The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Double Indemnity (1944)

There's this feeling that you get when you're watching an absolutely brilliant performance. It's not always possible to describe the aspects of the performance that make it great, but you know that it is simply because...it is. That's how I felt about Barbara Stanwyck's performance in the 1944 classic, "Double Indemnity", a film I'd known about for ages but just finally got to watching.

In the film, Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, an insurance agent who becomes enamored with a client's wife, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Phyllis expresses a mysterious interest in buying her husband accident insurance, and Walter, in an effort to woo Phyllis (who is unhappy in her marriage), encourages her to buy the policy and kill her husband. However, though the murder goes smoothly, things end up falling apart. The story is being narrated by Walter himself, who is recording his testimony in his boss's office.

"Double Indemnity" is a great noir that is, for the most part, extremely thrilling and entrancing. The story just wraps you in from the very beginning and the sharp dialogue keeps you going. Another great thing about the movie is that it perfectly balances the crime with the romance with the investigation to create a perfect piece of noir. As aforementioned, Stanwyck delivers a mind-blowingly good performance. She knows exactly how her character should change throughout the movie and does it perfectly - her mannerisms are impeccable and you can feel this woman through every scene she's in.

However, Stanwyck does such a wonderful job that the movie flounders a bit when she is not present (which is a surprisingly large chunk of time). Fred MacMurray gives a decent performance but he just doesn't elevate the material the way his co-star does, and even the exciting performance by Edward G. Robinson as Keyes couldn't make me stop wanting Barbara back.

Additionally, movies that utilize narration are always a little bit hit-or-miss with me. In this case, I was not completely convinced by it - it just didn't seem right that Neff would be describing his past two or so weeks in such grand detail especially (SPOILER ALERT) with his arm having been shot. Clunky narration like that is extremely bothersome at times. However, the ending did do a pretty good job of making up for it.

"Double Indemnity" is quite a thrilling piece of cinema, though in the end it didn't quite do as much for me emotionally as I thought it would. However, even though the film had its faults, Barbara Stanwyck gives an absolutely mesmerizing performance that should be considered one of the best of all time.

8/10
(so close to being a seven but Stanwyck was just too good for that)

1 comment:

  1. Stanwyck is pretty marvelous, but you'r right in saying MacMurray is a little off. I found his narration bothersome as well and I never quite bought his commitment to the romance. The initial chemistry was great, but it moved a little to swiftly from meeting to love for me.

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