square-foot, Spanish Colonial Revival house built in 1927 and located in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood of Los Angelesmarker. The production team copied the interior of the house almost exactly for the film on a soundstage.

Critical reception

In his 1998 review, film critic Roger Ebert praised director Wilder and cinematographer Seitz. He wrote, "The photography by John F. Seitz helped develop the noir style of sharp-edged shadows and shots, strange angles and lonely Edward Hopper settings."

A contemporary (1944) review of the film in The New York Times was not positive. Film critic Bosley Crowther found Edward G. Robinson's supporting role excellent but also wrote, "Such folks as delight in murder stories for their academic elegance alone should find this one steadily diverting, despite its monotonous pace and length. Indeed, the fans of James M. Cain's tough fiction might gloat over it with gleaming joy."

Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 98% based on 41 reviews.

Adaptation

Double Indemnity was adapted as a radio play on two broadcasts of The Screen Guild Theater, first on March 5, 1945 with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, then on February 16, 1950 with Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. It was also adapted to the October 15, 1948 broadcast of the Ford Theatre with Burt Lancaster and Joan Bennett and the October 30, 1950 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with MacMurray and Stanwyck.

Other films inspired by the Snyder-Gray murder include The Postman Always Rings Twice (also based on a Cain novel) and Body Heat (1981). Both Postman and Double Indemnity were remade, with Double Indemnity being a "made-for-TV" movie in 1973 starring Richard Crenna, Lee J. Cobb, and Samantha Eggar. The TV-movie is included in the American DVD release with the original film. An Indian film, Jism (2003), was also inspired by the film.

Double Indemnity is one of the films parodied in the 1993 movie Fatal Instinct; the hero's wife conspires to have him shot on a moving train and fall into a lake so that she can collect on his insurance, which has a "triple indemnity" rider.

Awards

In 1992, Double Indemnity was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Classic-era film noirs in the National Film Registry
1940-49 The Maltese Falcon |Shadow of a Doubt |Laura |Double Indemnity |Mildred Pierce |Detour

The Big Sleep |The Killers |Notorious |Out of the Past |Force of Evil |The Naked City |White Heat


Academy Award nominations



Others

American Film Institute recognition

Reference

External links




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