Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Double Indemnity (1944)

Maddy over at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Crystal of In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood are hosting The Second Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon on January 20-22, 2019. Here's my entry.

“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money -- and for a woman. I didn't get the money. And I didn't get the woman.” Walter Neff
Double Indemnity is one of the Essentials. A film that laid down the rules for the genre and set a benchmark for every Noir to come. Flashback structure, sucker who goes over to the dark side for a rotten dame, shadows of Venetian blinds reminiscent of prison bars, adultery, murder for profit, lust, greed, treachery, betrayal, moral corruption, fatalism…all there. Into the bargain the script has an abundance of witty banter copiously laced with acid.

Based on the eponymous novella by James M. Cain, the script was written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler as Cain was under contract to another studio. It was probably just as well as Chandler could write razor-sharp dialogue like nobody’s business. Wilder and Chandler basically deconstructed Cain’s novel and re-wrote it from the ground up. Rarely ever did a dream team of screenwriters get along as badly as Wilder and Chandler. For both by all accounts it was hate at first sight. Chandler was a recovering alcoholic and the story goes that it was his experiences with Wilder that made him fall off the wagon again. Wilder considered Chandler beyond hope in booze department anyway. Details vary, depends who’s telling the story. But Wilder believed that antagonism was good for collaboration. “If two people think alike, it's like two men pulling at one end of a rope. If you are going to collaborate, you need an opponent to bounce things off.” Turns out he was spot on. Together Wilder, the sharpest tack in Tinseltown, and Chandler, the master of the slick double entendre, created something sensational.

Cain’s novella was based on the notorious 1927 Snyder/Gray crime in which housewife Ruth Snyder convinced her lover to murder her husband for the insurance money. It was to say the least a clumsy crime, easily found out. In his book Cain smartens up the criminals and the story considerably, infusing it with raw sex, cynicism and his patented bleak world view.

Most studios didn’t want to touch the novel, not only because of dicey subject matters such as lust, adultery and murder but because of the gleeful amorality with which they’re told. Many people expected the movie to fail at the box office. Both MacMurray and Stanwyck were afraid it might ruin their careers. But Wilder proved to be right once again. The film was a box office success and garnered seven Oscar nominations, though winning none.

To no-one’s surprise Joe Breen was breathing down Wilder’s neck and had to put his two cents in: “The general low tone and sordid flavor of this story makes it, in our judgment, thoroughly unacceptable for screen presentation….” He should have kept his spare change. This kind of high praise recommends it not only to any Noir fan nowadays but would practically guarantee contemporary audience’s interest.

Needless to say, Wilder had no problem getting all the salacious points across, making caustic comments about human nature while ostensibly endorsing the Ten Commandments. The screenplay has some nasty touches. The plan for the murder is hatched in the baby food aisle of a supermarket, an image that seems to drive home the banality of evil. The entire movie is an exercise in what I'd call "Breen baiting". Breen just didn’t have the brains to see that Double Indemnity wasn’t a morality play about the punishment the wicked reap for their dirty deeds, but an amusement park ride about the sheer joy of watching the shenanigans of two amoral people almost get away with their crime. Wilder rightfully believed the audience would delight in watching bad people do bad things (Eddie Muller, Noir Alley Intro). The entire picture has a marvelously tawdry feel to it and the intensity of lust is easily conveyed even if we don’t see all the details. There’s more than one way to skin Joe Breen.

The movie turned out to be a honey of a great Noir. As always in the best examples of the genre, the audience roots for the morally corrupt. It would have bothered good old Joe. 

The film is told in flashback by doomed protagonist Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), insurance salesman for the Pacific All Risk Insurance Company. He’s bleeding from a gunshot wound and while the lifeblood drains out of him, he confesses - via dictaphone - to his friend and mentor Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), shrewd claims manager at the same company, how and why he became a murderer.
It all started when Walter stopped at a client's home one day to renew his auto insurance policy and instead met the client's wife, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). He falls for her like a ton of bricks, they become lovers and Phyllis proposes in a not too subtle move to bump off her louse of a spouse. She would like to take out an accident insurance policy over $50,000 without hubby knowing about it and then rigging the killing so it looks like an accident. The insurance policy even has a double indemnity clause to pay twice the amount if the death is caused by a freak accident.
The plan goes off like a clockwork. Walter kills Dietrichson before he’s supposed to go on a train ride, dumps the body on the train tracks and takes his place on the train to establish an alibi. The police accept the verdict of accidental death, initially. But Keyes doesn’t buy it and one look at Phyllis tells him everything he needs to know. So he goes to work like the good bloodhound he is.

Stanwyck gets one of the most memorable entrances in cinema history. Walter has come to call on Mr. Dietrichson. He’s not at home, but she is, wrapped only in a towel and standing at the top of a staircase, practically naked. It’s what the fashionable woman happens to model when greeting perfect strangers. And that’s a honey of an anklet she’s wearing. It's a piece of jewelry that is marvelously fetishized in the movie. It’s a dead giveaway. It’s the 40s version of the tramp stamp. Walter now has only one thing on his mind, and it’s not insurance policies: 
”I was thinking about that dame upstairs and the way she’d looked at me. I wanted to see her again. Close, and without that silly staircase between us.”
Husband? What husband? He knows her game, or so he thinks. We get the feeling he’s met his share of desperate housewives before. Just not ones quite so thoroughly efficient when it comes to crime. She’s all dolled up and ready for murder.

Both trade barbs with the ease of longtime pros. Nobody can say "baby" just like Fred MacMurray. She coos and purrs barely-veiled insinuating come-ons though she makes a floozy’s feint at good-girl morality when Walter puts the moves on her. "There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff." It’s perfunctory at best. Her off-hand seductive attitude makes her innocent act more than unconvincing. 
Conniving, manipulative and absolutely evil, she has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Phyllis is the opportunistic minx from Baby Face calcified into ice-cold ruthlessness and irredeemable amorality. Every one of her actions is coldly calculated, from her beach towel entrance to her  flirting to her kisses. And everything about her is artificial. Her red lips, her smile… and ooooh that platinum blonde hair, a dodgy wig that many people can’t look past. It’s cheap and obvious but then so is everything about her. She has a touch of trash about her. 

A honey of an anklet
We may safely call her game entrapment, a game she wrote the book on. There’s nothing coy about her. Walter sells insurance, she sells sex. A tramp from a long line of tramps.

Phyllis needs a sucker to commit murder for her so she doesn’t get blood on her mink. The conversation turns to crime surprisingly quickly. Could he help her out a bit? With her heartless  and cold husband? He's soooo evil. This would have been most people’s cue to run the other way but there’s one born every minute. Walter can’t get her out of his mind. 
“I knew I had ahold of a red hot poker, and the time to drop it was before it burned my hand off...I was all twisted up inside and I was still holding on to that red-hot poker. And right then it came over me that I hadn't walked out on anything at all, that the hope was too strong, that this wasn't the end between her and me. It was only the beginning.” 
Trouble is knocking at the door, and in Noir this knock is never ignored.

Walter Neff is a successful insurance salesman, a smoothie who would gladly sell a corpse some life insurance. He lives an unattached life, clearly obvious from his spare apartment. He’s been quite content with his life so far but deep down there has been something nagging at him, a barely recognized boredom, a diffuse longing for something more than his mundane existence. He’s been selling insurance to little old ladies for too long. The driving force of many Noir stories is the urge to escape, from oneself, from the ordinary, from responsibility, from one’s failures… Walter is another Noir (anti)hero who feels trapped in the prison of his mediocre existence. Yes, he says he killed Dietrichson for money and a woman but the roots go much deeper than that. There’s nothing so dangerous as ennui. It's death in small doses.

In his confession to Keyes Walter admits that he’s been thinking about how to crook the house for years, long before he ever met Phyllis. Unbeknownst to everybody, he’s been waiting for a bigger payday. And not just that, he realizes that has no compunction about murder at all. Walter didn’t fight the urge to kill because the stakes were $50,000. Plus the life of a man. But that is negotiable. Moral integrity is something that has never really been part of his mental makeup. Ethics are a flexible thing. One gets the feeling that his fall from grace wasn't from a great moral height. Not quite your average upstanding Joe Citizen.
There was also the wish to put one over on his friend Keyes, whom he loves but whose stringent work ethics and narrow world-view - that reduces every human emotion to statistical demographics - he rejects, and who has always bragged that nobody could cheat him. 

Under Walter’s straight-laced facade a monster has always been lurking. It was just buried deeply under layers of accumulated boredom. Walter is another seeming paragon of virtue that is very believably transformed into a murdereous type. Noir punctures conventional assumptions about human behavior. People aren’t essentially good, in Noir under the right or wrong circumstances everyone was capable of almost anything. If life throws them a doozy of a chance.

That’s why he is easy pickings for Phyllis’s recruitment agency. The traditional reading of this film is that Walter is a hapless pawn in the game of an evil woman. It doesn’t stick at all. No doubt, Walter had the hots for Phyllis but that isn’t his incentive for murder. It's his incentive for sex. Crime is his quick fix for  mind-numbing boredom and dissatisfaction.

Walter is no weakling. At one time Phyllis says to Walter: “You planned the whole thing. I only wanted him dead.” There's a lot of truth in it. He masterminded everything. Walter comes up with the plan to kill Mr. Dietrichson, Walter does the actual killing and Walter is the actor on the train. After the murder, Phyllis is incapable of starting the getaway car. Walter has to do it for her. He does so without any difficulty. Without him she would have been caught in a very sticky situation.
It really does not bear out the oft-repeated narrative that Phyllis is the dominant force. Walter is a proactive not a passive agent in this whole plot. Phyllis didn’t corrupt him, the seeds of crime were already sown long before he set foot in the Dietrichson house. Phyllis just left the door open a little and he follows her down the honeysuckle path to destruction without looking back.

For MacMurray his role was a departure from his image. Mostly utilized as a light comedic actor and folksy nice guy, Wilder saw something in him that he obviously didn’t see himself. Wilder had offered the role to almost every actor in Hollywood. All turned it down, including George Raft who has the dubious distinction of having passed on more choice parts than any other actor in Tinseltown.
MacMurray’s casting was a revelation and he showed hidden depths in his characterization even he didn’t know he had. MacMurray would sort of reprise his role a few years later in the respectable Double Indemnity knockoff Pushover.

In his review Roger Ebert stated: 
“The puzzle of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity …is what these two people really think of one another… with the tough talk and the cold sex play. But they never seem to really like each other all that much, and they don't seem that crazy about the money, either. What are they after?”
Ebert is usually much more perceptive. No, they don’t like each other, they use each other. They’re not in love, they’re just in cahoots. They form a mutually beneficial murder society. This is Wilder’s cynicism at its best. There’s definitively primal lust there, but no love or warmth. It’s all hot passion with ice-cold disdain and contempt underneath. This is one love affair that is as cold as the grave.

Phyllis is clearly in it for the payoff. Her husband has lately not been too lucky in his business dealings and the payout from his life insurance would come in incredibly handy. As mentioned in other reviews, the femme fatale is never a working woman. Neither Phyllis, nor any other femme fatale, would ever dirty her hands with anything resembling work. That’s what other people - men - are for, to provide for her comfort. Phyllis is a lazy and languorous blonde who lives in an ornately-furnished oppressive mansion. She considers it a cage but the irony is that she did everything to get into that cage, including nursing her husband’s first wife - to death.
Phyllis is a pathological case. She’s made a career out of murder. It’s really the only “natural” solution for someone like her. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. She’s a woman who’s never felt any healthy emotion in her life. When Walter kills her husband - off-screen - she doesn’t even flinch. In that scene we only see Stanwyck’s face and it is a cold mask that allows itself only the tiniest of smirks. Just as for Walter, murder is her quick fix for all of life’s problems. 

Whatever lustful passions may have existed between Walter and Phyllis cool off very quickly after the murder. As so often the criminal couple’s relationship turns sour and mutual distrust rears its ugly head. It is the peculiar problem of murderers. They must trust each other, but as each knows the other is capable of murder, trust is impossible. Paranoia, no Noir can do without. Soon they’re thinking of killing each other. Lust and hate can exist in perversely close proximity. 

Walter learns that Phyllis has been seeing Nino Zachetti, her step-daughter Lola’s boyfriend, on the side. Walter can finally see the writing on the wall, that he was set up as a fall guy who’d end up on the trash heap. Walter wants out but Phyllis can't let him louse up their perfect crime: “Nobody’s pulling out. We went into this together and we’re coming out at the end together. It’s straight down the line for both of us.” If one falls, so does the other. The “straight down the line” metaphor is used several times in the film. Keyes picks it up too: 
“They’ve committed a murder, and it’s not like taking a trolley ride together, where they can get off at different stops. They’re stuck with each other and they’ve got to ride, all the way to the end of the line. And it’s a one-way trip, and the last stop is the cemetery.”
Little by little Walter feels the heavy pall of doom: “Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong…I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.” He knows his future is all used up.

Walter goes to have it out with Phyllis. She is a split second quicker and shoots Walter, though only wounding him. And then she has her two seconds of soppy remorse…if we believe her. 
“I never loved you Walter. Not you or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart… I used you, just as you said. That’s all you ever meant to me… Until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot.”
Walter doesn’t buy it either. Like Bart has to kill Laurie at the end of Gun Crazy, Walter needs to kill Phyllis simply because she would go on killing remorselessly. Strangely enough, he kills her because he still has a conscience. He lets her have it pointblank. “Goodbye, baby.” Man that was cold. Even Phyllis can’t gamble against the house forever and win.

The grieving widow
There are really no healthy relationships in this film, bar one. The Dietrichson home resembles the inside of a Sub-Zero refrigerator. Daughter Lola hates her life with her family and lies to her father continually about her no-good boyfriend. The Dietrichson family dynamics aren’t happy. Sylvia Harvey writes in her essay Woman’s Place: The Absent Family in Film Noir: “The family home in Double Indemnity is the place where three people who hate each other spend endlessly boring evenings together.”

The only positive relationship is between Walter and Keyes. Smart, shrewd and insightful Keyes is the moral center of the movie. He loves his job, cheap cigars, the statistics of murder and suicide and exposing crooked insurance fraudsters. He has a uncanny knack for sniffing out phony claims. His gut feeling - what he calls “the little man” - never fails him. It dawns on him pretty quickly that there’s something fishy about the Dietrichson case. He smells a rat. Or at least the cheap perfume that is splashed all over that Dietrichson file. That Keyes doesn’t come off as uptight or unpleasant is all down to Eddie’s wonderful portrayal. There’s something very lovable about him. Under all his blustering live-wire energy is a deeply forlorn man who, at the end of the day, always drinks alone. Keyes describes the many functions of his job. “An insurance manager is as surgeon, a doctor, a bloodhound; cop, judge, jury and father confessor.” It is perceptive foreshadowing. That is exactly what he’ll be for Walter. 

Much has been made of the supposed homosexual undercurrents between Walter and Keyes and Wilder stated that their relationship is the true love story in the movie. In today’s lingo I’d settle for bromance. Keyes functions as a surrogate father for Walter. Love has many faces and not all of them are sexual. What I see here is just genuine affection. But however we want to view it there’s no doubt that the Walter/Keyes relationship has all the sincere warmth and respect that the Walter/Phyllis one is lacking. There is a purity in it that is devoid of any kind of selfishness.

It’s interesting to note that in the end Walter goes back to his office to confess to Keyes instead of running for the border. Richard Schickel suggests in his DVD commentary that Walter almost willfully commits suicide by not taking care of his wound. It’s a good point. He is a broken man who didn’t quite understand the depth which people can sink to. Walter can’t bear the shame of having let his friend down. And for what? Absolutely nothing. Walter needs Keyes’s absolution. And Keyes, the father confessor, grants it. Walter has been lighting Keyes's cigars all during the movie, and now as last act of friendship Keyes lights Walter’s.

The ending is incredibly moving and recaptures some of the humanity that had been absent from the movie so far. There is nothing but sadness in Keyes’s face after he’s heard Walter’s confession. Walter’s betrayal cut him to the quick. Walter spells it out for Keyes. 
Walter: "Know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell ya. Because the guy you were looking for was too close – right across the desk from you."
Keyes: "Closer than that, Walter.”
Walter: “I love you too.
A beautiful tribute. Walter was always his blind spot. Keyes once investigated the dame he wanted to marry but neglects to do the same with his friend. The real tragedy of this film is that Keyes cannot dismiss Walter the way he dismissed all the other frauds and fakes. With Walter's death a part of him died too.

At the end of the day there’s no insurance for an agent who planned his own downfall. Walter wasn't smarter than the rest, he was just a little taller. 


  1. What a thorough and fascinating review of this film. I found the background info on Wilder and Chandler interesting as well. This gives me a whole new perspective on Double Indemnity.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked it. I try to make my reviews entertaining with some interesting facts thrown in. :)

  2. I had to snicker at your comment regarding the blonde wig. It has annoyed me for years when people focus on it for all the wrong reasons. Of course it looks phony, as phony as Phyllis. You spelled out nicely the premise that Walter was not a dupe, and not just a willing participant, but a mastermind of his own destruction.

    The last couple of times I have had the opportunity to watch Double Indemnity I have passed (lost count of viewings), but after your article I can't wait to dig into that seamy world again.

    1. Hi, the wig has never really bothered me that much. I've seen a lot worse.
      It's really a movie where you can discover something new every time you watch it. There's certainly room for a lot of different interpretations.

  3. Excellent article Margot! You delivered very interesting thoughts and objects of analysis on the film. I must admit I am not too much a fan of it. Despite loving Billy Wilder and Barbara Stanwyck, I have difficulties to "get" this one. I think it might be because of Fred MacMurray whom I am really not a fan of. Nevertheless, it didn't prevent me to enjoy your article! Lastly, I hope you'll allow me to do a little remark/suggestion: I think you should credit Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood in your introduction (not only her co-host Maddy). After all, she is the one who created this blogathon. She hosted for the first tie (alone) in 2016 and only asked Maddy this year to co-host in with her. ;)

    1. Hi, thanks for reading. I like MacMurray though he's not my favorite actor. I never had a problem seeing him in the Walter Neff role as I've never seen My Three Sons. I'm not really into family shows, so for me his casting worked just fine.

      Ha, yes, I credited Crystal now.

  4. Contrary to mainstream thin king, I do not care for Double Indemnity at all, with no criticism of the production, or performances, simply personal taste and preference. Generally, I believe Billy Wilder takes a critical position, in nearly all of his films, of American society and the elements that have given him the opportunity to be successful. He is what we used to call an againster. What is he against? What you got? Middle class morality? Climbing the ladder to success? In short, just about everything of value.

    As for the wig? Hate it. This is probably the film that lead Barbara Stanwyck in to playing old maids, (My Reputation) of a sort anyway, shrews, and plenty of them, nasty aggressive broads. Examples: Sorry, Wrong Number. Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Furies, a plethora of low budget mediocrities in which she competed for Barry Sullivan rather than Clark Gable, leading to Forty Guns, an hysterical joke at best, and finally, a bordello Madame in Walk On The Wild Side, a film so lousy, Laurence Harvey played a cowboy. As curiosities, fine. Otherwise, pass on them all.

    1. Hi Barry, I can see where you’re coming from. In general I despise capitalism critique simply because it is tedious and hypocritical. Most people who go down this path - I’m looking at you Modern Hollywood - are preaching from the pulpit while benefitting from Capitalism immensely. Holding up a mirror, to other people of course, in general smacks of smugness and bigotry.

      Wilder Lived (with a capital L) the American Dream if anybody did. I think Wilder was someone who had a difficult time Americanizing himself. He just came from a completely different background. But in his defense he made fun of everybody. I’m a big Wilder fan and really, I never saw Double Indemnity as a condemnation of everything American. I think he condemns certain human behavior which is universal.

      I really don't mind the wig at all but I know a lot of guys who don't find Stanwyck attractive. I get that too. For me she has a certain very earthy sexuality that is hard to ignore. Not in every film though. Of course her character in Sorry, Wrong Number is more than annoying, but Martha Ivers is simply a good film. And Forty Guns is so loony it's one of my all-time favorites.

  5. A few if big Billy's nasty pictures. Kiss Me, Stupid. The Apartment. One, Tw,o Three (everyone is a conniving idiot, other than the character played by Arlene Francis. She's just fed up.) Ace In the Hole. (Everyone is monstrous.) Sunset Boulevard. (Shitting where you sleep.) A Foreign Affair. (Corrupt or naïve, they are all something.) There are more, but that seems strong enough to make the point.

    1. The celebration of the unwise and unprincipled for the amusement of all.

    2. My God Barry, you're grumpy. Well, I love Wilder. He's my favorite. I wrote about Sunset Blvd. and Ace in the Hole. Sorry he doesn't work for you.

      One Two Three is a movie that is in my Top 10. This movie is very special to me, I know what a divided city looks like and this movie is spot on. I have rarely seen a film that nails it more than this one.

    3. Margot, I did not mean to infer that his films lacked entertainment value, or were poorly produced or played, I meant that were almost universally focused on the destruction of our values and, in fact, an overall contempt for them and the nation. They are almost all more than watchable, what they are not, is admirable. A lot of naïve nitwits interacting with vicious, angry and hungry outsiders. You like Sunset Boulevard? Watchable, but who would you want to know? Who would you not run from if you saw them coming. And I'm not grumpy, just as everyone else does, I am calling them the way I see 'em.

    4. I'm not talking about their entertainment value, which is by the way high, I mean Wilder just nailed it. Yes, he was a cynic but he was not focused on destruction of values, he simply knew and understood what people were capable of. And so often, it's not pretty.

      Sunset Blvd. is the movie where Wilder looked into a crystal ball and saw the future. Run from it? I'd like to but his vision is reality. It's thoroughly ugly but we can't run from it. It's too late for that.

  6. Loved this review, especially your right on the mark analysis of Neff being a more proactive participant than patsy as usually portrayed by reviewers. I love this movie and think this is Wilder's best, slightly beating out Sunset Boulevard.The wig never bothered me either. It's as cheap as Phyllis.

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by again. The wig is cheap and well, It's There. We just have to deal with it.

      If, and I mean if, I had to choose a favorite Wilder it actually wouldn't be Double Indemnity. Don't know why. I think Sunset Blvd. beats it by a tiny margin, but then I don't believe in ranking lists. They make no sense to me. I also don't "grade" movies, I either like them or not. So, pretty much everything Wilder did is fine with me. :)

    2. I'm a big Wilder fan, my favorite director.

  7. Your comment relative to Sunset Boulevard makes sense. I have, in my time, seen many films, but none the past few years, and none 2018. If he cynically saw into the future, so be it. I don't have to like it.

    1. I may not like Wilder's vision on a purely personal level, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know what he was talking about. :)

  8. Excellent article. Very perceptive and quite funny too. I liked the comments about Breen-baiting and the 40s version of the tramp stamp! I agree this one is an essential, certainly as far as film noir is concerned. For me it almost seems like the quintessential noir.

    I'm a big fan of Wilder's too, although I understand he may be too cynical for some. My favourite of his is actually his ill-fated and quite untypical Sherlock Holmes film, which is a delight.

    1. Thanks Jay. I've never seen his Sherlock Holmes film, just heard about it. I really have to check it out.

    2. It goes on forever, pointlessly. Good score, and lovely to look at.

  9. An outstanding article with fantastic depth and detail. Without a doubt, Double Indemnity is the standard by which great noir is measured and deservedly so. Sharp and devastating in its' delivery. I was looking forward to reading this when I saw you had picked it for the blogathon. Was worth the wait! I like how you note that Phyllis has made career out of crime and I believe that she is doomed whatever she does - one crime follows the other and she uses another dark deed to cover up the previous one. Thanks so much for a thought-provoking article! Best regards, Paul

    1. Thank you. I always thought Phyllis was the worst femme fatale ever, completely irredeemable. Until I saw Decoy, with, cough cough, Margot Shelby. The worst ever. :)

  10. Apologies for not getting over here sooner, but I'm not well again and have been really ill the last few days. Fab review, my friend! Barbara is at her very best in this film. She is like the ultimate femme fatale - cool, devious, clever, cold and seductive. She is like a spider in its web. I laughed at your comment about the wig, and I couldn't agree more with you about it.

    As for Keyes and Neff, I don't view their relationship as homosexual and never have done. To me those two are soulmates, they do love each other very much, but their love isn't the sexual kind. I love the scenes between them and my heart breaks at the end every single time.

    Thanks for joining our blogathon. I was really looking forward to reading your thoughts on this one, and you didn't dissapoint!

    1. Thanks so much, Maddy. I hope at some time you'll feel better and be completely healthy again. This was a great blogathon btw.

      There is really only one person in this film that we feel sorry for and the is Keyes. It's funny though that the most talked about point of the movie is that wig.

  11. Brilliant review. Double Indemnity is the gold standard in film noir. I marvel at it every time I watch it.

    I also agree that the relationship between Walter Neff and Barton Keyes isn't sexual. Like you said, they have a deep affection for each other – I feel this relationship is the heart of the film.

    1. Thank you. Yes, their relationship is the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak film.

  12. Thanks for participating in the blogathon with this excellent article. "Double Indemnity" is the quintessential Film Noir for many people. I must admit that its not my favorite of Stanwyck's movies, mainly because I find it hard to get past her icy blonde wig, but other than that, its highly enjoyable.

    I would also like to invite you to join my next blogathon. Here is the link.


    1. Ah, that dreaded wig again. :)
      I'd love to join the Bette Davis Blogathon and already left a message.

  13. Far be it from me,a demented trash addict to comment on Wilder's film;W Lee Wilder's Man Without A
    Body is closer to my comfort zone. I must say though Barry Lane is on blistering form here-his style
    constantly reminds me of Tony Rayns vintage review of The Big Combo that had crowds around the block
    for it's revival at The Electric Cinema in the early 80's. "As heady as amyl nitrate,as compulsive
    as stomping on insects" Tony was reputedly inebriated when he wrote that,but for me it sums up
    Barry's style perfectly.London's original Electric Cinema Club was where in the 70's & 80's I first
    encountered Detour,Gun Crazy and The Big Combo.
    I provide here a link to the Electric website which might interest anyone interested in the counter
    culture in London in the early 70's,if not a peek at their vintage programmes could be of interest.
    I hope Margot that you get to see Wilder's Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes how much you enjoy it
    depends on how you feel about Robert Stephens casting. Many have said they would have preferred
    Christopher Lee as Holmes but this was Wilder's vision not Hammer Films.
    Please forgive the diversions but let me close by saying a "doozy" of a write up and wonderful
    comments from everyone.
    Footnote-This is not the place to get into the Liam Neeson debate but one project he had on the
    back burner was where he plays Philip Marlowe,down on his luck in the 1950's scuffling around for
    work,until a blonde steps into his office.....

    1. Hi John, thanks for stopping by. I like trash too, not only such high-brow things as ...Noir. I feel so intellectual. :) I don't know Man Without a Body, from Lee Wilder I've only seen The Pretender which was quite good.
      Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes is one Billy Wilder I haven't seen. I'll put it into my ever-growing stack of to watch movies.

      I'll definitively checkout your link.

      Yes, Barry really seems to hate Wilder which is fine with me. He can be quite blistering indeed but it's always good to hear a dissenting voice.

  14. Thanks Margot.
    I only provided the link because Wilder was a favourite at the Electric; along with Nick Ray and
    Sam Fuller-the "flea pit" from hell as far as our Barry is concerned.
    I do however love the way Barry deconstructs sacred cows-it makes for really good reading.
    I understand Billy had little time for his brother W Lee.
    Yes,The Pretender is pretty good,it certainly proves how the great John Alton can make even a hack
    director look pretty good.
    I guess W Lee Wilder's best film was Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons-certainly the cast was the classiest
    that he ever worked with.

    1. From what I can find out, yes Billy didn't have too much time for his brother Lee. I agree that sacred cows should be deconstructed, I just don't think that Wilder falls into that category.

      Did you or do you live anywhere near the Electric Cinema?

  15. Margot-
    As you will see from their website The Electric used to be the notorious Imperial Portobello Road,
    it had a bizarre history-serial killer John Christie (10 Rillington Place) was said to have worked
    there at one time.The Imperial was a great place to catch films that you had missed or were made
    before one was born.The Imperial changed it's programme 3 times a week.
    In one of the vintage photos on the site you can just about see the details of the films showing
    circa mid 50's-Bomba And The Elephant Stampede supported by Son Of Belle Starr.
    Yes I did live near The Imperial in the late 60's and also worked in Notting Hill Gate in the early
    70's.When The Imperial morphed into The Electric it was a haven for people who loved vintage films
    as most of the old "flea pits" were long gone by then.
    One of my most memorable visits to The Imperial in the mid 60's was when they showed Jacques
    Tourneur's wonderful 1946 Western Canyon Passage in a lovely print.At that time it was a very rare
    showing indeed. Sorry that Barry has withdrawn his last comment-I do hope he carries on the dialog.
    It would be most interesting to know the directors Barry really admires.

    1. Revival theaters are a wonderful thing. I used to live in New York and there were a few good ones.

      On a different note, I've seen the movie 10 Rillington Place. It's a great movie but one that - together with In Cold Blood - I'm in no hurry ever to see again.

  16. John, I removed the comment because I had made an error, nothing mysterious. Now about great directors, first and foremost, John Ford, Clarence Brown, Woody Van Dyke, Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, Michael Curtiz, William Wyler, Joseph Kane (at least in the forties, Lesley Selander, whenever he had a chance, George Roy Hill, Victor Fleming, Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger (prior to Exodus, phooey after that), but beyond that, I am a movie star kind of guy. Gable, Wayne, Randolph Scott, Louis Hayward (my friend, associate and boyhood hero, Kirk and Burt, Dick Powell, Orson Welles, belongs in this category and the preceding, Claudette Colbert, George Brent, Myrna Loy, and Irene Dunne.

  17. A wonderful list Barry,thanks so much for sharing.
    Totally agree regarding Preminger,very well stated I feel.
    Heartening to see people like Kane and Selander included in the mix.

    1. Well, I hoped you would understand, and you have. Missing among the above actors, Cary Grant, Fred and Ginger, John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Wild Bill Elliott and Gene Autry, who invented the genre in which he excelled.

  18. Margot may be bemused about the Selander name-drop-she maybe interested in a thing I wrote several
    years back regarding a rare Selander Noir entry.
    It can be found here www.thehannibal8-wordpress.com-lesleyselander
    I only mention this because it's about the only essay of mine that I quiet liked.
    The film in question was a Republic quickie called Blackmail and it's rather good.
    Selander mainly known for B and programmer Westerns did lots of other genres as well-
    Swashbucklers,Colonial Adventures,Horror, J.D. Movies,Sci Fi,War and lots more besides.
    Thanks again Barry for bringing him into the mix....my oh my didn't we digress.
    BTW, Margot totally agree regarding In Cold Blood and Rillington Place-further to all that nothing,
    and I mean nothing could make me sit through Tod Browning's Freaks again!

    1. I liked your writeup. I haven't seen Blackmail, I'd like to track it down.

  19. Gee,thanks Margot....directing you to something I have written is rather like a pavement artist
    asking Picasso to view his etchings :)

  20. Margot, I think I may be back in. I've continued to read your really good write-ups. I think you got Walter Neff(Fred MacMurray) right down to a T.

  21. This is a very good write-up indeed, a top analysis of a highly regarded film, and that's never pull off.

    Much of the discussion here has focused on Wilder and his merits as a director, which is fair enough as this is one of his better known movies. I don't know whether it's his best simply because that would bee a tough call and there really s so much competition.

    Personally, I'm a big fan of the director's work and maintain there really isn't any such thing as a bad Wilder film - sure he weakened right at the end of his career and there were a few indifferent efforts right at the beginning but overall we're talking about remarkably consistent body of work.

    I think too that the comments suggesting Wilder was something of an anti-American provocateur are off the mark. He could do sour and cynical as well as any, and maybe better than most, but his movies all retain a huge amount of heart, and his swipes at or criticism of his adopted homeland (and the fact he did adopt it so wholeheartedly is highly significant, I think) are the kind that tend to characterize those who come to care deeply for the places they have migrated to. He does cast a hard eye at certain human flaws but I'd argue these are by no means fueled by a desire to kick any particular nationality - A Foreign Affair, One, Two, Three and Avanti alone indicate an international satirist if anything. And is there really any other kind of successful satirist anyway?

    I initiated a discussion some years ago on my site positing the theory that it takes an essential outsider to see through the veils of romanticism we tend to wrap our views of homeland in - that the shift in perspective achieved by those who have voluntarily come to a land affords what is perhaps a clearer insight, and that doesn't mean that the frank acknowledgement of inherent flaws are attacking jabs. Unless and until one acknowledges the weaknesses, then the strengths are never wholly apparent.

    There are many reasons why mid-20th Century Hollywood was and remains such a popular cultural high point, but one of them is surely the infusion of new blood and talent via the wave of European filmmakers who made their homes there. The sensibility they brought and that take on America, one both stripped of the domestic, store-bought patriotism we can find in any nation, and the half cynical/half sentimental admiration for the land that offered them a fresh start was key. Wilder possibly attained greater lasting success but all of these people, most notably via the medium of film noir, had everyone looking at the familiar in a different way, and it's, in my opinion at least, too facile to characterize that as some kind of national snub.

    So no, there's darkness in Wilder's work, and bitterness and cynicism, but that's his dissatisfaction with aspects of the human condition channeled through the artistic mind. And don't the best of his films represent the journey so many of his characters embark upon to reach the coveted status of "mensch" - which has to rate as a pretty positive outcome in my book.

    1. Wow Colin, you wrote one hell of a comment! Thanks for such a thoughtful response.

      I would put Billy Wilder (probably) as my favorite director. As you say, he was a real cynic and didn't go in for the feel good stuff. The only one of his movies that lacks heart is Ace in the Hole. I wrote about that too. It was a complete failure with both critics and the public simply because it lacked humanity. Its vision is uncompromising but as we can see now, he hit the bullseye.

      One Two Three is a personal favorite and as you say, he makes fun of everybody. And frankly, he absolutely nails it.

      I couldn't agree more about your outsider theory, and I do believe Hollywood benefitted immensely from the European emigre directors who came to its shore.

      Thanks again.

  22. Colin,your passionate response here is outstanding.....superb post.

  23. Margot, I think Colin hit it out of the ballpark.

    P.S. I forgot and used Google Chrome and my comment went into oblivion. Used Explorer and got through.

  24. The only democrat I have ever voted for was President Kennedy, who posited at his inauguration this concept: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' I stand by that then and now. Ripping our country apart in t he guise of entertainment, is still destructive, though somewhat pou8lar in our era, and this does not only go to Donald Trump, but the 'Occupy' movement, defecated on business and Wall Sreet ineffectively (but with substantial noise) during the Obama era.

    1. Hi Barry, I'd rather not get too much into politics here. Things like that can get out of hand very quickly. :)

  25. I thought about that, but went ahead, because it is exactly where the conversation has been taken.

    1. It's OK. I used to post on the now-defunct imdb boards where this really became a problem.

  26. What a wonderful review of an oft reviewed film. You are such a good writer. Love your summation about trouble knocking at the door , and in noir this knock is never ignored.
    Not sure I agree that a monster has always been lurking ,or maybe MacMurray’s acting didn’t convince me of that. And, although Keyes was very close to Neff, would he be so unaware of Neff’s real self after many years of working together.
    Regarding MacMurray’s casting, it’s known he wasn’t the first choice. Would love to know why such a good part was turned down by others. I wonder if Paramount simply said to Wilder why not test Fred who was under contract.
    If ever there was a sublime piece of surprise casting, this is it. I don’t think MacMurray ever did better.
    He was believable as an insurance salesman.
    On a side note, I’d put up Lizabeth Scott’s name for Too Late For Tears. Anyone who can get the better of Dan Duryea has to be among the top femme fatales!

  27. Thank you so much, Vienna.
    I think something had been eating away at Walter for years, as he says in his dictaphone confession. I don't think he consciously realized it until he met Phyllis. What mostly surprised me about him, and I'm sure it surprised him too, how easily he too to the idea of murder. That's why I used the word monster.

    I think he wasn't the first casting choice because up till then he had only been in lightweight comedies. It seems nobody trusted in his ability to portray a bad character. It is certainly my favorite MacMurray role.

    Liz Scott in Too Late For Tears is definitely one of Noir's best femmes fatales. But let's not forget - cough, cough - Margot Shelby. Evil I tells you.

  28. Yes! but at least Margot had an excuse due to her childhood spent in the grinding poverty of a
    Lancashire Mill Town....We didn't expect that to crop up in a Monogram B Noir but then again the
    script was by Ned (Nedrick) Young.
    The great Patricia Morison certainly gives Margot a run for her money in Persons In Hiding....
    cripes! she even tries to roast poor Lynne Overman alive!...I don't think even Margot went that far.

  29. Magnificent write-up about the greatest noir of them all.

    Carol, The Old Hollywood Garden