Classic Movies. Double Indemnity. Review by Dewey Edward Chester

Classic Movies. Double Indemnity. Review by Dewey Edward Chester

Classic Movies. Double Indemnity. Review by Dewey Edward Chester

The gas chamber ending was unneeded, Wilder realized.

The gas chamber ending was unneeded, Wilder realized.

Double Indemnity is an American movie starring Fred McMurray as an insurance salesman, Barbara Stanwyck as a provocative housewife who wishes her husband dead, and Edward G. Robinson as a brilliant claims adjuster.

The Screenplay was adapted from the James M. Cain novel, which first appeared as an eight-part serial in Liberty Magazine.

The term “Double Indemnity” refers to a clause in life- insurance policies that doubles the payment in cases when death is caused by accidental means.

Praised by critics, Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It is ranked #38 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Best Films of the 20th Century.

In the opening scene, Walter Neff stumbles off an elevator on his way to an office. He’s desperate to record his criminal confession for partner, Barton Keyes.

The vast two-tiered office is empty and dark, as he lurches toward the balcony railing overlooking rows and rows of uniform corporate desks.

He turns, but the camera continues forward until it reaches the brink, and stares down for an anxious moment at the colorless insurance business.

Visibly in pain, Walter Neff dictates into a Dictaphone and his story is revealed through flashbacks:

It was a routine house call to remind this woman’s husband named Dietrichson, his insurance policy was up for renewal.

Phyllis Dietrichson, the alluring housewife, flirts with Neff then asks how she can take out an accident policy on her husband’s life.

Neff deduces she is contemplating murder, and makes it clear he wants no part of it.  However, he cannot resist her.

He devises a plan to make her husband’s death appear to be an accidental fall from a train.  This will trigger the “double indemnity” clause and pay out twice the policy’s value.

When Dietrichson breaks his leg, Phyllis drives him to the train station using crutches, for a trip to Palo Alto.  Neff is hiding in the backseat, and when Phyllis turns onto a deserted side-street, Neff kills him.

Then Neff boards the train, posing as Dietrichson, and using the same crutches, makes his way to the last car.

A complication ensues when a man named Jackson is there, but finally, Jackson leaves and Neff jumps off at a prearranged spot where he and Phyllis place her husband’s body on the tracks.

They hurry to make their getaway, but when she starts the car, the motor stalls and won’t turn over.  She tries more times, but the car won’t start and the two look at each other in growing panic.

Desperate, Neff reaches over, turns the key and guns the motor, finally starting the car.  Only then can they speed away from crime.

Mr. Norton, the insurance company’s chief, believes the death is a suicide, but Barton Keyes scoffs at the idea, quoting statistics, to Neff’s delight.

Keyes does not suspect foul play, but the “little man” in his chest starts nagging.  Why didn’t Dietrichson file a claim for his broken leg?  Keyes deduces Dietrichson did not know about the policy.  Keyes eventually concludes that Phyllis and some unknown accomplice murdered him.

But Walter Neff has more to worry about. The victim’s daughter, Lola comes to him, convinced her stepmother, Phyllis, is behind her father’s death. Lola reveals her mother also died while Phyllis was her nurse.

Neff needs to keep her from the police with these suspicions, but is plagued by guilt and responsibility for her tragedy.

When she tells him she has discovered her boyfriend, Nino, is seeing Phyllis behind his back, Neff discovers a way out of his predicament.

He meets Phyllis at her house and informs her he knows she is planning to have him killed.  He intends to kill her first and put the blame on Nino.

Phyllis came prepared, and shoots him.

Wounded, but still standing, he comes closer and dares her to shoot again.  She does not, and he takes the gun from her.

She says, “I never loved you until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot.”

She hugs him tightly, but then pulls away when she feels the gun pressed against her stomach.  Neff says, “Goodbye, baby,” and shoots twice, killing her.

Outside, Neff waits for Nino to arrive and advises him not to enter the house, and instead, to go to “the woman who truly loves you; Lola!”

Bleeding profusely, now, Neff drives to the Los Angeles office to confess his crime, and the movie flashbacks are complete.

Walter Neff is still recording his story, as seen in the film’s opening scene, when Barton Keyes arrives unnoticed and hears it all.

Neff reaches for him, but sags to the floor.

Keyes says flatly, “Walter, you’re all washed up.”

View Comments (1)
  • Dewey Edward Chester

    I use dramatic technique when writing Classic Movie Reviews; not plot line details.


Dewey Edward Chester, Ph.D. (eq.), is a Los Angeles Professor of Screenwriting, and the author of “Boomer: Sex, Race and Professional Football.” He is a former professional football player, and was nominated for the prestigious White House Fellowship for Journalism Award, sponsored by President Bill Clinton’s Administration. **Boomer by Dewey Edward Chester is also on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Enjoy the reading, you cannot be indifferent.

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