Double Indemnity Blu-ray Review
Walter Neff barrels down the highway in his car, running red lights and barely dodging other vehicles on the road. He pulls up to his office building and walks to the door, one arm clutching his overcoat closed so as not to reveal what’s underneath. “You look kind of all in,” says the elevator operator. “I’m fine,” replies Neff. He reaches his floor, goes into his office, turns on the desk lamp, lights a cigarette and picks up the Dictaphone. He may not like the word confession, but he’s about to make one.
Flash back to the May prior. Insurance salesman Neff (Fred MacMurray, who would again work with director Billy Wilder on 1960’s THE APARTMENT) makes a house call to Mr. Dietrichson. He’s not around, but his wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck, who earned the third of four career Oscar nods for her performance), is. And immediately, Neff is under the spell. “I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us.”
We know the second she’s introduced that Phyllis is up to no good. It’s in one of their early meetings that Phyllis proposes the plot: murder her husband and make it look like an accident so she can take advantage of the double indemnity clause and earn twice the money from his death. Neff knows the risks, but he also knows what Phyllis’ lips taste like.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY is based on James M. Cain’s 1943 novella, which came out just one year before its adaptation, and directed by Wilder. Wilder also co-wrote the screenplay with Raymond Chandler, whose detective works starring Phillip Marlowe are some of the best of the genre. (DOUBLE INDEMNITY marks a one-picture departure in the Wilder/Charles Brackett collaborations; they would work together again from THE LOST WEEKEND to SUNSET BOULEVARD.)
The screenplay is a sharp and fast one (what else could you expect from Wilder and Chandler at the typewriter?), with lines that cut like knives and delivery that feels like each syllable is racing down rushing rapids. With such pinpointed and clever dialogue to play with, stars MacMurray and Stanwyck get to have fun with murder, fraud and the idea of getting away with it all.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY is flawlessly constructed and structured, and is one of the greatest of film noirs. It is a world covered in shadows and smoke (cinematographer John F. Seitz earned one of seven career Oscar nods for his work), teeming with cynicism (courtesy of Wilder, Chandler and Cain), brimming with ambiguity (is Edward G. Robinson’s dumb or just playing so so he doesn’t have to be the one to bring down his protégé?), steaming with sex (Stanwyck is the quintessential femme fatale: cunning, sexy and dangerous, and with a head of locks—a phony wig—you want to run your fingers through even though it’s just another trap) and topped off with the right amount of greed, lust and mortality.
There is a line early on that sums up the genre like no other line before or since: “I killed him for money and a woman—and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”
DOUBLE INDEMNITY BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. DOUBLE INDEMNITY is one of the most exquisitely photographed film noirs of all time and Universal has done a remarkable job with the film’s Blu-ray debut by upgrading the picture while still remaining faithful to cinematographer John F. Seitz’s work. The transfer boasts a pristine image and features fine textures and details, as well as excellent contrast.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono; Spanish DTS Digital Surround 2.0 Mono. Subtitles in English, Spanish and French. The audio transfer is also stellar and features clean dialogue, balanced sounds and an immersive Miklós Rózsa score.
Introduction by Robert Osborne (2:30): Turner Classic Movies host introduces DOUBLE INDEMNITY.
Commentary with film historian Richard Schickel: Time critic Schickel offers a stellar commentary, expanding on not just the film (and specific scenes), but director Billy Wilder and his career.
Commentary with film historian/screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman: Dobbs does the majority of the talking here, but both men contribute a wealth of information regarding DOUBLE INDEMNITY and film noir as a whole.
Shadows of Suspense (37:56): This documentary uses a wealth of interviews (with the likes of director William Friedkin and author James Ellroy) to detail the history, making and legacy of DOUBLE INDEMNITY.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1973) TV Movie (1:13:53): This version, which aired on ABC nearly 40 years after the original premiered, stars Richard Crenna as Walter Neff, Samantha Eggar as Phyllis Dietrichson and Lee J. Cobb as Barton Keyes. It’s certainly not close to the quality of Billy Wilder’s classic, but it’s interesting to see a then-modern take on the story.
U.S. Theatrical Poster Reproduction
U.S. Lobby Card Reproductions
Alternate Ending Gas Chamber Still