Double Indemnity is the film version of the novel by James M. Cain. I first encountered Cain’s work a few years back when I happened upon a hardback edition of his two best-known novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. They are short works, novellas really; together, they barely break 200 pages in the collected volume.
What impresses me about Cain is how quickly he sets a scene and how minimalist his writing is. Even for pulp fiction, where the goal is to get in and get out fast, the guy’s a speed demon. While I liked Postman, I enjoyed Indemnity more; the ending is so dark, so bleak, the reader practically has to be put on suicide watch by the time it wraps.
The movie version played recently on Turner Classic Movies. It holds to the kernel of Cain’s plot, but tweaks some of the particulars, especially the ending. Fred MacMurray is the insurance salesman who hatches a scheme to kill his girlfriend’s husband, dreaming up an “accident” that will cause the poor guy’s policy to pay a double indemnity — or twice the usual amount.
Of course, the path to perfect homicide never runs smooth, and things get complicated, especially when MacMurray finds himself falling for the daughter of the man he has rubbed out. Barbara Stanwyck is the vamp who entices MacMurray to murder, and while she’s not my type, I guess I can see how he could fall so hard and so fast for her. Edward G. Robinson steals scenes as the claims investigator with a nose that can smell a faulty claim from three office doors over.
All in all, a great little film noir from director Billy Wilder, who is credited for the screenplay along with the great Raymond “Big Sleep” Chandler. They have excellent source material to work from, and the whole thing is drenched in mood, making for a chilling, enthralling night at the movies — even if “the movies” turns out to be your own comfortable living room.