By Anna

My weekly review routine consists of watching a movie, writing my initial thoughts, reading Ebert’s take and writing my end thoughts.

This time, my initial thoughts were: This early film noir lacks feeling. I wasn’t convinced of its characters’ motivations to commit murder, and the femme fatale wasn’t the strong heroine I thought she would be. Though I was convinced that the voice-over flashback storyline pulled me in and that it’s one of the most cleverly dialoged screenplays I’ve ever seen.

For example, when Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) first meet there’s never a moment without sexual tension—from the minute they see each other. The innuendos of the 1940s don’t get any better than this:

Neff: How fast was I going, officer?

Phyllis: I’d say about ninety.

Neff: Suppose you get down of your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

Neff: Suppose it doesn’t take.

Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.

I also recognized that the relationship to watch wasn’t the one between Neff and Phyllis, as clever as those pulp characters are, it was the one between Neff and his boss Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) that was sagacious and veritable.

Then I read Ebert’s criticism of the film. “They’re (Neff and Phyllis) intoxicated by their personal styles. Styles learned in the movies and from radio and the detective magazines,” writes Ebert.

Ebert also agrees that it’s the father-like relationship with Keyes that acts as Neff’s conscience and perhaps knows Neff is involved, though we’re never quite sure.

And all of the sudden it became one of my favorite films of all time.

There’s deeper psychological amorphism going on with Neff as he continually lights Keyes’ cigarettes with a match throughout the film (just a bad ass flick of his nail on the match, reinforcing the “coolness” that he diffuses, practices). He loves the older man like a father, and in the final scene Keyes lights Neff’s cigarette—he loves him like a son.

Someday I’ll stop reading Ebert and start figuring out why a movie is great all on my own, but for now I’ll leave you with his words on Director Billy Wilder:

Double Indemnity was his third film as a director. That early in his career, he was already cocky enough to begin a thriller with the lines “I killed him for money—and for a woman. I didn’t get the money. And I didn’t get the woman.” And end it with the hero saying, “I love you too” to Edward G. Robinson.

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