Double Indemnity(1944) was the first movie to be written and directed by Billy Wilder. For those who may not hugely knowledgable of his work, Wilder is an Austrian screenwriter who immigrated to the US to avoid World War 2. He worked with a group of 3 other notable people in the film industry at the time including a man named Edgar Ulmer. Random Fact: Ulmer will be used as the inspiration for the character of Erin Ulmer, played by Alexz Johnson, in Final Destination 3, probably one of the more modern and clear homages to this old and influencial team. Wilder, after the success of his silent film People On Sunday, eventually worked with Charles Brackett. This writing team would become famous and influencial to this day on films and future screenwriters. After seeing horrible direction to his script of That Certain Age Wilder decided he would never let anyone direct his work but himself. This leads us to his journey into darker films which start with Double Indemnity.
It opens with a man hobbling into an office building, turning on a mic, and then recounting what happened addressing a man named "Keyes". He is sure Keyes will see his account different than what happened and after some setup starts his tale at the beginning.
This film is about an insurance salesman named Walter Neff(Fred MacMurray) who falls in love with a married woman named Phyllis Dietrichson(Barbara Stanwyck) while on a routine business visit to renew auto insurance. Phyllis hints she wants to buy Accident Insurance and kill her husband for the money she'd collect. Neff would have none of it and storms out. Neff knows his boss at the firm, Barton Keyes(Edward G. Robinson) would catch anything that looks suspicious crossing his desk in an insurance report and will refuse to pay out anything he thinks doesn't quite feel right. Phyllis visits him late that night for a subtle second chance at getting the insurance claim made, but without her husband knowing about it. Neff, after some conflicting moral thoughts decides that he's going to help Phyllis kill her husband so that he can be with her and she can collect the $50,000 accident insurance claim. Some time later they create a plan to get his signature with a witness present. Before leaving, and after succeeding in getting the signature, he asks Phyllis about her husband's upcoming trip. After saying he drives he tells her he needs to take the train.
The reasoning for this is simple. Insurance can pay out double in the event of highly unlikely circumstances. This is called a Double Indemnity clause. If Phyllis' husband dies on a train she will get paid $100,000 instead of $50,000. They both work and develop plans to try and find the best way to get her husband on a train and kill him there.
The actual way they decide how they're going to do this is worth watching the movie to see as well as how they carry it out. Neff, thinking of his highly attuned boss tries to cover all his bases so that when Keyes looks at the file there will be no question it was accidental death and the money will be rewarded. Things all look clear until another late night visit, this time by Keyes, makes everything seem to unravel.
This is definitely one of the earliest thrillers old Hollywood churned out.The ending itself is exactly like all previous Wilder movies ending quickly after the climax with little resolution. Surprisingly, Neff's opening monologue tells you very little about how the film actually ends. I've seen a lot of Billy Wilder movies in a very short time, and this one, with its change away from a central love story to the darker world of desire versus duty makes it stand out. Unless you're really until movies or a film student I don't suspect many will give this movie a watch, but it was very entertaining and shows the emerging style of a writer who would influence Hollywood and screen writing to this day.