Double Indemnity Parent Review
From the first moments of Double Indemnity, you know this story isn’t going to end well. However the spoiler doesn’t keep the movie from grabbing your attention in the same way an impending train wreck catches the eyes of onlookers.
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) works for Pacific All Risk Insurance Co. He’s a smooth-talking salesman with a polished pitch. But the chain-smoking peddler doesn’t plan on meeting the charming Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) when he stops by a client’s house to renew an automobile policy. The sultry blonde is soon trading flirtatious banter with Walter and then invites him back to her home when both her husband and the household help are away.
Sharing her woeful story with him, the neglected wife soon asks Walter to help her take out an accident insurance policy on her husband. Yet Walter is leery of her motives. He works for one of the most cautious insurance analysts in the industry. Barton Keys (Edward G. Robinson) doesn’t just pour over volumes of actuary statistics, he also relies on his well-honed internal voice to warn him about suspicious claims. Walter knows Keys would question the policy (and the double indemnity clause that would award the beneficiary twice its face value in the event of accidental death)—especially if the company was ever asked to pay out.
Still, the idea of outsmarting the insurers plays on Walter’s mind as he begins falling in love with Phyllis. And soon he believes he has figured out how to commit the perfect crime that will let Phyllis collect the insurance money and then run away with him. Unfortunately once the dead is done, the couple finds themselves at odds as the insurance company digs into the circumstances surrounding the death of Phyllis’ husband (Tom Powers).
This psychological thriller, based on a novella by James M. Cain, was originally considered unsuitable as a screenplay because of the movie industry’s newly adopted Production Code standards. Once shooting was underway the project’s director, Billy Wilder, and the screenwriter, Raymond Chandler, also found themselves at odds. Even the film’s stars, Stanwyck and MacMurray had reservations about taking on the role of killers. Despite all of the challenges, the movie received seven Academy Award nominations the year it was released.
Neither of the protagonists in Double Indemnity is likable. This makes it difficult to warm up to them, and even less so after their illicit affair becomes a catalyst for homicide. Although the movie is all about the planning and execution of a murder, actual depictions are infrequent. Compared to other film-noir offerings, this black and white caper is a less violent choice. And while the ending is given away in the opening scenes, watching this couple’s downward slide into a dark abyss that pits them against one another remains an intriguing look at the foibles of human character.Directed by Billy Wilder. Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson. Running time: 107 minutes. Theatrical release April 25, 1944. Updated May 1, 2014
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Double Indemnity here.
Double Indemnity Parents Guide
Walter professes he is crazy about Phyllis after only their third meeting. Does she seduce him or is he attempting to seduce her? How does their love affair cloud their decision-making?
How does Walter use his knowledge of the insurance industry to try and commit the perfect crime?
Learn more about the Hays Production Code.
Learn more about the movie genre Film Noir.