Movie Meltdown

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Double Indemnity

 by Len Mariani

Hi, I’m back.  Here’s another classic film well worth seeing. 


Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, & Edward G. Robinson.

     This film came from a book by James M. Cain who wrote quite a few crime novels.  It’s told in flashback, so I am not revealing anything that you would not learn in the first five minutes of this film. 

     Fred MacMurray (who anyone over the age of 40 remembers as Dad Steve Douglas on “My Three Sons”) is Walter Neff, a smooth, but not slimy, insurance salesman - a guy who refers to women as ‘dames,’ his girlfriend as ‘Baby’ and lights a wooden match using only his thumb. 

     Barbara Stanwyck (see more about Stanwyck further down) is Phyllis Dietrichson, who has a husband she is less than crazy about and would not mind seeing dead.  She gives femme fatales a bad name.  Even as she admits at one point in the film, “I’m rotten to the heart.” 

     Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keyes, the crusty and oh so knowledgeable insurance claims inspector who works with Walter Neff.

     Phyllis and Walter take little time after their first meeting to fall in love and concoct a plan to get rid of Phyllis’ husband, make it look like a accident and collect a nice sum on his life insurance at the same time.  Their plan starts to go awry and soon the crossing and double crossing begins.  All the while Keyes (Robinson) knows something is wrong with the insurance claim, but can’t quite figure out what it is.

     The dialogue is fast and crisp.  For example, the initial meeting and flirtation of Walter and Phyllis includes the following:

Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr Neff.

Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?

Phyllis:  I’d say around 90.

Walter:  Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Phyllis:  Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Walter:  Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Both of them with sly grins on their faces.

     The soundtrack does a great job of giving great atmosphere as well with its dark, moody tone.  And even though these are two despicable characters, you’re caught between rooting for them to succeed and wanting them to get what they deserve.

     Barbara Stanwyck always played tough women who can fend for themselves.  She played a single mother who gave all for her daughter in “Stella Dallas,” a gangster’s moll with the hots for Gary Cooper in “Ball of Fire,” and a card shark who falls for Henry Fonda in “The Lady Eve.”  She was seldom referred to as a “blushing flower.”

     Directed by Billy Wilder, who also directed “Some Like It Hot,” “The Apartment,”  “The Lost Weekend” and many others.

     The film garnered six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Director and Actress, but won none.  The academy often leans toward “feel good” movies and more sympathetic characters. The winners that year for Best Movie and Director were “Going My Way” and for Best Actress, Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight.”



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