Double Indemnity (1944) — Murder and mystery in black and white

“It’s just like the first time I came here, isn’t it? We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.”

Heather’s rating: When will they every learn that someone who’d kill their spouse to be with you is probably has a unique view of the word ”love”?

Heather’s review: How did it come to this? How did my life come to the point where my computer crashing is such a melodramatic punch to my soul? About three years ago (ago, weeks, but it feels like years) my laptop died in my very arms. I cuddled it, stroked its keys, tried in vain to rouse it with my vain please of “ALT-F10! ALT-F10! You can’t die on me. I won’t let yoooouuuu!” Sadly, in the words of Little Britain’s Carol, “Computer says no.”

No, indeed.

At first I worried about my ability to write for Mutant Reviewers. I could hardly fathom the thought of not having lappy right beside me, smiling back at me as I busily typed my sarcasm-laden critiques. Eventually I faced the hard truth: I would have to handwrite, then find a place to later type, my reviews. Use a pencil? And, and paper? Madness! That madness carried me through my Chinatown review and I could have considered my Noir Week duty done. Alas, I can’t let my Noir Week contribution rest with a movie that I didn’t even really care for. It just isn’t fair to a genre I love so much.

So here I sit at the library, the smell of high-schoolers all around me (they smell like sandalwood, fruit, and Axe deodorant if you must know), intensely aware of my 60-minute time limit.

Thusly, without further ado, here be my thoughts on Double Indemnity, one of the most notorious examples of film noir.

There is an inherent silliness in noir film. I don’t contribute that quite so much to the genre as I do the decade. Noir is full of melodrama. Fist-biting, scenery-chewing, “John! Maaarrrsshaaa!” melodrama. So is nearly everything else put out from the late thirties to mid-fifties. I do pretty well holding back the laughter until the leading lady, swept into an embrace, throws back her head, exposing her neck (made of pudding, apparently) in what looks more like an invitation to Nosferatu than the desire to be kissed. Also remember, anytime you’re having a passionate discussion involving how things will never work between you, be sure you’re both looking over your left shoulder at all times. Never face each other. That would just be weird.

I loved Double Indemnity. It’s everything you could want in your noir film: narration, an easily duped and cunning man (Walter), the best friend who’s just a little too close to figure out what’s really going on (there was no private eye in this movie but Keys was sharp enough that he might as well have been one), a grouchy, loveless husband/victim du jour, and a femme fatale so marvelous that one can hardly read anything about the character type without seeing the name “Phyllis Dietrichson.”

I got here what I was missing in Chinatown: A real chemistry between our doomed couple, a great sense of romance. Not that “Oh I love you darling, the way your eyes pierce the darkness, the way the Brill-O-Creme catches the light…” but this smoldering, dangerous kind of attraction that soon carries things out of control until they’re just stuck with each other for the rest of the ride. Even better than Phyllis and Walter’s relationship is the dynamic between Walter and his best friend, Keyes. The most suspenseful scenes, and the most touching, are the ones with just those two guys on screen.

The dialogue is corny at parts, but that’s to be expected with any film from the our fledgling era of filmmaking. Those corny parts didn’t dominate this script. Instead we get some great witty banter and a cutting observations by our characters.

I’ll be honest with you, as much as I like the film-noir/mystery genre, I get frustrated with the extent that some of these movies/novels go with their twisted, intricate plots. Some try so hard that it can be too much to enjoy. Double Indemnity is a movie that’s basically easy to predict, especially if you get the noir formula. Even so, it gave me some genuine moments where I grinned and said ”Wow, that was good!”

Double Indemnity is my personal favorite of the genre for its refusal to be boring, too over the top, or sappy. If for nothing else, I love it for the end. They pulled off the noir heart-tugger just right.

Didja notice?

  • ALWAYS check the backseat of your car
  • We never do find out the name of Mr. Dietrichson
  • That’s one really bad wig

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