Monday, 21 April 2008

Double Indemnity

I’ve watched Double Indemnity again, for the first time in perhaps twenty years, and had the chance to appreciate once more the economy and strength of one of the finest of all crime movies.

It benefits from superb ingredients. The source material is a short novel by James M. Cain, at his sinewy best. The director is the great Billy Wilder, the script came from Wilder and Raymond Chandler – a dazzling combination if ever there was one. Barbara Stanwyck was never better than here, as the vampish Phyllis Dietrichson, who seduces the smart but weak Walter Neff, played by the likeable Fred MacMurray, and leads him along the path to the gas chamber. And scene after scene is stolen by Edward G. Robinson as the obsessive claims investigator, Barton Keyes.

But even a feast comprising the finest ingredients can turn into a disaster if something goes wrong in the kitchen. Wilder’s sure touch, though, was integral to the success of a film that garnered six Academy Award nominations. Even though I knew the story very well, even though we know from the outset – thanks to the clever use of a flashback narrative – that Walter is doomed, it is still impossible not to be hooked from the opening scenes.

Wilder makes us care about the characters. Phyllis may be the ultimate femme fatale, but Walter Neff is a regular guy, betrayed by his lust for a beautiful woman. And the final scene, when Keyes cradles his injured friend and helps him to a last cigarette before the police and the ambulance arrive, has a genuine tenderness rare in a film of this kind. Murder movie making seldom got better than this. If by any chance you haven’t seen it, you have a real treat in store.


Sarah Hilary said...

Hello Martin! I hope it's okay popping in like this, but I wanted to let you know that I've linked to your blog from mine, mainly because I'm so impressed by your editing of M.O. Crimes of Practice, and I.D. the previous CWA Anthology which I reviewed recently. Now I find out you live in Lymm, not far at all from my home town of Wilmslow. It's a small world!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Sarah. Good to hear from you. Glad you like M.O., about which more in a future post. Meanwhile, hope to see you at the launch.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Martin. I don't think I'll manage to make the Manchester launch as I now live much further afield, but I'm hopeful of attending the London launch that Ra mentioned in his note.