|Vintage Pulp||Dec 1 2022|
Stanwyck and MacMurray make a dangerous bet
There are still, after all these years, important classic films we've never discussed in detail. We can now cross Double Indemnity off the list. The movie starred Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, and we've looked at its West German poster, had fun with one of its promo images, and talked about its ingenious quasi-remake, but never actually gotten to the movie itself. Well, here we are, and now the question is can we tell you anything you don't already know? Possibly not, but let's start with the Australian daybill, which you see above. It isn't the usual poster you find online, so that's something, anyway.
The movie begins with MacMurray making a confession, then slides into flashback to explain his crime. He plays an insurance salesman for Pacific All Risk who quickly realizes that Stanwyck's interest in secretly purchasing a life insurance policy on her husband is for the purposes of murder and claims fraud. He resists the scheme at first but Stanwyck convinces him. How? All we see are a few kisses but the answer has to be sex. McMurray is a guy who has experience with women and is so confident with them he's almost glib. He wouldn't agree to murder a guy just because someone is a good kisser.
Thus, temptation nudges him, unseen sex tips him over the edge, and from there he and Stanwyck are off and running with their murder plot. Eventually Stanwyck's husband is found dead on a train track, presumably after falling off the observation car of the Los Angeles-Santa Barbara express, and the crime seems perfect, except the insurance policy that will pay $100,000 brings a tenacious investigator into the picture. That would be Edward G. Robinson in another great performance, and he immediately latches onto an anomaly—Stanwyck's husband didn't file an insurance claim when he broke his leg weeks earlier. Why would a guy who had accident insurance not make a claim? Maybe he didn't know he had accident insurance.
Robinson's role and performance make the movie. He pulls on the single hanging thread that unravels the entire murder plot, and when it starts to come apart it does so almost too fast to believe. There's revelation upon revelation, even reaching years back to the time that Stanwyck's husband was married to another woman, and Stanwyck was that woman's nurse. It's this latter half that makes Double Indemnity a top classic—though make no mistake, it's a film noir clinic even from its first frames, in terms of visuals, structure, music, and direction from Billy Wilder. But when MacMurray's situation deteriorates so quickly and so uncontrollably in the last half, you almost experience the same vertigo and helplessness his character must feel.
Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and as usual for the Oscars, was beaten in most of its categories by a film that ended up having far less influence—the Bing Crosby musical Going My Way. But time tells the tale. Nobody is calling Going My Way one of the best films ever made, but Double Indemnity was certainly a top ten film noir, and was influential far beyond its niche. The movie opened in the U.S. in the late spring of 1944 and finally reached Australia to dazzle and dismay audiences today, December 1, that same year.
AustraliaDouble IndemnityBarbara StanwyckFred MacMurrayEdward G. RobinsonBilly Wilderposter artcinemamovie reviewfilm noir