The world of insurance sales will never be as sexy and suspenseful as it is in Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). The renewal of auto insurance, a transaction that nowadays can be completed in minutes from the relative safety of a smart phone, sets off a series of events punctuated by murder and dripping with deceit, seduction, and betrayal in this Hollywood classic. Co-written by Wilder and mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is viewed by many as the first and best American film noir. Studio stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson each took the dual professional risks of playing against type in the film adaptation of a story long viewed as “too taboo” for the screen. Their performances bring life to a razor-sharp script that set the gold standard for film noir, artfully introducing now-clichéd narrative devices like subjective voiceover narration, uncannily accurate detective speculation, and (perhaps most memorably) flirtatious, rapid-fire double entendre. Wilder and Chandler’s script, and particularly Stanwyck’s smoldering performance, keep the audience riveted in suspense for 100-plus minutes, despite the presence of a framing device “spoiling” MacMurray’s fate in the opening scene of the film.
Tag: Barbara Stanwyck
DOUBLE INDEMNITY holds a special resonance for me; it is the very first movie my father took me to at the drive-in theater.
In 1940s and ’50s America, gender roles were firmly defined and divided; in families, girls kept company with their mothers, learning how to cook, to sew, to dress up pretty; boys stayed mostly with their fathers learning how to spackle a window, swagger, ice fish and spit. So it was that Friday nights in the summer, I found myself in our overlarge, green Plymouth, next to my handsome dad — a big, brown paper bag between us, peckered all over with buttery grease stains, filled to the very top with homemade popcorn. This is where I learned to love the movies.