double indemnity | billy wilder | raymond chandler | fred macmurray | barbara stanwyck | edward g. robinson | crime | drama | film noir | film-noir | mystery | thriller | united states | murder | death | psychopath | sociopath | based on | novel | james m. cain
Film: Double Indemnity
Director: Billy Wilder
Writer: Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson
This film begins with a car that is driving erratic. It runs a red light and goes around others illegally. We see that he driver of this car is Fred MacMurray. He is sweating and seems to be in pain. He enters the office building that he works and goes to the floor where his office is. He goes in and starts to dictate to a recording machine the crime he has committed. He has been shot, which explains why he is in a hurry.
MacMurray is an insurance salesman. We see that he goes to a house and knocks at the door. The maid answers, but tells him that the man he is looking for is not home. He is forceful and gets himself inside where he talks to the wife; she is played by Barbara Stanwyck. She agrees to meet with him, since MacMurray is there about their car insurance. MacMurray has a crush on her and they flirt while they talk. She tells him that he should come back a couple days later at night.
We then see MacMurray go back to work and meets with his boss, played by Edward G. Robinson. This scene shows us that he is very thorough and knows the insurance business inside and out.
MacMurray then gets a call from Stanwyck, asking that he comes a different day and in the afternoon. We learn that MacMurray has a lot of appointments that day, but he is smitten so he changes the plan for the day to allow him to make this meeting. When he goes there, we see that they both have fallen for each other. He brings up accident insurance and that her husband does not have any. The plot to murder him starts here, so she can run away with MacMurray and use the money to start a new life.
He does come back to meet with the husband, who is played by Tom Powers. They are using his daughter, who is played by Jean Heather, as a witness to the signing of the document so it doesn’t look as suspicious. MacMurray tries to sell him on the accident insurance, but Powers disagrees. Stanwyck also pretends like they don’t need it as well. MacMurray though has him sign the document for that. The plan is to have him buy the policy without knowing and have Stanwyck write another check for the car insurance. This makes it seem like MacMurray sold him on it when he visited at work.
When MacMurray goes to leave the meeting that night, he gets into his car to find Heather. She lied to her father about where she was going and asks if he can give her a ride. They do and he seems to flirt with her a little bit as well. She is going to meet her boyfriend who her father doesn’t like. This man is played by Byron Barr and he doesn’t take to MacMurray either.
MacMurray starts to meet with Stanwyck in a store so they do not get caught. She cannot call him on the phone as they have to avoid each other. There is a clause in the insurance policy that states if Powers dies in certain accidents, then there is a double indemnity clause that pays out much more. The plan is to kill him to make it look like he falls off the back of a train.
Powers is slated to go to his college reunion at Stanford. He normally drives, but Stanwyck convinces him to take the train. This plan almost doesn’t work when he breaks his leg at work. The doctor does tell him that the change of scenery will help in the healing process.
MacMurray creates an elaborate set up to make everyone in his building think he is home all night as he sneaks out. He goes to the house of Stanwyck and Powers. He hides on the floor in the backseat of their car. During the drive, he kills Powers by breaking his neck. He is done up to look just like Powers and gets on the train for him. He has to convince a man at the back of the train that he is Powers. MacMurray needs him to leave to jump off the train. He gets the man to go get him a cigar. The body is then placed on the tracks like he fell off the back.
Can they get away with this plan and get the money? The head of the insurance company doesn’t want to pay it out and immediately starts to fight it. Robinson from the beginning doesn’t believe it and starts to look into it. Will they be able to keep it cool until the end? Or will the guilt of what they did eat away at them?
Now I want to lead off stating that I’ve seen this film a few times. The first time was during a film class in college and I loved it. This falls into the genre of film noir and this is one of the better ones. What I like best about it is Stanwyck’s character. She is beautiful so MacMurray falls for her immediately. She is unhappy in her situation and will use whatever she can to fix it. I love there is even a question that she may have killed Powers’ wife when she was a nurse. There is no proof, but the idea bothers Heather. I also really enjoyed Robinson in this film. He looks at all these little facts and details to piece things together and he is the main reason that MacMurray is nervous throughout the time after the crime was committed. His only downfall being that he is close to MacMurray so he doesn’t believe he could have committed the crime and doesn’t even suspect him for most of his investigation. This storyline is something that does translate to today, because we are still seeing films being made about lovers killing their significant others to run away with another. It is something that is even in real life. They are obviously more updated, but it is good to see that this still can hold up despite when this film was made. I’m also impressed that this film was made when the censorship office was in its hay day. This film has subject matter that wouldn’t think could be made, but they did a great job at getting around it and getting it produced.
I did say that this film does still hold up, but I need to say that the film itself is dated. It was made in 1944, so things we know now bother me when I see this. They have no regard for touching things and leaving fingerprints everywhere. The biggest one for me was when they are staging the crime scene and MacMurray is touching the crutches and Powers’ hat. These both would be dead giveaways today that he was involved. I do think that MacMurray falling as fast as he did for Stanwyck was a little unrealistic, but I do let it slide for the most part. Barr is also interesting that he doesn’t talk to Heather, but her mother and doesn’t think that Heather wants him anymore. I found that to be slightly odd when he knows Powers didn’t care for him. Her beauty has a lot to do with this, but something that struck me.
This isn’t a horror film per say, but I am adding it to my horror film research for the following reasons. I love seeing MacMurray starting to slip into madness as the guilt of the crime he committed eats away at him. To go along with this, he does murder Powers as well which is scary. Stanwyck is also a sociopath which can be considered a horror film element as she doesn’t feel emotions. She claims she does at the end, but I do question this.
With that said, I really enjoy this film. I think that the acting is great across the board. The concept of the film is something that still holds up today, even though the film doesn’t as much. I think the writing is good. The tension this film builds is great and seeing MacMurray troubled as he is with what he has done is a nice touch, especially for a guy who was a romantic comedy actor before this. I will warn you that this film is from 1944 and is filmed in black-and-white. If that is an issue, I would avoid this film. If not and this sounds good, I would definitely recommend giving this a viewing.
My Rating: 8 out of 10