Thursday, 24 December 2015

Blind Spot: Double Indemnity

Almost all done for the year. My second to last film of the series I have had on my shelf, still in the wrapping since 2008. It was back in college when I started to watch more Film Noir films, even bought a book about it. Back then, I barely bought any film related booked, and that Film Noir book was one of my first. I was already an admirer of Billy Wilder's films, especially Some Like It Hot, I was raised on that, and so to my delight he had directed a Film Noir film that was, said to be, one of the best of the genre. Complete with brilliant typical voice over, femme fatale and a murder plot it was the perfect set up for me. But why had I waited 7 years to watch it? I have no idea. I suppose I wanted to devote some time to the film, give all my attention. When The Matinee posted about the Blind Spot series, this was the perfect chance.

I had actually seen clips of the film before but only what was included in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. I was still intrigued even though the story sort of resembled The Postman Always Rings Twice. But this was all about insurence. Oh and murder.

Insurence Salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), by chance goes to see one of clients about motor insurence but instead meets his intriguing and beautiful wife Phyllis. She plays the bored but concerned housewife trying to trick Walter into letting her sign accident insurence for her husband. Walter sees right through her plan and guesses murder. But already under her spell, infatuated the two begin an affair. Walter eventually comes round to the idea of murder and the two plan the would be perfect plot. When Phyllis' husband 'accidentally' falls from a slow moving train and breaks his neck, at first no one is none the wiser until Walter's colleague, an investigator of claims, smells foul play. Soon the deadly couple's plan and feelings unravel. 

Although the film has very stereotypical elements of Film Noir, there are things that are slightly skewed. The lead male is not a detective or a useless drifter, he's an insurence saleman. The 'detective' role is Keyes, Walter's colleague who can sniff out any false insurence claim by listening to what he calls 'the little man' inside him. But although he knows something is wrong the $100,000 claim after thinking it over, he doesn't suspect for one moment his friend and colleague is involved. Unlike other Film Noir genre films, the story had a central friendship, Keyes and Neff. Unlike the be all and end all relationship of a man and a woman having an affair. The two friends, have some great exchanges and also alters the dynamics of the film. The little things make all the difference, such as the ongoing exchange where Neff always lights Keyes' cigars for him. These are welcomed. Especially as insurence is not the most exciting of settings.

It's not surprise that the film has some similarities to The Postman Always Rings Twice as the original novella was written by James M. Cain. As the film was made at the time of the damned Hayes Code, the original ending, double suicide, was cut. The ending that Billy Wilder planned involved Neff going to the gas chamber with Keyes watching but instead the film ended with the two men on the ground, Neff dying and Keyes lighting his cigarette for him, a gesture of friendship.

Of course the story is really all about the femme fatale in this story, Barbara Stanwyck, she plays ice cold Phyllis who plays three women technically. The unwanted housewife, the lover and the sinister killer. She has the ability to be emotional and pretend to show love but in one quick stare morph into a cold hearted killer. It's brilliant to behold the changes.

Another brilliant part of this film was the opening titles. A lone man on crutches. Combined with the eery music of impending violence, it not only set the tone but the anticipation until the voice over starts, as thats what the audience waits for. But this image, important to the story, is an ominous prelude which I thought was an excellent touch.

At last I got to watch this film. It's a tick on this list as well as my 'must watch more Film Noir films' list. A true classic I believe.

To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers. 


  1. So glad you like this one. It is one of my all-time faves. It has some of the most brilliant dialogue ever committed to film. To be honest, and without having read the book, I think we have the Hays Code to thank for that as characters couldn't be as straight-forward as they would be in most current films. This led to some jaw-dropping, yet not quite subtle innuendo. The performances of MacMurray and Stanwyck are dead on perfect, as well.

  2. It's brilliant isn't it! This must be my favourite Film Noir... I watched it for college and it's just the best. That's really interesting about the gas chamber because I'd heard a slightly different story that it was the electric chair they were headed to (not that it's that different to a gas chamber!) And that's why in the crucial scene in Phyllis' living room at the end there are so many big ass chairs all over the place to sort of preface what was to come, just interesting the changes that had to be made to these kind of films at that time.

  3. I'm sure there are a few other stories, varying from the original. I'm glad the film ended when it did, there are too many films that should have ended a scene before.

  4. I agree, the subtlety was brilliant. But there are something that the Hays Code restricted that annoyed me, but not in this film. The dialogue is just brilliant.