Monday, January 28, 2013
Running Time: 108 minutes
Directed By: Billy Wilder
Written By: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler, from the novel Double Indemnity in Three of a Kind by James M. Cain
Main Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather
Click here to view the trailer
WILDER WEEK: CHAPTER I
"How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?"
Well I'm back, but let's not make a big hoopla about it. I've been in and out since the start of this project and I'm sure there will be a few more breaks before I finally end my journey through the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. With 400 movies left to go, I kick off the sixth season (set of 100 movies) with "Wilder Week", as announced prior to my departure; a week (or two) that I'm certainly looking forward to. So, let's not dilly-dally - the lights are going down, so please turn off your cell phones, as Mr. MacMurray is about to enter stage left...
MacMurray is Walter Neff, a successful insurance salesman, who knows his trade and makes a decent living at it, living in Los Angeles. Neff plays his business by the books...that is until he meets Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck). During a visit to a "fake Spanish mansion", where Neff plans to meet with Mr. Dietrichson (Hall) about renewing his auto insurance, Neff encounters Phyllis and is totally captivated by her, such as most men are by the dames that exist only in film noir movies. Mrs. Dietrichson presents herself wrapped in a towel, following a sunbath, clutching a pair of sunglasses, long blonde hair flowing over her shoulders and sporting a sparkly anklet, the entire package making Neff swoon. He keeps his cool, however, and gets down to the business at hand. After a little flirtatious chit-chatting, Phyllis asks Neff about taking out an accidental insurance policy on her husband and is curious to know whether or not that can be done without his knowledge. Neff smells a rat and gets out quick, but not before accusing Phyllis of plotting murder against Mr. Dietrichson. Later, Neff can't stop thinking of Phyllis, seeing her shiny anklet in his mind's eye and smelling the honeysuckle that surrounded her neighborhood. He meets up with her again and this time, the plot is laid out on the table: Phyllis wants to off Mr. Dietrichson and during a night filled with lust, in Neff's apartment, the two plot it together, piece by piece. You see, Neff knows the questions that will be asked and the suspicions that will be aroused when Mr. Dietrichson suddenly, "accidentally" dies, following the taking out of a $50,000 accidental policy, one that will pay out double indemnity if Mr. Dietrichson is killed during an accident aboard a train. Therefore, he goes into the plot prepared, covering all his bases and making sure that when all is said and done, he and Phyllis are financially secure and free and clear of the gas chamber. But, as you may have guessed, since it is a film noir, not everything goes as planned.
I wouldn't go so far as to call it the perfect film noir, but there's not much to dislike here. It's a movie that I'd dub an "obviously good film", or a movie that you just KNOW you're going to like, before you even press "play". From the moment the gunshot wounded Walter Neff stumbles into the offices of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Company, the questions and plot guessing immediately, unavoidably start popping into your head and even when the deed is done and there's forty-five minutes left, you just know that you haven't seen the last twist or turn. The movie is your textbook example of film-noir and usually I'd be turned off by all the cliches - the token dame appearing at the top of the stairs, the voiceover narration, the flashbacks, the amateur sleuth work - but here I was able to embrace everything about this piece and accept and enjoy it all. As far as the cast go, I'd say they all did a fine job, but I'd give my biggest hat tip to Edward G. Robinson, someone who made a career out of being the bad guy, but also knows just what to do to pull of the good guy persona too. I fell in love with Robinson (heterosexually speaking) in "The Stranger" and it was good to see him pop up again. Barbara Stanwyck never looked so good and even managed to shake the frumpy persona that she executed in "Stella Dallas". That image of her appearing at the top of the stairs, her first appearance in the picture, is flawless and you'll never look at her the same again. And then there's MacMurray, a perfectly acceptable and very talented leading man. He and Stanwyck had marvelous chemistry and the lust that they were able to create between the two characters was marvelous in establishing heated, noir-ish moments. It always astounds me how much sexual chemistry and intensity existed in old film-noir pictures - pictures where nudity and anything but elusive flirting was absolutely forbidden. "Double Indemnity" is undeniably sexy, easily watchable, enjoyable and houses a fine cast. Like I said, I wouldn't call it the perfect film-noir, as I've seen better even from THE BOOK, but it's really good and deserves a watch.
One last note though, I do believe that the suspense factor could've been kicked up another few notches. For example, during the car ride to the train station, what if the Dietrichson's had been stopped by a cop? Or what if Mr. Dietrichson had suddenly decided that he wanted to sit in the back seat, citing more leg room for his broken limb as the reason? It seems to me that while the actual plot was carried out well, I think it could've been done better and even if they were simply staying true to James M. Cain's novel, who says they can't make a few creative adjustments...everyone else does. In fact, the only time the film ever really capitalized on sheer suspense is when Keyes and Phyllis nearly run into one another at Neff's apartment. The lack of suspense is definitely my one big nitpick.
RATING: 7.5/10 We'll play it safe and go with the '7.5', but honestly I could see that rising or lowering in time...with the odds of it rising being greater. Not a bad first post back, as I didn't feel all that rusty and think I got my point across well. Next up in "Wilder Week": "The Lost Weekend".
MOVIES WATCHED: 602
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 399
January 28, 2013 12:22am