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DOUBLE INDEMNITY

Director: BILLY WILDER

U.S.A.| 1944. BLACK AND WHITE. 106 MIN.


‘There are two kinds of people in this world,’ opined director Billy Wilder, ‘those who will do anything for money, and those who will do almost anything for money.’ Double Indemnity is about the first kind. A salesman (Fred MacMurray) is lured by an avaricious sexual siren (Barbara Stanwyck) into murdering her husband for his life insurance. On their trail is a razor-sharp claims investigator (Edward G. Robinson) who is too close to the culprit to see the truth under his nose. The characterisations of James Cain’s novella are perfectly performed and enriched by Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s scintillating screenplay. The scriptwriters clashed, Chandler grumbling that it was impossible to work with someone who wore a hat indoors, yet the result is a lexicon of crackling lines expertly framed within a fatalistic flashback. The memorable moments are legion: a murder shown only through the reaction of the victim’s wife; the moment when the getaway car stalls; a forlorn conversation at the Hollywood Bowl across which Schubert’s music casts a melancholy pall; a startling climax of double double-cross; and a routine between two men involving a match and a cigar that becomes finally the film’s solitary spark of compassion. The results make for the greatest film noir of them all.

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