Our guest blogger today is Sara McGuyer, a marketing strategist for SmallBox Web and film editor for My Old Kentucky Blog.
In Double Indemnity, unhappy housewife Phyllis Deitrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) entertains fantasies of offing her husband. Trouble is, she doesn’t want to pull this one off alone. An innocent visit about expiring auto policies from insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) presents the perfect partner-in-crime.
In their first meeting, Phyllis floats down a flight of winding stairs looking immaculately put together from her overly-coiffed blonde wig to the anklet Neff fixates upon. She greets him with, “I hope I’ve got my face on straight.” In front of a small mirror in the living room, she adds another layer of lipstick for good measure, with Neff salivating over her shoulder. “Perfect for my money,” he replies.
You know how the story is going to end, and it doesn’t matter one bit. Just listening to Phyllis and Walter talk is worth the price of admission. Every line delivered is it’s own little piece of art. Based on James M. Cain’s novella, then adapted for the screen by director Billy Wilder and novelist Raymond Chandler, Double Indemnity is one of the films where script and delivery are perfectly married.
The “suppose” exchange is one of my favorite scenes in any movie:
Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I’d say around ninety.
Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter: Suppose it doesn’t take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.
Why don’t people talk like this in real life? It doesn’t take long for Deitrichson to twist Neff’s obvious attraction into something more, and though he sees the femme fatale in Phyllis right from the start, once in, he goes all in. Instead of trying for a regular payout, he pushes for the double indemnity clause that allows double payout for accidental deaths. But of course, as the movie poster from 1944 said, You can’t kiss away murder.
If you haven’t seen this film noir classic, you’re in luck. You can catch Double Indemnity tonight as part of the Summer Nights Series.