Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"Double Indemnity" shows off early American film noir

Cover via AmazonDouble Indemnity appears to overflow with movie cliches, until you realize they weren't cliches in 1944. The femme fatale, the stilted dialogue, the narration are all common tools now, but in '44, they were something new.

Fred MacMurray plays a cynical insurance agent who sees an opportunity to bilk the company he works for and run away with a frustrated housewife, played by Barbara Stanwyck.

For movie buffs, the film noir effects are all in play - the lighting, the use of shadow, the cynical characters. MacMurray's Walter Neff is pretty unscrupulous considering the time period. He cheats his company, hits on a married woman and later conspires to kill her husband - talk about an antihero! As the unfaithful, murderous wife, Stanwyck doesn't quite do it for me. She doesn't have that touch of evil she needs to convince the viewer she can go through with the plot.

One plot line I would have liked to have been explored further was the relationship between Neff and Lola, the step daughter of  Stanwyck's character. Lola comes to Neff (who sold her father the insurance policy) to accuse her step mother of murder. Neff tries to steer her from that suspicion and gradually develops a relationship with the girl. If the film was made in the 21th Century, I'm sure that love triangle would have been more developed. Neff does the right thing with her, and it's about the only noble thing he does in the whole film.

At #29 on the AFT top 100, Double Indemnity ranks with Chinatown as the two film noir entries in the top 30. Considering that it was one of the groundbreakers of that genre, I think it deserves that high a placement.

Cover via Amazon

Next up: All About Eve (1950)
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