Wednesday 27 August 2008

Double Indemnity [1944]

When I decided to watch Double Indemnity, a movie directed by Billy Wilder, adapted from a James M. Cain novel by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, I wasn’t just expecting sparks to fly (considering that Wilder was perhaps one of the finest American directors, while Cain and Chandler hardy had any parallels where hard-boiled fiction was concerned), I was also anticipating a movie drenched in black irony. Though not as acerbic or nihilistic as the other Wilder masterpieces Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole, I wasn’t disappointed on either count. Told in flashbacks, the movie recounts a murky tale of lust, steamy illicit affair, betrayal, double cross, and murder. A cocky insurance agent (Fred MacMurray) – who loves speaking in wisecracks, gets completely enamoured by a seductive (and married) femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) who lures him into murdering her husband. Falling head over heels for a sultry blonde is a dangerous thing in film noirs – the kind of stupid act that can get you killed; consequently things soon start spiraling way out of his hands. A plot that twists at every given opportunity, dialogues drenched in hardboiled cynicism, three wonderful performances, moody atmosphere littered with a fantastic use of chiaroscuro, and the bleak irony of the climax, made it one of the greatest movies in its genre; hell, in any genre.

Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Classic Hollywood
Language: English
Country: US


Ed Howard said...

I'm not as convinced as most people that this is the definitive noir -- a title I'd give to Kiss Me Deadly, incidentally -- or even the best Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard), but it's a great, witty noir that mainly gets by on its crackling dialogue and moody atmosphere. Those clever, sizzling seduction scenes between Stanwyck and MacMurray are ripe with sex even though the characters do nothing but talk. It's brilliant.

Shubhajit said...

Well, I'm not a great fan of Kiss Me Deadly - it was great movie until the bizarre, apocalyptic ending. However I absolutely agree with your view that this wasn't Wilder's best movie as i mentioned in the review. Sunset Blvd. was definitely his finest work. Ace in the Hole, too, was a superior movie. Nonetheless, as you aptly mentioned, this is a very engaging movie that managed to combine, with facile ease, the two signature ingredients of film noirs - sardonic humour and sexual electricity.