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Double Indemnity (1944)

[IMDB Completionists Series - #6 of 85]

"Murder smells like honeysuckle."

I loved Fred McMurray in this (although I admit I thought it was Burt Lancaster, when it first started, an occupational hazard of watching without reading first). Need to get that out there early, so you know that my review may be (only may, mind you) overly positive. As Insurance Salesman Walter Neff, he is perfect. It may have been all the ode to noir thrillers I have seen made since this was released in 1944, but looking at this for the first time now, you can see exactly why this type of film became so popular and enticing and how this very film was the cause of it. Birthing a genre had rarely, if ever, been so original.

Many stupid things have been done, in hindsight, for the love of a good woman, or at least the good intentions of a bad one, and Walter Neff is about to find out just how stupid.

When the sharp-tongued, quick-witted Walter goes to see one of his clients, he instead meets his wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) and over the course of a romantically charged meeting or two, he agrees to murder her husband. The deed would appear to be for love as well as money, but up to the point of the act of murder, the split for the nefarious, grubby, underhanded deception is not clear.

But the act of killing is only half the story. It is as much about events following the murder and the inevitable conclusion to the story. a salutary morality lesson for some, but an-edge-of-the-seat get away with it thriller for most.

There are a number of reasons for calling this less than perfect, and the actions of some of the characters do make for questions left dangling, so plot-wise it is not perfect, but the performances themselves are excellent, the script is whip-cracking, the pacing sublime.

Wilder and Chandler may not have been getting along when writing the script, but it doesn't translate to the screen, perhaps due to the excellent work by the players.

A gripping, riveting, genre-defining film which has inspired countless projects since, with enough twists to keep you guessing despite the seemingly obvious premise. I can only imagine the reaction this would have garnered in the mid-forties, given how influential it still remains today.

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