Double Indemnity: Criterion Collection (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

A Los Angeles insurance representative lets an alluring housewife seduce him into a scheme of insurance fraud and murder that arouses the suspicion of his colleague, an insurance investigator.

July 27, 2022 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) has found success in the insurance business, but he has become bored with lifestyle. But a little excitement creeps in when he least suspects it, as part of a routine visit to renew a client’s insurance. He makes a stop at the home of a client to get some papers signed, only to find he isn’t home, though his wife is. She is Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and he finds her in only a towel, sitting on the stairs. The vision remains with him long after the visit, as his boredom is shattered by the glimpse of this beautiful woman in just her towel. Phyllis is also bored, as her husband has lost a good amount of money in recent business deals and in truth, true love wasn’t her motive for marriage. In Walter, she sees a chance to not only spice up her life a little, but also regain financial stability. She convinces him to sell her husband a high payoff double indemnity policy, in the case of his accidental death. Then she wants Walter to help her kill her husband and frame the death within the guidelines of the insurance mandate. Walter knows he is on a bad track, but he has fallen under her spell and agrees to get involved. But will the two be able to pull off this plan and even if so, has Walter become part of a plan that is deeper than he ever imagined?

If you’re a fan of film noir, then Double Indemnity is the one movie your collection isn’t complete without, no doubt about it. This is the epicenter of the genre, the movie that broke ground and opened the door for all of the genre productions that followed. The movie takes concepts like murder and betrayal and takes them to another level, one in which redemption and justice aren’t always found. The characters weren’t stereotypes or drawn down the middle, as everyone is shown to have a dark side. The tone and themes explored in Double Indemnity would serve as guideposts for the film noir cinema to come and while others found success, few could come close to what Billy Wilder achieved here. Wilder was able to navigate the censors like no one else could at the time, taking film noir beyond its former limitations and redefining how the genre could work. At the same time, the tension and atmosphere are superb, so this isn’t just an example of pushing boundaries. Not only does the film break new ground, it does so with a great story, top notch direction, and high entertainment levels. This is simply an excellent film and of course, deserves a high recommendation.

Video: How does it look?

On the surface, this might not seem the best candidate for a 4K offering. The movie was released in 1944, so with that much time having passed, it’s really hard to tell how it’d turn out. Then again this is a highly-regarded film and, let’s face it, Criterion rarely (if ever) drops the ball when it comes to how their titles look.

For those that like the super technical stuff, here you go:

This new 4K digital restoration was created from a 35mm nitrate composite fine-grain held by the British Film Institute, which was scanned in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner, in pinless/archival mode due to shrinkage of the film. A 35mm safety duplicate negative, created in 1986 from a fine-grain that now no longer exists, was used to replace frames missing from the BFI’s element. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the nitrate fine-grain. On the 4K Blu-ray disc, the feature is presented in Dolby Vision HDR (high dynamic range). On the Blu-ray, it is presented in high-definition SDR (standard dynamic range).

I don’t entirely understand all of that, but what I do know is that this is, by far, the best the film has ever looked. I broke out my old Universal Blu-ray and did a few comparisons of that one versus this one and there’s hardly a comparison to make. Being a black and white film, the HDR are even more important and this “film noir” embraces that – the picture is stunning. Details are sharp, contrast is amazing as well. There are a few blips here and there, but nothing that really raised my eyebrow. Considering the age of the film, it deserves the perfect score.

Audio: How does it sound?

The LPCM mono mix is present and is the norm with the format, it does little else. But it works well here and I think a new mix would be a waste of resources, so kudos to Criterion for keeping with the original tracks on most of their classic releases. I found this to be a solid experience and aside from some slight hiss, this track never slips up too much. The music seems well mixed here, the sound effects remain clear and distinct, and the main focus, the dialogue, is crisp and shows no flaws in the end. This release also includes a Spanish language track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Disc One (4K)

  • Audio Commentary – This was also found on Universal’s Blu-ray. Historian and critic Richard Schickel gives us a pretty good and informative screen-specific commentary. Schickel was a friend of Wilder and his knowledge of the Director and film are obvious. It’s a great track.

Disc Two (Blu-ray)

  • Audio Commentary – This was also found on Universal’s Blu-ray. Historian and critic Richard Schickel gives us a pretty good and informative screen-specific commentary. Schickel was a friend of Wilder and his knowledge of the Director and film are obvious. It’s a great track.
  • Shadows of Suspense – A 40 minute documentary that gives us the history of the film, it’s lasting influence and the process from script to screen. Very informative.
  • Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith –  Film critics Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith discuss the long-lasting appeal of the film, the tone and style and its genre-defining status as the best film noir ever.
  • Noah Isenberg – Noah Isenberg, editor of Billy Wilder on Assignment: Dispatches from Weimar Berlin and Interwar Vienna, gives us the lowdown on the director and a brief history of the man and his films.
  • Radio Plays – Two radio plays are included, usually a staple of films from the Criterion Collection with older movies.
    • The Screen Guild Theater – broadcast on March 5, 1945.
    • Lux Radio Theatre – broadcast on October 30, 1950.
  •  Theatrical Trailer

Disc Three (Blu-ray)

  • Billy, How Did You Do It? – A three-part series that was originally broadcast on the BBC.
    • Episode 1
    • Episode 2
    • Episode 3

The Bottom Line

Double Indemnity is, without a doubt one of the greatest – if not THE greatest film noir ever made. It’s seen many incarnations over the years from DVD to Blu-ray and now in the capable hands of Criterion in 4K. It looks and sounds as good as it ever has and a few new supplements have been included as well. This deserves a spot in every film-lover’s collection.

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