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“Double Indemnity”
Wayne A. Klein
Studio: Universal Home Video
Genre: Thriller
Special Features: “Shaodws & Light” documentary, two commentary tracks, the TV movie remake of “Double Indemnity”

Billy Wilder’s classic “Double Indemnity” created many of the elements of the film noir movement. While Wilder didn’t create the genre he contributed more to it in this single film than just about any other director of the time. A film about infidelity, sex, money and murder it helped establish many of the iconic characters and motifs of the movement. More importantly Wilder created a brilliant hard bitten film that managed to skirt the restrictions of the censors. Based on the novel by James M. Cain and with a screenplay written Raymond Chandler with Wilder (the two did not get along at all during their collaboration but then Chandler rarely collaborated well with others), the film featuring a pair of hard boiled stunning performances by Fred MacM urray (as far removed from “My Three Son’s” as you can imagine) and Barbara Stanwick (the perfect femme fatale and quite different from the matriarch of “The Big Valley”). ***

Wilder’s tight direction and the screenplay by Wilder and Chandler improves on Cain’s hard bitten pulp novel expanding on the depth of the characters and adding a humanity that’s otherwise missing from the story. MacMurray and Robinson work extremely well together in their scenes together as co-workers. There’s a warmth and humor that as at the core of their relationship something decent that’s missing from the other relationships in the film particularly the one between Phyllis and Walter. ***

Insurance man Walter Neff (MacMurray) falls for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwick) the moment he sees her ankle bracelet tangling in front of him; it’s the lure that pulls him into a tangled pair of nylons involving sex and the murder of Dietrichson’s husband for money. Initially an insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) doesn’t suspect anything about the murder but the plan begins to and Keyes becomes suspicious just as their unravels when Neff suspects he’s just the latest fall guy in Phyllis’ life. ---

Image & Sound:

“Double Indemnity” looks marvelous in this two disc set from Universal. They’ve done a spectacular job restoring and presenting this classic thriller. The blacks are rock solid throughout. There are few scratches to mar the picture and the sound is solid throughout bringing nice depth to Mikos Rozsa’s crashing score. ---

Special Features:

Universal has done a bang up job with “Doubling” the pleasure for fans. Universal includes the 1973 TV remake with Richard Crenna, Lee J. Cobb and Samantha Eggar. While it can’t possibly compare to the original movie the film does have its moments with nice performances from all the participants. Director Jack Smight’s film misses the complexity of the characters in as they close themselves into their own little caged rooms. ***

We also get a terrific documentary on the film.“Shadows of Suspense” focuses on the origin of film noir and the place of “Double Indemnity” in the genre. Featuring fascinating interviews with everyone from author James Ellroy (“The Black Dahlia”, “L.A. Confidential”), cinematographer Caleb Deschnael (“The Right Stuff”) and others discuss the themes that dominate the genre and how black & white so evocatively captured the genre with artful use of lighting. ***

Both commentary tracks have their moments. Film critic Richard Schikel provides a fascinating if dry commentary track. He shows a bit more life here. Lem Dobb and Nick Redman’s commentary track is a bit more lively and their commentary operates as a fine duet highlighting the lyrical complexity of Wilder’s work and the film. ---

Final Words:

A terrific classic finally appears and gets all the respect it deserves in this two disc set. “Double Indemnity” looks extremely good the extras are also quite good including the hobbled but fascinating 1973 remake as well as a documentary on the genre and film. The two commentary tracks are filled with fascinating bits of trivia as well. I’d highly recommend this classic film.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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