Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Raymond Chandler & Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder is somewhat a master of cinema. His track record is pretty great with titles like Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd., The Apartment, Sabrina and The Lost Weekend, among others, under his belt. But then there is also this film, another of his that is considered a classic. What fascinates, and impresses, me most about Wilder has to be the fact that he has conquered multiple genres. He doesn’t just fit into a nice box and do the same thing. He has done romantic comedies, dramas, and this film is a noir.
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman, and a darn good one. But when he goes to meet with Mr. Dietrichson to renew his auto insurance, he finds it difficult to catch him at home. Instead, he starts to fall for the lovely Mrs. Dietrichson, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), who is stuck at home to answer Walter’s calls. Soon enough a plot is sprung to commit the perfect murder and collect on Mr. Dietrichson’s secret insurance policy, which includes a double indemnity clause, a clause which allows the holder to collect double the amount of the policy in certain circumstances. But Neff’s boss, Mr. Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) knows all the tricks in the business and is quick to suspect something is wrong.
This is film-noir at its finest, it really is. The film opens on Neff, clearly in trouble as he stumbles into the insurance office late at night to tape the story for Mr. Keyes. So throughout the film we see him sitting at the desk, narrating the film. This is a great touch on the film and MacMurray’s voice is one that is suited perfectly to narrate a noir. MacMurray and STanwyck are both great in the lead roles. MacMurray plays the stern, concerned Walter perfectly and Stanwyck is just a movie star, end of story. She knows how to control a screen and get the viewer to both oogle over her presence and be amazed at her character’s situation and concerns.
In addition to that, it is your classic plot that is so well thought out and executed. The screenwriters (Chandler & Wilder) have everything planned out and Wilder has a vision and executes it so well. In fact, what I loved so much about the script were the little things. They really took care to make cool, interesting lines and the language they used was just a cherry on top to the overall plot of the film. Things like when Walter is told the liquor cabinet is locked and he responds by saying he has his own key. And I mean come on, the dude lights a match using just his fingers! How does he do that!?
Looking back on this film the morning after having watched it, perhaps it was not as memorable as I originally thought, but there will be things here that definitely stick with me. It is also a film that I look forward to revisiting in the future, as I am sure it will be that much better the second time. But what I will take most from this viewing has to be the great screenwriting of Wilder and his partner Chandler. I believe that is better than his also stellar direction here. Also, Barbara Stanwyck is just immensely watchable.