(1944) dir. Billy Wilder
Considered by many to be one of the high water marks of the film noir period, Billy Wilder’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is certainly worth its reputation. One could say that alone for the performances of Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. It’s quite a revelation to see the dad of My Three Sons, which I totally grew up on, talking tough, smoking, planning murder, sexing up a skirt, and saying “Baby” like he means it. Killer.
The film script was co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, so this thing has the total noir pedigree. Some beautiful cinematography, some great dialogue, and a good ride, all the way.
It’s funny,…I like noir, I got especially into crime fiction even more than film noir, but there is a certain type that is attracted to the genre. It’s like another form of geekdom like those who like anime. The difference is that they all like to think of themselves as gritty and tough and full of cynical views of the world.
To me, one of the things about noir that I like is the way that it evolved from German Expressionism, an evolution that is almost literal and non-metaphorical. As Hitler and the Nazis rose to power, many artists in Eastern Europe escaped to America, deeply penetrating Hollywood and bringing much of their aesthetics with them. The difference is that the darkness and horror that defined Expressionism became integrated with the urban experience and the cultural milieu of America during and post-war. They left behind the fantasy aspects of horror and situated it within more recognizable constructs as crime and the elements of the modern world.
The writing had been there for some time. Dashiell Hammett and others, writing for Black Mask among other publications, created a world view and writing style that preceded the filmic versions of themselves. In film school, they point out that film noir is not a genre but a style. The irony is that it almost has become a sub-genre in our contemporary world. That doesn’t change the masterpieces of the original, real period.
Double Indemnity is a great film noir, I would say, much as others do. I have others that I prefer for varying reasons, but it’s a well-earned classic and it’s a good book too.