U.S.A. • 1944 • BLACK AND WHITE • 35MM • 107 MIN

A salesman (Fred MacMurray) is lured by an avaricious sexual siren (Barbara Stanwych) 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 Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s scintillating screenplay. Chandler and Wilder were like oil and water, but they drew out the best in each other. Chandler used his brilliant ear for dialogue to embellish this dark tale, while Wilder taught Chandler how to structure a screenplay. 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.

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