Here is a film about a rotten person who does rotten things that behold for them rotten consequences. One, a textbook sociopath, another fool-heartedly in love, another just doing there job. These three never saw the ending coming the way it does, who could have? For when the smoke clears and the blood starts to run into the fabric of the characters, all we're left with is confessions and remorse.
Leave it to Billy Wilder to grab a hold of us no matter what the material is, the genre, the actors. With a particular potent talent for manipulating the best of any actress he wields in front of his lens. For the love a women, maybe the sex in-itself a muse all it's own for him. Some say this is one of the most important Film Noirs around. Having a secure amount of knowledge and expertise in the genre: I wholeheartedly agree.
We watch as Macmurray sells to Stanwyck's Phyllis and then it turn, as she sells right back to him. Clear and cut like a crystal the decadent actions that have taken place. But then, slowly, we see the fog roll over ore eyes as the motivations of the those action become less and less clear. And now, Macmurray doesn't know who or where to turn. Or who he can trust. Which brilliantly leads us ultimately back to his Dictaphone confession that book-ends Wilder's fascinating film.
One night, bruised, bleeding and emotionally broken, Macmurray's Walter Neff stumbles into an office at the Pacific All Risk building and yanks out a Dictaphone. After a moment he begins a terrible series of confessions through a wild tale to his boss, Edward G. Robinson's Barton Keyes played to a heartfelt success that only a man of his stature and acting deftness could provide us. And so the story goes through flashback. . .
After a routine follow-up to renew a policy on auto insurance, Macmurray's debonair Neff meets the enticing and magnetic Phyllis Dietrichson. Turns out that missing the husband at home was an opportunity in disguise. Sniffing out the scheme himself, and understanding her true intentions. Neff leaves, deciding to return again at a more convenient time for her husband. And wanting no part in the planning of his murder. Eventually after she tracks him down to his apartment, she convinces him with more than he was planning on, and concedes to her proposition.
After it becomes clear that there is much more between them, they hatch a terrible scheme to take out the husband. And I won't say whether or not it goes off without a hitch. But I'll divulge that what happens afterwords is more frightening then the murder itself.
Wilder's Women, how can you not enjoy them? You have to. You're senses and emotions and feelings give over to them. You have no choice, it's a natural human feeling Wilder taps into to invoke in us. Mine did. I did here to Stanwyck. My exterior fell before her like wheat before the scythe. I bought her hook-line-sinker-pan-fried-eaten.
It's as if he hires the men he needs to pay no attention to, like Nolan, he lets those details work themselves out, trusts them to do their jobs the exquisite way their supposed to. And then he minds the women, he pushes the camera into them, and lets them weep, or coo, love, or hate, panic or wonder around in their minds with flights of fancy and daydreams and love.
Edward G. Robinson a godsend of massive proportions. With a grip on his words and a knack for going the distance and tow the line between lovable boss and stern asshole.
Knowing it's sterling reputation and based on a trust-worthy friend's recommendation, I decided it was time to view this. And I'll tell you, please heed the caveat I gave at the beginning of this. This story has despicable people inside it, capable of even more.
And there is something be said about Jean Heather's swan song performance as Lola Dietrichson. With all the charm and infallibility of a young dove, she most certainly gets a raw deal. We can see where, had the role been a pint larger, Saoirse Ronan would be playing the part. Lola's torture through the years and her willingness to break free of her life, and make a happiness all her own. is the ultimate downfall of Neff, and what he puts himself through for what he thought was a boatload of cash and the love of his life to spend it with. Too bad for him it just wasn't that easy. But alas, how could it have been?
With one building turn to another twist, the last 20 of this will leave your head spinning and hands sweating, with Stanwyck's final scene something to truly behold. Swinging for the fences she shows the true terror of how diabolical her Phyllis can be; and just how lovely and romantic she's dying to unleash onto someone worth it. Which, in turn, breaks our hearts.
With the exception of Keyes, the ever intelligent claims adjuster, once the ball got itself rolling--that the trail it left wouldn't be bright, but visible enough to the trained eye, and able to be followed as well. Keyes. Only Robinson could have done this. At first, not exactly thrilled about signing on to a film as the third lead, he went back on those thoughts after his $100,000 paycheck (equal to Stanwyck's and Macmurray's for less shooting days even) and the chance to play characters, the screen stealing supporting roles. Juicy things that Hoffman and Giamatti have made careers from.
And how glorious does he sail through his lines. Spitting out the facts, figures and statistics of his trade with all the sharpness of a man in his heyday. But talking about this does him no justice. Take this scene for example where he tells the boss of bosses the double Indemnity clause holds water and they're paying no matter what.
(By the way, the tuxedo line is a callback to earlier where Norton made a quip about Keyes' minor unkempt dress.)
See what I mean? He's the boss. End of story.
Again, like so many other films he has (Sabrina comes to mind), we see Wilder's touch (in another segment but it's aroma is almost catch-able here) for creating the more brilliant moments where the father-figure and the son-figure have some back-n-'forth into the more delightful, stage-comedy-esque dialogue where undoubtedly some sort of inanimate object will most likely be incorporated into their words somehow.
Wilder is known for his snappy dialogue and his actor's steely delivery. Only a master-craftsman (I use it often, but what can I say? I watch awesome shit, son) could deliver this to their audiences time after time. Take this first time meeting between Stanwyck and Macmurray. Even this alone was enough for me to perform my famous "I'm sold!" hand clap.
Walter: "Phyllis huh? I think I like that."
Phyllis: "But you're not sure?"
Walter: "Well I'd have to drive it around the block a couple of times."
What starts as a slow-tap builds into a furious slap-n-serve round of intense verbal tennis between them.
How often do we get that rousing dialogue these days? Three in maybe fifty screenwriters in all the films of the year comes real close. Less maybe, in more films.
This will tingle your senses in just the way that Wilder knows how to craft. Perfectly. The way he's gifted. Charm. Grace. Humor. Intrigue. Thrills. And dramatic honesty both expected and unexpected as well.
For lest we forget, the pact these two make is to the end. To see it all through.
As Phyllis herself tells, or, reminds, Walter:
"It's straight down the line for both of us. . . Remember?"