I admit, classic cinema is something of a weak point for me. For all of the movies I have seen, the majority of them have been of a more modern vintage. Now, do not take this as meaning I do not like, or do not watch the films of years past - it's a case of just not nearly as much, something that I hope to rectify. So, I approached Double Indemnity with high hopes, due to its legendary status as one of the greatest examples of film noir ever created. I was looking forward to seeing how well it stood up to the pedestal it has been placed on, and also to help expand my viewing of the classics.
Double Indemnity is a film that helped to define the film noir throughout the 40s and 50s. There is beautifully stark photography, odd angles, mysterious music, and at its heart were everyday people. The story is centered on people you could come across in your everyday life; they were not larger than life, or iconic characters, they are regular people with their own weaknesses and strengths. The story takes those people and outs them in a situation that preys on their darker impulses. The resulting film is a movie that is totally unique, and so strong in its execution that you can still see the influence throughout today's films.
The story centers on Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman who is successful yet stagnant. His weakness is personified by Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a blonde bombshell with an absentee husband. As fate would have it, Neff calls on the Dietrichsons to renew some car insurance, but with the man of the house away, he is unable to conduct business. The trip is not without the upside, as he is almost immediately smitten with Phyllis, and vice versa. They awaken something in each other - Neff's weakness, and Phyllis' desire for something new.
Together, the two plot to murder Mr. Dietrichson and collect on an accident insurance policy. It is a story of greed and lust, where neither one really takes center stage. Rather it is an infatuation with those things that ultimately seals their collective fate. He succumbs to her, and she exerts her strength of will.