A Call Back To Double Indemnity
Billy Wilder (co-writer and director) and Raymond Chandler (co-writer) adapted the script from James M. Cain’s novel by the same name. This film is often considered to be the “How to” manual for a film-noir genre. Some say it is the template of that genre and some say it welcomed us into a new era. For me, it would always be the greatest film written for the screen that tells you how to use “call backs”. From each character to every element in the film, everything ends up on a circle. And why shouldn’t it, the entire storyline of the film deals with a character recalling his actions. Regretting and confessing while sitting on one seat, Walter Neff, our hero, played by Fred MacMurray, is a sharp insurance representative that is seduced by a wealthy woman, named Phyllis Dietrichson played by Barbara Stanwyck, for well.. money. This plotting and planning of crime spirals out, after these two love birds try to con the insurance company into paying Phyllis the Double Indemnity for her husband’s death which too was their doing. The film’s pacing is fabulous and stable. It is neither a slow burn nor a rushed entropy. Structure wise, the film is pretty standard, but personally I felt that beat wise, the film has more flips than you’d anticipate. From positive to negative, they go to an extent of deliberately not giving all the information out. For instance, the double indemnity clause isn’t introduced at first and how the “yes” and “no” of Mr. Dietrichson’s plan to go out fluctuates. These things not only balances your attitude towards the film but also adds unexpected urgency for the characters. “Straight down the line” the lead couple whispers and that is how it goes. And though layer after layer, the film opens up, it somehow remains raw in front of our eyes. There is confidence and dedication in their actions and voice and yet it easily stays fresh and like everything that is happening shouldn’t happen. Even tiny scenes are subtextual. For instance, when extras along with supporting characters whispers the theme or the current condition of the film. Like all the scenes set in a mart where they plot the next step of the plan. Even in these moments, you see people coming in and summing up the situation they are in. In terms of supporting characters, though there is a lot of love for Barton Keyes played by Edward G. Robinson as it deserves to have, I love the character Lola Dietrichson played by Jean Heather. She is basically the inner voice of our protagonist. We know that Neff is going to regret his action, sooner or later. But what the makers have done here is craft her track and shoot it with Neff. His protective nature towards her isn’t motivated with foul reasons, but is actually a fragment of his own self pleading him to come back or wake up. Lola telling him about the backstory is something that I look at it as him, Neff, just questioning Phyllis’s origin. And that is good writing.