Super Duper Stuff – Double Indemnity

Super Duper Chris Cooper, talking about Super Duper Stuff, on Super Duper Stuff!

Double Indemnity is intoxicating, dangerous, and sexy. It wasn’t just a landmark movie when it was released in 1944, but continues to be the standard to which all other Film Noir are compared. Loved by many, it changed my personal relationship with the medium. There you go, it’s Super Duper, job done. But as this is a Super Duper Stuff piece, let’s dig a bit deeper.

I’ve always been a film lover, but in college I took a Film Studies course that really opened to my eyes to what was out there. Verisimilitude…mise en scène…I learned about it all. But they weren’t what stuck with me. Double Indemnity formed the backbone of the course and I quickly fell in love with it.

We were all allowed to borrow a VHS copy of the film to study at home, as long as we provided a £1 deposit to the teacher. Pauline knew how much I loved that film, letting me keep tape and giving me my £1 back. Thank you Pauline.

As the years went by I lost the tape, but I did pick up a DVD a few years later. Only I never watched it, until recently. I was worried that I might have been too reverent; that it wouldn’t live up to the praise I’d heaped on it. The concern that I’d placed too much of my heart into this film slipped away completely ten minutes in.

One of the best scenes in any film. Sure, people don’t talk like this in reality, but it’s so sharp!

Double Indemnity is a ruthlessly efficient film. From the lighting, to the prop and actor placement, to the dialogue; all of it tells you something. And boy that dialogue sure is something. Phyllis, Walter, and Keyes’s dialogue is razor sharp, as they constantly battle to trump one-another, full of innuendo and snark. With the film code prohibiting so much, the writing was forced to be clever; you could argue that these rules created Film Noir.

The world of Double Indemnity is one based on lies, deceit, and generally using anyone for whatever you can get. Which makes the relationship between Neff and Keyes not only all the more unique but also lends it it’s importance. Their relationship is thoughtfully and quietly built up through their interactions. Even as simple an act as lighting a cigarette takes on substantial meaning, displaying the shift in the relationship as the story progresses. Add in Keyes’s prophetic statements and you have a relationship that’s far deeper and more affectionate than any other in the film.

In stark contrast is the relationship between Walter and Phyllis. One of the biggest questions of the film is what exactly is their relationship? It all comes out in the end, but they deserve each other.

Because this isn’t a world where you can get away with it. Neff and Phyllis are so busy thinking how smart they are don’t realise it’s already over. Their comeuppance is coming at them like a train, and they’re already tied to the rails. Early on Keyes notes that Neff isn’t smarter than his colleagues, just a little taller. If only Neff knew how true that was.

An affectionate relationship in a world of deception. This is the only meaningful relationship in the film.

Speaking of Neff, one of the most amazing things about the actor behind him, Fred MacMcurray, is how this role was completely against type. Known for nice-guy roles, MacMurray shines here; liberal use of “baby” added to a fair degree of swagger form a type of character that it’s mind-boggling to think he hadn’t played before. He, like the rest of the cast, are pitch perfect.

Initially I was going to review Double Indemnity. But it deserved so much more; I can’t really do it justice. I adore Double Indemnity. It might be years before I see it again, but it’s always there whenever I think about my love of film.

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