‘I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman...’
It would appear that Billy Wilder films are like buses. Having gone through my life knowing very little about the legendary American director, I saw The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard within weeks of each other. And now, Double Indemnity. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t the best of the lot…
When insurance salesman Walter (Fred MacMurray) falls for blonde bombshell Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) the two concoct a fiendish plan to off Phyllis’ husband to make a big claim on the insurance policy. They will have to fool insurance guru Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) and his famous gut feelings if they are get away with their ghoulish plot however.
Noir has gone out of fashion over the years, partly because Hollywood churned out too many of them during the Golden Age and partly because they have been parodied so many times that it’s difficult to take the genre seriously. But when they are this good… boy, it’s easy to see why they were so popular. Combining the hard-boiled prose of Raymond Chandler’s screenplay with Wilder’s assured direction, Double Indemnity is perhaps the finest example of the genre. MacMurray’s fast talking insurance salesman is a character for the ages. A truly magnetic screen presence who shares an electric chemistry with Stanwyck’s femme fatale. I’d just… really really love to go for a beer with him.
From the opening narration through to the show-stopping conclusion, Double Indemnity roars along through the seedy back streets and offices of Los Angeles like a steam train, only letting up its pace for Walter Neff to grimly reflect on his less than ideal infatuation. Which he does regularly. With gusto.
While his reputation remains intact with film buffs and the older generation, Wilder deserves to be mentioned alongside Scorsese, Altman and Fincher as one of the all-time greats. Meet Me in St. Louis next?