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DOUBLE INDEMNITY
1944 - Billy Wilder
United States
25
Opening Shot

The film established it's ideas and tone as early as the opening sequence, as we see an out of control car rushing through traffic lights...

The Film

I’ve seen Double Indemnity many times in many formats and it seems to get better and better very time. It is one of my favorite films and I can easily say Double Indemnity is one of the very greatest films to come from a major Hollywood Studio. Double Indemnity is worthy of every once a praise it receives. A film so dark yet so magical and ultimately so brilliant it represents everything beautiful about cinema! The film is defintive noir. In terms of visual composition and contrast lighting, Double Indemnity is among the standard achievements in film. As to be expected from Billy Wilder, the quick-witted dialogue is brilliant, and the acting is top notch; especially by Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck steals the show with her performance as Phyllis. Everytime she's on the screen you can't help but key your eyes on her. She is the quintessential femme fatale of cinema. As terrifying as she is beautiful! Fred MacMurray's performance is also very good as Walter Neff, a sharp-talking insurance salesman who falls into corruption, and murder upon weakening to the seductive Phyllis. Neff is immediately drawn to the friendly eroticism of Phyllis (as well as her “honey of an anklet”), and the contrast and pending doom of their relationship is visually expressed in their first moments together (notably through the use of composition and particularly in lighting and shadows). They are two doomed souls that are emotionally trapped, not by the guilt of a murder, but by the fear of discovery. They must rely on each other yet are uncertain if they can even trust one another. The film taps into many psychological levels of human behavior and relationships (including the often overlooked father/son-like relationship of Neff and his boss Keyes, brilliantly played by James G. Robinson). Neff seems equally as fixated on “beating” his mentor Keyes, but it is Keyes who ultimately predicts their fate throughout the film (even before knowing who the murderer is). Then even Neff knew his fate as he told Keyes “Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it’s true, so help me. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.” As early as the opening frame (heightened by Miklos Rozsa’s memorable score), Double Indemnity is a film of inescapable doom... “a one-trip ride all the way to the end of line and the last stop is the cemetery.”

The Filmmaker

Billy Wilder is another Austrian-born filmmaker that moved to Hollywood. Though his career as a writer began in Europe, Wilder established himself as one of the most beloved directors and screenwriters in the history of American film. Wilder left Germany in 1933 upon Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Ironically the man who would become one of the greatest screenwriters of English dialogue in American film, could not speak the language upon his arrival to Hollywood. However, the outside perspective perhaps gave Wilder a greater advantage because he captured the very essence of American behavior through his films and especially his dialogue. Wilder became one of the revolutionaries of both Hollywood's transition to talkies and the transition into American cinema's independent movement. Wilder began writing now classic screenplays during the 1930s and 40s which included his quintessential wittiness and well hidden social and sexual risque-humor (most notable in Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka and Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire). Wilder's directorial debut was 1942's The Major and the Minor, but he would earn forever acclaim with his third feature, 1944's Double Indemnity, which is often considered among the very greatest and most definitive film noirs of all-time. It would also establish Wilder's quintessential filmmaking gifts (dialogue, cinematography) and his trademark themes (sexual entrapment, and a cynical view of the complexities of a postwar American society). His films and in particular his leading characters are very often regarded as cynical but above all they are entirely human and authentic. His films expressed an emotional era of postwar American society and they did so through the experimentation of genres (including masterpieces such as Sunset Blvd , The Apartment, and The Lost Weekend). Today Wilder stands among the most beloved filmmakers in all of American film. He directed 27 features in total, but he is credited as screenwriter on over 75 films. Wilder has earned a total of 19 Academy Award nominations (14 of which are for Best Screenplay- which is the second most in history behind Woody Allen). Wilder won Best Director twice and Best Screenplay three times. He also won two Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Academy and the AFI (in 1988 and 1986). Many of his films are among the most celebrated in the history of American cinema.

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