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. Universal’s treatment is lush, so if you’re even a casual fan of film noir, this is a must own release.
Video: How does it look?
Double Indemnity is presented in full frame, as intended. The print is not pristine, but it has minor defects at worst, which is impressive. A light amount of grain is present and debris can be seen at times, but on the whole, the print looks incredible. The image is never soft, so detail is excellent and the visuals have a good depth level. This does not look like a film made in 1944, as it is much crisper and cleaner than most movies from this period. I saw no problems with contrast, as black levels were stark and consistent, just as we’d want. All in all, a fantastic visual effort for an older picture, so kudos to Universal.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono track covers the basics, but as 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 Warner 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?
The first audio commentary track is with Richard Schickel, who has a passion for the film and is enthused with his session. He offers a lot of details and while not in depth, his discussion is enjoyable. The other track is with Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, who don’t have quite the same passion, or at least it doesn’t come across. Even so, they have a broader scope of information to share. There is also a featurette on the film’s production, which was more in depth than I had expected. You’ll find a good deal of insightful interviews, so don’t miss this piece. The second disc is home to the 1973 television remake, which stinks. But hey, its a supplement and if nothing else, it makes you appreciate the original even more.