A Summary and Review of Double Indemnity

A Summary and Review of Double Indemnity

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  1. “Double Indemnity” is a movie made in 1944 and directed by Billy Wilder. Fred MacMurray stars as Pacific All Risk insurance salesman Walter Neff, Barbara Stanwyck is Phyllis Dietrichson and Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keyes, an insurance adjustor for Pacific All Risk.

    The Cast

    Fred MacMurray was known for playing lightweight, nice guy roles. In this film he is a sympathetic murderer. Barbara Stanwyck had played tough women, but in this movie, she is unsympathetic and has few redeeming qualities. Edward G. Robinson also played against type as a non-criminal. All the performances are superb.

    The Story

    The movie is in the form of a flashback as Neff narrates the story into a Dictaphone message to Barton Keyes. Neff stopped at Dietrichson’s to renew their automobile insurance policy. Neff and Phyllis establish a rapport, and she asks if she can get a double indemnity life insurance policy on her husband without him knowing. Neff declines to sell her the policy.

    She keeps in contact with him, and they become involved in an affair. He sells her the policy and she convinces him to help her kill her husband. He knows the angles, and decides to have him die by falling off a train to be eligible for the policys double indemnity clause. She convinces him they could take the money and go away to live on it.

    Neff begins to learn things about Phyllis that makes him nervous. Keyes has doubts about Dietrichson’s death, and suspects murder. As Keyes follows the case, Neff is nervous he and he finds out more about Phyllis. As the movie progresses, things start to go wrong. One of Neff’s lines sums up the movie perfectly. “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for the money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it.”

    Film Noir

    “Double Indemnity” is one of the best examples of the film noir style. Some consider it the first “true” film noir. It is shot with typical low-key lighting and voice over narration. The story is a little sleazy and tawdry, all elements of good film noir.

    James M. Cain Story

    It was originally a 1943 story by James M. Cain called “Three of a Kind” printed in “Liberty Magazine.” Wilder and Raymond Chandler wrote the script from Cain’s story.

    Academy Nominations

    The movie was nominated for seven academy awards, Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture. “Double Indemnity” didn’t win any awards.


     “Double Indemnity” has been remade. “Body Heat” with Willam Hurt and Kathleen Turner in 1981, and “The Last Seduction” with Linda Fiorentino also pays homage to it. Two TV movies were made, one with Frank Lovejoy in 1954 and one in 1973 with Samathana Eggar and Richard Crenna.

    “Double Indemnity” is a great movie. It is one of the best to see to become acquainted with film noir. It is a good one to see again to become reacquainted with an old friend.

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