Double Indemnity: Part One
By Michael Moriarty
The master of dialogue: Billy Wilder!
Well, he and Raymond Chandler, for the screenplay of Double Indemnity.
Two male minds, fantasizing about a woman and double indemnity!
Two gifted artists matching bad boy, Fred Mac Murray, with ruthless, bomb-shell, bad girl, Barbara Stanwyck!
With lines like: “I don’t know. I bought it in Ensinada.”
Who’s going to leave that kind of killer-nonchalance?
The call of a great actress!
Instinctively born with the “killer-glances”, both amorous and homicidal.
Walter, our bad guy, knows everything she’s plotting, even while she’s plotting it: “Let’s give him life insurance without his knowing it.”
We in the audience?
We already know we are in the hands of this film’s very nasty couple.
We stay to see them fail?!
Or do we just like the ride with Bonnie and Clyde?
Billy Wilder knew the thrill of riding with an evil couple, long before Bonny and Clyde even showed up in their car.
“Yaw wanna,” says Walter, “knock him off, don’tcha?!”
Walter’s just getting a few things straight before she jumps into bed with him.
She’s trying to play the hard-to-get mask of innocence.
He, however, reads her like he would a comic book… yet, why does he lust for her?
She might be as wildly abandoned in bed as she is in greed and possible murder?
And that is all in her eyes!
All the fires of deceit that our anti-hero would ever want to play with.
She knows exactly the price he’s demanding her to pay for the very pricey risks of helping her murder her husband.
These clearly stated realities beneath all of her “eye magic”?!
That’s why our eyes are glued to the screen.
We, as their audience, can taste criminality, without ever having committed a crime.
We’re not even an accomplice since we’re not even in the movie!
But would the movie have been made without us?
You needn’t answer that question.
Walter leaves this long scene with her, holding, as he says, a red-hot poker, which he can’t let go of.
Then, of course, she shows up at his apartment!
When she takes off her coat, we see the outline of her breasts.
It will now be very hard, almost impossible, for our anti-hero to say any kind of “no” to her about any kind of thing, for as long as he has not seen her breasts naked.
She’s taking a gamble, of course, on his utter lack of morality when she surrenders to him.
However, those eyes!
Barbara Stanwick’s eyes?!
She knows who she’s dealing with as profoundly as he does.
It’s he who grabs her, and she knew he would do it!!
They are now, as the very French describe it, “ego a deux”.
Both prepared to murder someone as easily as it has been to commit adultery.
He says, “I’m crazy about you, baby!”
She says the same thing, but not as convincingly.
I doubt if he’s even surprised at that.
However, her lack of similar enthusiasm makes him the narrator of the whole nightmare.
Clark Gable, or any, irresistible super-star like that, would have been miscast.
The nice but unimpressive Fred Mac-Murray was perfect in the role.
An excellent actor without much charisma.
That’s exactly why the character gets himself into a trap which he can’t possibly pull himself out of!
“Bourbon is fine, Walter.”
That line by Ms. Stanwyck seals the murder contract.
Before they toast their new adventure, however, Walter fills his new love and lust in on some past failures in the homicide-for-insurance-money business.
“That wife got 3-to-10 years,” he says.
Our anti-heroine’s reply to that: “Perhaps it was worth it to her.”
Would simply getting laid prove to be as similarly “worth it” for him?
While having her bourbon with water, she describes why the end of her husband might be worth her risking time in jail.
He, on the other hand, reminds her of how difficult and dangerous false insurance claims can become.
This prepares us, of course, for the entrance of “Keyes”, played by Edward G. Robinson.
Walter’s warnings to his soon-to-be-partner-in-death come purely from the depth of the passion he feels for her.
We’re hearing a narration, however, from this man who has already woken up to the depth of his stupidity.
“She started,” he tells us painfully, “crying softly, like the rain on the window.”
With writing like that during a romantic-murder plot, I’ve gotta see this love story to the end!
What a pair!
With souls like theirs, you almost don’t wonder why they dream up their failing plot.
Their nightmare was fated to happen.
With lives like those of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, however?!
“We can dream up movies and make them!!
There’s nothing tragic about these dreamers of double indemnity heaven.
Nothing Shakespeare would want to deal with.
There’s no nobility about them!
They’re certainly neither Lord nor Lady, let alone King and Queen.
They are, however, fated to meet, circle each other, conive and then become lovers in order to not only commit murder but make a possible fifty to one hundred thousand dollars together doing the murder.
And dream about leaving their drab lives!
The plotting begins.
Walter knows he needs his victim’s signature on an insurance application; but the victim hates even the idea of insurance, except, of course, the one he purchased for his previous and now-dead-wife.
Our victim of this murder?!
Not a nice guy.
At least, that’s how he sounds.
Oh, Fred Mac Murray’s performance is brilliant, particularly in his long phone confession to Edward G. Robinson.
He’s in the hell of a complete loser who has made the wrong gamble!
However, when we meet the victim?!
He’s very much not a nice guy.
Meanwhile our killers are meeting at a grocery store and trying, quite unsuccessfully to behave as if they don’t know each other.
Here we learn, the victim has just broken his leg and won’t be getting on the train that Walter had planned for him.
A change of plans?!
Not one that Walter would like.
No change of plans.
Walter even hopes that the murder never happens.
That’s how the creators of this movie get the normal, everyday but unimaginably huge audience that they hope to.
Walter, as best as his creators can, is Mr. Average American Male.
I had, however, forgotten that Edward G. Robinson or Keyes, as his character is known, wants to offer Walter a better job!
I’d forgotten that Walter, to keep his job, had taken a cut in pay. Another reason for his bitterness.
This is where the genius of the plot and its creators comes in.
We don’t care much for either the victim or the wife who wants to murder him.
We do, however, begin to live inside the world of our anti-hero, Walter.
We almost, at times, sympathize with him.
If he didn’t already know what a bad guy he’s become, we wouldn’t watch the whole film.
His recorded confession to what is clearly a friend?!
Robinson’s first scene with Mac Murrary?!
The eternally, inner-urgency-of-great-acting. If a genius at acting such as Edward G. Robinson can tell an entire story in less time?!
Meanwhile, to make this scene even more riveting, Ms. Barbara Stanwyck phones our anti-hero while Keyes is still in the room and wow!
Acting on top of acting on top of acting!
All performed impeccably by everyone involved!
Walter learns from his accomplice that the victim, her husband, despite his injured leg, is, indeed, getting on the very train they had planned to kill him on.
Keyes/Robinson’s exit line, after his job offer is rejected by Walter – who is now dreaming of double indemnity – Keyes says, “Yer not smarter, Walter, yer just a little taller.”
The writing magic between Wilder and Chandler makes me wish they’d written hundreds of screenplays together.
With so few collaborations between them, it is heartbreaking.
Our ego-a-deux, with us glued to their every next move, are off to the first and only murder of their lives.
Or so we think.
We see how meticulously Walter has thought. this through.
We learn that not only is our anti-heroine going to drive her husband to the train, her accomplice in murder, Walter, will be hidden in the back seat!
The kill will be on the way to the train.
And… yes… it happens!
They murder her husband in the car.
And the film is only half-over.
Ms. Stanwyck’s eyes!
The glint of victory and, yes, “Job done!”
Impressively victorious villainy!!
That job done?!
It’s time for Walter to play the dead husband, making sure that “the last time we saw our victim?”
“It was on the train.”
Last minute instructions, insistently stated by Walter during their walk to the train, and acknowledged by a now, disturbingly calm fellow-killer.
With a perfect score by Miklos Rozsa behind them, the movie rolls on to their seeming victory.
They seemed to haven’t missed a bet.
Even a last-minute witness to her husband’s presence on the train spoke with him and actually went back, for our killer’s imitation of our victim, to get him a cigar.
What more, if you were planning to murder someone, could you ask for?!
Now Walter jumps from the back of the train at the planned meeting-spot!
She’s there and, it would seem, they are off to freedom and possibly 100,000 dollars.
Part Two of this will carry you even further into this unstoppably hypnotic nightmare.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at email@example.com. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty