What'd you think I was anyway? A guy that's walks into a good-looking dame's front parlor and says: "Good afternoon, I sell accident insurance on husbands. You got one that's been around too long? One you'd like to turn into a little hard cash? Just give me a smile and Iíll help you collect"-- Walter Neff
With writer/director Billy Wilderís golden touch upon it, DOUBLE INDEMNITY ($27) is film noir done to perfection. Combining his talents with those of Raymond Chandler, Wilder was able to craft a screenplay based upon James M. Cainís novel, which pushed the envelope of 1940ís Hollywood censorship and garnered the duo an Academy award nomination (in addition to the six others that the film received). DOUBLE INDEMNITY also features terrific performances from its three primary actors. Barbara Stanwyck picked up a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her cool calculating performance, while Edward G. Robinson demonstrates real acting prowess and leaves an indelible impression in his supporting role. However, Fred MacMurray proves to be the filmís true revelation. MacMurray played lightweight roles for most of his career, but gave his best performances when he played against type, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE CAINE MUTINY and THE APARTMENT showed what the actor was capable of when given the right material (that allowed him to play a rat).
The plot of DOUBLE INDEMNITY follows insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into the tangled web of lust, deceit and murder spun by femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Walter is immediately attracted to the sultry housewife, when he goes to her home in order to get her husband to renew automobile insurance policy. From there, Walter is slowly drawn into Phyllisí scheme to eliminate her husband and turn a tidy profit. Of course, the only stumbling block to Walterís carefully calculated plan to stage this accidental death and collect on the policyís double indemnity clause comes in the form of insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who has second sight when it comes to spotting phony claims.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made DOUBLE INDEMNITY available on DVD in a terrific black and white presentation that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. The image on the DVD is fairly impressive for a film noir that is over sixty years old; appearing pretty crisp and reasonably well defined. Blacks are solid, while the whites are stable and pure. Additionally, contrast and grayscale are quite good. There are a few specks and other blemishes on the film elements. Grain is noticeable throughout the presentation, but is never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are a non-issue on this DVD.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is just fine for a film that is over sixty years old, as most instances of background hiss and surface noise have been scrubbed away during the mastering process. As expected, fidelity has the kind of limitations one associates with a film of this vintage, but the sound effects do manage to hold their own. As for the filmís music, it never becomes harsh or distorted and average listening levels. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the voices come across effectively. A Spanish language track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as an excellent array of supplemental materials. Film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne is on hand to provide an introduction to the film. DOUBLE INDEMNITY also comes with two separate running audio commentaries; the first is with film historian Richard Schickel, while the second includes film historian / screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman. Also featured on disc one is the excellent forty-minute documentary on the film, Shadows Of Suspense. Disc two of the set features a 1973 television remake of DOUBLE INDEMNITY that features Richard Crenna, Lee J. Cobb and Samantha Eggar, but pales in comparison to the original.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY is indeed one of the great film noirs of all time. Universalís Special Edition DVD looks great and sounds fine, not to mention offering a nice body of supplemental content. If you are a film buff or Billy Wilder fan, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a must have. Absolutely recommended.
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