It’s the oldest trick in the book. Beautiful young woman marries a rich older man, persuades him to take out a life insurance policy and soon after he, coincidentally, has a nasty accident. Even better if she can find some patsy to do the deed for her, using her feminine wiles to keep him on a short leash. Providing the femme fatale with a perfect alibi. The last hurdle is to outsmart the authorities in order to claim the reward. In Double Indemnity that’s no mean feat.
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an ace insurance salesman who enjoys the thrill of the chase but is in awe of the sharp nose of chief investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who can smell fraud at a hundred paces. When he meets the beautiful Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), the wife of a wealthy customer, he instantly falls for her charms. They cook up a plan to get rich so they can be together. One which will fool even his friend.
Double Indemnity works so well thanks to a stunning cast, great pulpy dialogue and Billy Wilder’s perfect pacing. It doesn’t hurt that his co-writer is Raymond Chandler as well. Power dynamics are finely balanced, fluctuating as the plot twists and turn. There’s so much to admire here and there is jaw-dropping technical craft on display. Double Indemnity is a crime noir which invests deeply in the characters to produce a fraught and tense drama.
- New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Audio commentary featuring film critic Richard Schickel
- New interview with film scholar Noah Isenberg, editor of Billy Wilder on Assignment
- New conversation between film historians Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith
- Billy, How Did You Do It?, a 1992 film by Volker Schlöndorff and Gisela Grischow featuring interviews with director Billy Wilder
- Shadows of Suspense, a 2006 documentary on the making of Double Indemnity
- Audio excerpts from 1971 and 1972 interviews with cinematographer John F. Seitz
- Radio adaptations from 1945 and 1950
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Double Indemnity is released on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection on 30 May.