There is no more important noir film than Double Indemnity. It is the story of an insurance salesman who works with the married woman he is seeing to plot her husband’s death, in such a way so that they both cash in on an accidental death payout.
It contains all of the themes that best represent noir, full of darkness, cynicism, passion, lust, betrayal, dishonesty, murder, and tragedy. The fast-talking characters are a joy to watch and listen to, each major character (and actor) electric with intelligence and wit. Barbara Stanwyck plays the ultimate femme fatale, a ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, with little care for human life, who uses her sexuality as a weapon. And Fred MacMurray, as the film’s protagonist, gives a performance upon which countless noir characters would be based moving forward. A noir protagonist is most often either an anti-hero (very frequently with a heart of gold), or a morally ambiguous character who does some truly evil things. MacMurray’s insurance man falls into the latter character, a man who doesn’t need much of a push (or really any push at all) from the femme fatale to make the transition into becoming a murderer.
I hadn’t seen this one since college, somewhere around 10 years ago. Watching it again, with different sensitivities and sensibilities, was really great. This film deserves all of the attention and praise which is lavished upon it. It pushed boundaries and challenged content codes, combining with the great filmmaking on display to earn its place firmly in the Hollywood canon.