When a film is given the label of “film noir” you know you are probably in for a dark, criminal tale. I personally think this is one of the most difficult genres for a film to attempt. It has to strike a delicate balance between making you care about the characters but at the same time you can’t help but often be repulsed by the actions of the characters. Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” is one of the finest examples of the “film noir” genre. Although it did not win any Academy Awards, it has consistently been listed as one of greatest films of all time and is one of the “go to” examples for its genre. So does a film that so finely represents a genre deserve to be labeled a classic? Read on to find out my opinion!
Should this film be considered a classic? I said earlier that I think film noir is a very challenging genre to get right. Well, “Double Indemnity” gets it right. The narrative of the film is set in such a way that Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) essentially gives the entire plot away in the first moments of the film. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like that approach, but it actually worked very well. The story built tension because the viewer is kept waiting for the inevitable downfall of the characters all the while hoping that maybe the narrative at the beginning was meant to be a curve ball to throw them off track. I love how the story starts out fairly innocuously with characters who no one would expect to get into criminal mischief, but by the end of the film they have become so completely engulfed in their plot that it ends up destroying them. The main characters are insurance salesman Walter Neff and desperate housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (played with cold perfection by Barbara Stanwyck). The film plays out like a reverse “whodunnit.” We know who did it from the beginning and the rest of the film fills in the plot details of how mild mannered Walter Neff could end up being a cold blooded criminal.
Would I own this film? Yes, I really enjoyed watching it. It was nice after watching a number of modern movies to get back to some more classic cinema. This film is a fine example of the film noir genre and tells its story in an engaging way. The pacing might seem a little slow at times, but even in the slower scenes the tension is slowly building to a boiling point and to the great ending of the film. You should definitely pick this one up if you enjoy film noir or if you just enjoy a solid suspenseful movie.