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Category:    Home > Reviews > Film Noir > Detective > Drama > Literature > Double Indemnity (1944/Universal 2-Disc DVD Special Legacy Series Edition)

Double Indemnity (1944/Universal DVD 2-Disc Special Edition)

Picture: B- Sound: C+ Extras: B+ Film: A

PLEASE NOTE: This film is now in 4K from Criterion and you can read more about it at this link:


Classics are by far the hardest films to write current reviews for. The reason for that is mainly because so much has already been written over the years that it becomes difficult to find fresh new ways to talk about the film. However, certain films lend themselves well because as time goes on... the film evolves. Such is the case with 1944's Double Indemnity. I must confess that when it comes to the classic Noir's this was a film I had seen much later than many of the others from its generation. I was already quite familiar with the likes of Carol Reed's The Third Man or Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. I was also appreciative of some of the B-films like Anthony Mann's T-Men and Raw Deal. Other great films like Laura and Panic in the Streets or Key Largo, The Asphalt Jungle, and The Maltese Falcon engrossed me equally, but none of these films were even close to my love and understanding of Double Indemnity. The only film that even came close was Laura, which has been reviewed elsewhere on this site (like most films discussed here.) The chemistry is impeccable in both cases, which is one of the reasons both have dated well, but also have been highly imitated.

Billy Wilder has been the cause for many of my beloved films, including this one in particular, but also Sunset Boulevard. Double Indemnity was his first masterpiece though. Of course in the 1950s and 1960s he really hit a more mainstream stride with films like Some Like it Hot and The Apartment or The Seven Year Itch, but it's Double Indemnity that lives on and prospers as a film that can be seen and seen again, but always impresses and sustains a high level of appreciation by both film lovers and critics. It's also a film that is highly imitated, but usually not in a clever updated way, but rather in tired ignorant ways. Luckily, this new 2-Disc Special Edition will enable viewers to revisit the film with a glorious new transfer and a load of extras.

One of the most prominent ways that this film was influential is the character portrayal of Phyllis Dietrichson (played by the always incredible Barbara Stanwyck). She is by far one of the greatest leading ladies to ever hit the screen and this is one of my favorite roles alongside The Lady Eve (a superb Preston Sturges comedy) and Forty Guns (a must-see Sam Fuller picture). She is also one of the few actresses to have the range to play this particular part, which is that of a cold, calculated, yet manipulative seductress/killer. Here she carries such incredible charm and wit as she uses her attractive looks to talk insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into an insurance fraud scheme that also happens to involve murder.

They are 'supposedly' in-love with one another when she renews her husbands automobile policy with Mr. Neff, but the story unfolds as the case is investigated by Investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) and the entire plot unfolds gracefully frame by frame in a very serious, smart, and sometimes zany way. The plot rests heavily on its actor's abilities to be convincing in multiple ways, which work incredibly well here. All of the performances are on the money and Wilder's abilities to create tension and dynamics are easily seen. The film is based on the James M. Cain novel and was adapted for the film by Wilder and also Raymond Chandler. He also penned The Big Sleep and was the creator behind the Philip Marlowe character (notably seen in 1973's Robert Altman masterpiece The Long Goodbye). Apparently, Chandler and Wilder did not get along at all during the process and it's amazing that they were able to co-write the final script, but that's another one of those stories behind the story that is usually equally as entertaining.

Double Indemnity is written incredibly well, acted perfectly, and that's not all. The film was photographed by John F. Seitz, who was also responsible for one of my all-time favorite films Sullivan's Travels as well as The Lost Weekend, worked again on Sunset Boulevard with Wilder, and a few other solid films. This is by far his most impressive work. Add to that the memorable and powerful score by Miklos Rozsa and you have all the key ingredients for a fantastic, groundbreaking film.

So does this film hold up after all these years and has Universal's new Special Edition done the film justice? The answers to both of those questions is the same... YES YES YES! Universal knows that this film is a winner and still a well-respected film that is highly sought after. Because of this fact they have paid careful attention this time around by making sure that the film meets more of the modern standards. This newly restored edition finally gives life back into the incredible black & white photography that it deserves. Previously this film was available for a short time through Image Entertainment, but the DVD contained no extras and looked terrible. It was muddy, overly grainy, and did not have a great contrast of black and white. There is far more clarity in this new edition and despite some moments that certainly show its age, it looks incredible. This DVD set is an obvious no-brainer for Film-Noir lovers.

This new set boasts a huge amount of extras including a Richard Schickel commentary track that tends to be slightly dry at times, but very informative just like his work on many of the Criterion Edition DVDs. There is yet another commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Lem Dobbs, and Film Historian Nick Redman [sadly NOT on he Criterion 4K disc] that is equally great and probably more enjoyable as it puts the film into a more modern text with explanations on the film. There is also a nearly 40-minute documentary called 'Shadows of Suspense' that is fantastic as well and includes some comments by William Friedkin and others. The film comes with a quick introduction by Robert Osborne and also contains the 1973 made-for-TV version of the film that runs 75-minutes. It's interesting that it's even on here given as how it pales in comparison. It stars Richard Crenna as Walter Neff and Lee J. Cobb as Barton Keyes, but it's a nightmare of a film to waddle through after seeing the original.

The 1.33 X 1 picture is well-done and probably about as good as it can get on the DVD format for a film of its age. Having two commentary tracks may have caused for some of the video compression, but it’s not a big issue. It's great just having a clean print with lots of great contrast and mood. The cinematography comes across well with just enough grain to fit the film right. Most people complain about too much digital enhancement and restoration taking away the grain factor, but that is not the case here. The lossy 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono audio track sounds fairly clean with only a few moments of unwanted noise, but overall is pleasing. I don't believe that much has been done though with the sound over the previously released Image DVD.

This is not a hard film to entice people with and neither is this DVD. If you want a classic film than look no further. This is great entertainment and a film worth revisiting again and again.

- Nate Goss


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