Monday, 23 April 2007

DVD: Double Indemnity

Lowdown: Billy Wilder's classic film noir.
Billy Wilder is one of those classic directors whose films I always enjoy watching. We watched Some Like It Hot not that long ago, for example, but The Apartment is by far my favorite film of his. When I stumbled upon Double Indemnity at the video store I couldn't resist renting it: it is one of those films with a reputation from here to eternity, and it happens to be film noir.
The film tells the story of an insurance agent who stumbles upon this beautiful woman and falls in her charms. One thing you can learn from this film is the subjective nature of beauty: I find the femme fatale as attractive as a toaster, but obviously she was good looking at the time in which the film was supposed to take place (1938) and at the time the film was shot (1944). Anyway, the woman convinces that insurance guy to put a policy on her husband and then to kill the husband. Given that insurance agents are evil by nature the guy falls for it (I think the tantalizing grip the woman had on him had an effect on his decision making, too), which is where the film noir effect kicks in. As of that point it's downhill for the guy. The couple goes for the double indemnity clause in the insurance policy and aim at a train murder, where - due to its low probability - the insurance money is doubled. The murder goes along well, but a perfect crime it ain't: suspicions pop all over the place and pretty quickly. The insurance agent ends up getting what all insurance agents deserve.
There is not that much to the film that stands up in particular, which is exactly why it's good. It is, indeed, classic film noir style wise, and Wilder directs it effectively in a style that never makes you notice its style. A few period related issues attract the attention, such as the way women are treated ("babe") and the way "colored" people are regarded. Let's just say we can consider ourselves to have progressed, generally speaking, even if certain countries can still elect a Bush for president.
The only problem I could find with the film is its relative lack of grip. Perhaps it was original at its time, but today it's nothing special as far as thrilling thrillers are concerned. Sure, it's nice, but it doesn't really grip you and it starts too calmly with the interest developing too slowly. By its end it's pretty gripping, but its rise to power is too gradual. That said, it is a 60 year plus old film, and one should respect it in the context of its contemporaries.
Best scene: The hate her - love her scene that takes place when the insurance agent meets the sexy lady for the first time. That's sexual tension for you, forties style.
Picture quality: It's black and white, but it's very good. Sure, one should not expect to find as much detail as the latest THX version of a major blockbuster, but for a film this old it is simply excellent. I assume not all DVD editions of this film are as good, though.
Sound quality: It's mono, but at least it doesn't sound like a lawn mower. Someone did a good job restoring the film for this DVD.
Overall: Interesting, but only 3 stars.

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