Good morning everyone! I hope your long weekends are off to a great start! I’ll be kicking off Labor Day Weekend with my first classic film review. Before I get into it, I’d like to let you guys know that in each film review, I’ll let you know what the next film will be so that way, if you haven’t seen it yet (or haven’t watched it in a hot a minute) you have ample time to view it if you’d like to participate in the coming week’s discussion. Ok, let’s do this thang!
Today’s film is the 1944 film noir, “Double Indemnity” starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.
In this classic film noir, an insurance salesman (MacMurray) finds himself entangled in a murder plot when he becomes infatuated with a married woman (Stanwyck) who’s hell-bent on killing her husband and living off the insurance. At first it seems as though they’ve committed the perfect crime. But when the victim’s daughter starts to get suspicious, everything begins to quickly unravel and the co-conspirators find that there’s no way out. It’s straight down the line for the both of them… Or is it?
Here’s my rating for Double Indemnity:
Story rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Character rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Overall film: ☆☆☆☆☆
If you’re stopping here because you’ve decided that you absolutely must watch this movie, yaaay! Please watch this cinematic masterpiece and then come back to read the rest of the post so that you can join in on the discussion! Next week’s film will be Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Oh yeah, we’re keeping the murder train going. Pun waaay intended on so many levels.
*The remainder of this post contains spoilers. Continue reading at your own peril.*
Our story begins with one of our main characters, Walter Neff driving quite recklessly through the streets of Los Angeles at night. He enters his place of work, an insurance office downtown, and makes himself at home in his boss’ office. We can tell right away that there’s something very wrong. He moves stiffly and struggles to light his cigarette one-handed. It’s clear that he’s been shot and he quickly confirms this. Right off the bat he confesses to murder and he starts to record his story for his boss and for us to hear. The rest of the movie (save for the last five minutes or so) is a flashback and Walter narrates.
A few months back, Walter attempted to pay a visit to his client Mr. Dietrichson in order to convince him to renew his auto insurance with his company. Mr. D isn’t there ya’ll. Oh but his overly sensual and apparently neglected wife Phyllis is. Peep this: the maid answers the door, and Phyllis comes to see who it is… in her bath towel.
Who does that?! Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a maid to answer the door for us. But whether you’re in that tax bracket or have to go through the grueling task of answering the door yourself, if you were in a towel, wouldn’t you throw something on before seeing who’s at the door? The thirst is just too real ya’ll. Maybe. This is red flag #1.
Walter explains to Phyllis why he’s there and she tells him she’ll be right down. As she descends the stairs, now gracing us with clothing, we can tell he’s eyeing her legs through the camera angle. Watch:
And she just happens to be buttoning the last few buttons on her dress as she arrives at the bottom of the stairs. Here begins the downfall of poor Walter.
Walter begins to talk insurance with her and then the convo gets a little weird. She says that she’s worried about her husband having an accident on the job but that he doesn’t want accident insurance because he’s superstitious. She then asks if there’s a way that she can get the insurance policy for her husband without him knowing. She’d have sooo much peace of mind knowing that her darling husband is covered. Um can you say sketchy? Walter sees through her immediately and basically says “Look hun, I see you’re trying to pull the old knock off the husband and live on the insurance money scheme. I’m not having any part in this.” She seems shocked and looks so hurt that he would say such a thing.
Later on, Phyllis goes to Walter’s apartment and gives him this whole song and dance about how she’s trapped in a miserable marriage but that her husband would never give her a divorce. We find out that she was his first wife’s nurse before she died, pitied him and then married him. She says that he abusive, uncaring, just an all around terrible guy. But I can’t help wondering, is he really and truly the monster that she says he is? She talks about how she doesn’t want to kill him, she just sort of imagines him being dead. Cuz that’s so much better right? I don’t wanna kill ya babe, I just want ya dead. Red flag #2. Walter (the poor sap) decides to be her knight in shining armor and tells her that he’ll kill her husband for her. From there they concoct the perfect murder. Almost.
Walter comes to the house to talk to Mr. D while Phyllis and his daughter by his first wife are there. Mr. D turns down the accident insurance but agrees to renew his auto insurance. Walter tricks him into signing papers for accident insurance. Then we find out the master plan. It’s actually pretty good in my opinion. Mr. D is planning a trip for his class reunion at Stanford. He usually drives. But for the plan to work, he must take the train. Walter explains that there is a clause in accident policies called “Double Indemnity” in which the insurance company pays double for certain accidents, the kind that almost never happen. Like, oh idk falling off a train.
The plan almost goes awry when Mr. D cancels the trip due to a broken leg but things get back on track and he’s able to go on the trip with the aid of crutches. The night of the trip, Walter makes some serious preparations to establish the perfect alibi. He leaves his car with an attendant to be cleaned and makes sure to let him know that he’ll be staying in. He rigs his telephone and doorbell so that he knows if he had any callers while he was out killing a dude. He even walks to the Dietrichson’s house instead of taking the bus just in case someone from the bus happened to remember him. I gotta hand it to Walt, for an insurance salesman, he’s pulling some Criminal Minds level thinking.
He climbs into the backseat of the Dietrichson’s car before they leave for the train station. Phyllis is driving of course. On the way to the train station, Phyllis takes a “wrong turn” down a side road and Walter comes out from hiding and strangles Mr. D right next to Phyllis. I need to pause for a sec to talk about this scene because it’s beyond chilling.
This woman’s husband is literally being strangled to death in the seat right next to her. She doesn’t look at him, flinch, or even move. Home girl is just sitting there listening to her husband gasp and gurgle without batting so much as an eyelash:
Is it just my imagination or do I detect a faint smile? That’s cold girlfriend. Red flag #3.
Walter gets on the train, posing as Mr. D and makes a point to speak to someone on the train this way there is witness that can say for certain that Mr. D was in fact on the train. Once he’s alone he hops off the train and he and Phyllis place the very dead Mr. D on the tracks crutches and all making it look like he fell off the train. When the couple are about to make their getaway, the car doesn’t start. We as the audience feel anxious and wait in anticipation to see if they make it. Is it because we actually want them to get away and live happily ever after, or is it because we want to see if they can get away with it? By this point, I had already stopped trusting Phyllis and wanted her to go down for the murder but somehow I wanted Walter to get off scott free. Yeah I know he was dumb enough to fall for her scheme but I felt bad for the guy.
At first, our dastardly little couple seems to be in the clear and Walter’s alibi checks out. Shout out to Phyllis for playing the part of the grieving widow like a champ. Give that girl an Oscar.
But Mr. D’s daughter Lola suspects Phyllis and we find out she has good reason to. Lola tells Walter that Phyllis was the first Mrs. D’s nurse and it kindaaa looks like Phyllis was responsible for her death. Walter starts to spend more time with Lola to ensure that she doesn’t tell anyone of her suspicions. But the more he spends time with her, the more he loses his nerve. It doesn’t help that Walter’s boss Keyes is sniffing around and doesn’t buy the train accident story. In one scene, Keyes tells Walter that he thinks that he’s figured it out exactly how Mr. D was killed and he’s spot on. He knows that it was Phyllis and a male accomplice, but who?
It gets worse. One night, Lola tells Walter that she believes her ex-boyfriend Nino killed her father because on the night of the murder, Nino was supposed to meet her but didn’t show. She also found out that Nino had visited Phyllis several nights in a row after her father died. If you could only see the look on poor Walt’s face. (You can, watch the movie!) Keyes finds out about Nino’s late night visits to Phyllis and Nino becomes the prime suspect. How perfect is that? Now the happy couple can drive off into the black and white sunset. Ahh but this is film noir my friends, we don’t get happily ever afters. Alas, Walter finally puts two and two together and decides to “take care” of Phyllis.
He goes to her house at night and he confronts her. She basically tells him that she was using Nino so that she and Walter could get away. That she was lying to Nino telling him that Lola was cheating on him in hopes that his temper would get the better of him and he’d kill her. Un-be-lievable. Walter doesn’t buy the “so we could get away” bit but believes the rest and asks if Nino was meant to kill him too? And then would someone else come along and take care of Nino? probably. Because that’s the way she operates. Then Phyllis shoots him. Yup. Ok, it looks like she shot him in the shoulder but still! He tells her to shoot him again. Then she gives him this tearful confession. She says she never loved him… that is up till now when she realized she couldn’t fire the last shot. I think a slow sarcastic clap is appropriate cuz wow, what a performance. Nah boo-boo, that ain’t gonna fly this time. Walter shoots and kills her and then goes to his office and we’re right back where our story began.
While he’s been making his confession on a recording device, Keyes has been listening at the door. Walter, who’s bleeding out tries to make his getaway but collapses after taking a few steps. Keyes calls an ambulance and the police are notified.
Whew, what a movie!
We gotta have a chit-chat about ol’ Phyllis.
She plays the part of the unhappy neglected wife that’s just looking for a way out. But it becomes quite clear that she doesn’t care about any of these dudes and she’s just manipulating men into killing for her so she can make a clean getaway. She’s much cleverer than she seems. She makes it seem as though this plan was Walter’s idea all along when in reality she planted the idea in his head and had probably been thinking about it for a long while; Just waiting for some love struck stooge to take the fall for her. The thing is, Walter is smart man who gets tricked by a pretty face and a sob story. He knows his business inside and out, enough so to work the system. He did everything right. He was very careful and the plan could have worked, but he was doomed from the moment he met Phyllis. Home girl knew what she was doing.
The farther we go along in the story, the colder she seems. Things that would typically bother someone (like their husband being strangled right beside them) don’t faze her one bit. I’ve watched probably every crime show known to man and most of the time, people who have a hand in killing a loved one experience some sort of emotion. She shows no emotion at all on the way back from the murder. No crying, no hysterics, no angry outbursts, nothing.
Throughout the movie our ill-fated couple keeps saying this line, “It’s straight down the line.” At some point, Keyes basically says when two people commit a murder, their stuck in it together and they have to take that ride straight down the line together and there’s no way off. I guess Walt decided he wanted to get off the ride.
Something interesting that I noticed, throughout the movie we often see shadowy lines across Walter’s face. These shadow lines always come from some sort of Venetian blinds. This happens at the insurance office, at the Dietrichson’s house, and on the train. To me these lines signify that dear Walter is trapped, trapped from the get-go. Perhaps they also represent prison bars hinting to the audience that Walter is heading for the iron bar inn.
This is actually my second time watching Double Indemnity and I loved it just as much as I did the first time. The story is fantastic and the characters give us a stellar performance. Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favorites and she played her part exceedingly well.
I hope you all enjoyed my first film review! I invite you all to comment below so we can get a nice little discussion going on themes, characters, symbols or whatever comes to mind!