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Double Indemnity

  • Directed by Billy Wilder
  • United States, 1944, 107 mins., English

Wilder’s prototypical film noir, featuring the archetypal femme fatale in Barbara Stanwyck’s chilling Phyllis Dietrichson, is one of the most famous Hollywood productions of the 1940s and one of the most atmospheric films of the classical era. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a loathsome insurance salesman, knocks on the Dietrichsons’ door one summer day, only to be met by Phyllis, a wholly bored housewife stuck in a loveless and cold marriage. Insurance parlance defines “double indemnity” as a double or triple payout in case of accidental death—with Tom Dietrichson, Phyllis’s cantankerous husband, in the crosshairs of a plot hatched with the help of the blindsided Walter. “It achieves what all great art aspires to do—it creates a universe of its own. Is such a universe naturalistic? To some extent, I suppose, although that is not the point. Rather, what’s evoked is a moral landscape, in which we slip between stark polarities: identifying with the characters, their longing and their damage, while also recognizing their downfall, its inevitability, as a cautionary tale.”—David Ulin.

Genres: Film Noir

Other Films by Billy Wilder

Ace in the Hole

Out-of-work newspaper reporter Chuck Tatum (a perfectly smarmy, snarling Kirk Douglas in one of his best roles) moves west to New Mexico from New York following a string of firings for a variety of offenses, most notably libel and drunkenness. Now in the normal routine of covering small-town “interest” stories at an Albuquerque rag, he

Sunset Boulevard

Down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) seeks refuge at the home of former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson, in a career-defining role). Norma’s once-opulent but decaying estate, just off Sunset Boulevard and overseen by her watchful servant Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim), provides the backdrop for a tumultuous relationship pulled from Greek