1 Woman, 100 Movies - #92: Double Indemnity
Updated: Jun 22
I’m continuing my cinematic mission to watch the 100 greatest movies of all time. You can read more about my idea here. #92 – Double Indemnity Year released: 1944 Genre: Crime, Film Noir, Drama, Mystery-Thriller IMDb rating: 8.3 Summary: A Los Angeles insurance representative lets an alluring housewife seduce him into a scheme of insurance fraud and murder that arouses the suspicion of his colleague, an insurance investigator. Previously seen?: No
This sounds like my type of movie. Fraud! Murder! Seduction! I bet it has a story line that Keith Morrison* can sink his teeth into. I've never heard of this movie or any of the lead actors, but with my lack of exposure to these older films, that's not saying much.
Summary & Final Thoughts
My instincts were right on this, I think this is my favorite film on the list thus far. The movie opens with Walter Neff - played by Fred MacMurry - stumbling into an office building with what appears to be a gunshot wound to the shoulder. We have an old school "I bet you're wondering how I ended up here" moment with Walter recording a monologue into a dictaphone about how he ended up in this mess. And we're off.
Walter is a cool guy. He walks cool, talks cool, and even lights his matches cool (using just the tip of his thumb). And the minute he walks into Phyllis Dietrichson's (played by Barbara Stanwyck) house, it's clear he flirts cool, too. He's laying it on pretty heavy literally right after meeting her, especially considering he's fully aware that she's a married woman (since he's there to have her husband renew his auto insurance).
Side note: Thank goodness that I live in 2022 when insurance can be renewed online. Can you imagine needing to renew your insurance and an actual salesman shows up at your door asking for a glass of iced tea? I could never.
At first, Phyllis is not having any of his flirting. She asks a couple pointed questions about how the insurance process works and sends the man on his way. But before long, she's followed up with him and scheduled another meeting to have Walter meet her husband, Mr. Dietrichson.
Walter shows back up at Phyllis's house for the meeting only to find out that the husband is not there. "I thought he would be here," Phyllis insists. Walter isn't buying it, but he's probably thinking his charm is what inspired her to schedule the solo meeting. However, after a few more pointed questions - "Could I sign my husband up for accident insurance without him knowing? Could I pay you in cash?" - Walter picks up what she unintentionally is putting down. This lady is clearly trying to kill her husband. He scolds Phyllis and storms out. Kill a fella over a dame, Walter would never!
Cut to the next scene and Phyllis surprises Walter at his place, they share a kiss, Phyllis shares a couple not-so-great stories about her husband, and lo and behold, suddenly Walter is on board. Must have been some kiss.
In all honesty, I got the impression he was in it for the thrills and not because of his feelings for Phyllis. He literally has only known her for about a week and he's already volunteering to kill a man on her behalf. This gent moves quick. And not only does he agree to kill her husband, he comes up with a fairly well-thought out plan very quickly. I imagine in a spin-off movie, Walter would be outed as a Dexter-like serial killer because no man has intricate murder plans rolling around in his skull just because.
Soon, Walter and Phyllis are meeting in grocery stores to discreetly (but not so discreetly) talk about their plans. The husband has a broken leg and will be taking a train out of town for a work trip and Walter decides that it's perfect time to off the guy.
It's a brutal murder, too. Walter hides in the backseat while Phyllis drives hubby to the train station and then murders the man with his bare hands. Walter then pretends to be the husband and boards the train, only to jump off the back a few minutes after the train leaves the station. He runs back to Phyllis and the car, grabs the dead body from the back seat, and proceeds to throw that poor man and his crutches on the train tracks.
The plan seems to be going off without a hitch. Enter Barton Keyes (played by Edward G. Robinson). Barton is Walter's boss, and would rather gnaw off his own arm than actually pay out any insurance money to a customer. You gotta love the guy for following his gut, but having dealt with difficult of car insurance agents, I wish they would just mail out the check and drop it already. We pay these payments every month for a reason! I digress.
Now listen, I know this movie is almost 80 years old, but on the off chance that you haven't seen it, I'm going to leave it here and not give away the ending. Only because I really enjoyed the movie and if this inspires you to watch it, you'll get to go into it without spoilers.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. And despite some predictable racism (black people are referred to as coloreds a couple times) it was an entertaining way to spend my evening. If you like true crime or thrillers, dip your toe into the film-noir genre and give this a shot. Happy watching!
Walter is very turned on by an anklet Phyllis wears, which I was confused by. Come to find out, anklets supposedly were a way for married women to signal that they were open to having affairs! Is that why Walter was so forward in his flirting?
Actor Fred MacMurray apparently forgot to take off his wedding ring during filming and it can be seen in several scenes. Oops!
*Update: A couple days after publishing this post, I stumbled upon an episode of The Seduction, a podcast hosted by Keith Morrison, that directly references this movie. Called it!
Up Next: The Great Dictator