Not Rated Dir: Billy Wilder | Universal | 1h 47min
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?
Originally released as a stand alone disc by Image in 1998, the film has seen another incarnation on DVD in 2006. This is the first time that the film has appeared on Blu-ray, so we had to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Thankfully, Double Indemnity looks pretty darn good and it’s not that much of a surprise since the 2006 DVD looked ok as well. Black and white films seem to really have a lush look and feel when viewed in HD and I’ll come right out and say that this doesn’t look like a movie that’s now 70 years old. Contrast is rich and strong while blacks are dark and deep. It’s not perfect, by any means, but the few errors that were noticeable were quickly dismissed as a sign of the age of the film. Suffice it to say that this is, by far, the best this classic has looked.
Audio: How does it sound?
The DTS HD Master Audio 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 Universal 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?
As previously mentioned, this was a two disc release back in 2006 by Universal and all of the supplements found there have been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
- Audio Commentary – The first of two, 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.
- Audio Commentary – The second track is a bit more widespread with Lem Dobbs and Film Historian Nick Redman taking part. Redman does most of the talking, but it’s more along the lines of the history of the film and some stories about Wilder. For more information, go with Schickel’s track.
- Introduction by Robert Osborne – Osborne gives us an introduction to the film.
- 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.
- Double Indemnity TV Movie – Released in 1973, this is essentially a remake of the film.
- Lobby Cards – A trio of lobby cards are found as is a postcard movie poster and some stills of the alternate ending to the film.
- Theatrical Trailer