Double Indemnity (1944)

Article excerpt

Double Indemnity (1944)

Universal Legacy Series:

Special Edition

1.33:1 (Full Frame)

Dolby Digital Monaural

Universal Home Entertainment, $26.98

"I killed Dietrichson. Me, Walter Neff, insurance salesmen, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars - till a while ago, that is. Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman." This confession is made by Neff (Fred MacMurray) to his Dictaphone, as he sits shrouded in his dark office while his fresh gunshot wounds bleed. Knowing the recording will reach his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), Neff proceeds to detail a sordid, sinister tale of murder, insurance fraud and double-crosses. He tells of smoldering, crafty housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who enlists Neff to help in a scheme to defraud the insurance company; and he tries to explain why and how he helped Phyllis dispatch her husband so they could collect on the "double indemnity" clause in an insurance contract they'd swindled him into signing.

Billy Wilder's classic film adaptation of James M. Cain's Double Indemnity is perhaps the quintessential film-noir thriller from the 1940s. The picture was deftly photographed by veteran cinematographer John Seitz, ASC (Sullivan's Travels, This Gun for Hire), who, together with art directors Hans Dreier and Hal Pereira, created a now-legendary landscape of stark contrasts, dark corners and multi-layered shadows. Although film noir had roots in earlier films, many consider the visual texture of Double Indemnity to be the hallmark of the genre. The consistent use of sharply contrasting lighting, sparely decorated locations, bold shafts of light diffused through window blinds or cigarette smoke, and a generally expressive, darker slant on the proceedings was a stark departure from the highly saturated look that characterized the growing number of color films at the time. Seitz's luminous, monochrome schematic, with a nearly infinite gray scale, perfectly suits and heightens the tension of Double Indemnity's grim narrative. So effective was his work that it was nominated for an Academy Award and went on to influence dozens of films made in the noir tradition for another decade.

After postponing the release several times, Universal Home Entertainment has at last reissued Double Indemnity as a digitally remastered two-disc special edition that sports the Universal Legacy Series Moniker. …