Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)

Is “film noir” a genre or a style?  Film scholars have yet to answer this question satisfactorily.  Fortunately, the group of films that we call “classic film noir”—crime films made in black-and-white, released in the general period of 1941-1958—have not suffered for lack of definition.  I dare you to find a scholar who does not include Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity on any such list. 

It’s both overwhelming and exciting to see who got together to make this picture.  Double Indemnity has the incomparable Wilder at the helm, yes, but John F. Seitz (who shots other “noirs” including The Big Clock and Appointment with Danger) was nominated for Best Cinematography (Black & White)—they used to split it up—developing some of the hallmarks of the style.  Check out those living room blinds! 

 The brilliant hardboiled writer Raymond Chandler adapts the equally brilliant James M. Cain’s novel to the screen.  The hot snap of Cain’s dialogue remains.  With those words in their mouths, Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff, Edward G. Robinson’s Barton Keyes and especially Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson, set the standard for the double-crossers, mercenaries, and saps we love in the style/genre. 

If you like to watch sexy people try to get away with murder—styled perfectly by Hollywood’s greatest costume designer, Edith Head—you’ll love this one straight down the line.

—Erin Lee Mock, Director of the Program in Film Studies