Double Indemnity (1944)

doubleindemnity_6Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, John Philliber

Directed by Billy Wilder

Expectations: Very high. I love this one.

fourstar


Double Indemnity is the film noir genre at the top of its game. Fred MacMurray stars as Walter Neff, an insurance salesman, and the film opens as he staggers into his office in the middle of the night. He sits down at his desk, grabs the Dictaphone mic and begins to record his tale for the benefit of his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). This “opening at the ending” trick is always a good one, and the framing bits in Double Indemnity are among the best that cinema has to offer. As Neff’s story begins, he’s out on a routine policy renewal for the auto insurance of a Mr. Dietrichson. But he’s not home, so Neff deals with Dietrichson’s wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). After some quick banter and a ton of sexual energy centered around Phyllis’s anklet, the film is off to a juicy start, unfolding its engaging plot at a flawless, even pace that never dulls.

Adapted from a James M. Cain novel, Double Indemnity‘s script is a thing of beauty. Written by Billy Wilder and detective novelist Raymond Chandler, the dialogue zings off the page at a 100 mph. This isn’t quite the rapid-fire of His Girl Friday, but the sleazy, double-crossing characters knock witty lines back and forth as effortlessly as a couple of tennis pros. There are moments when the dialogue does feel a bit overwritten, but when the acting is as superb as it is here, little things like that just fall by the wayside.

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Ace in the Hole (1951)

Ace in the Hole_01Ace in the Hole (1951)
AKA The Big Carnival

Starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal, Lewis Martin, John Berkes, Frances Dominguez, Gene Evans

Directed by Billy Wilder

Expectations: Very high. This has been on the watchlist for years.

fourstar


Many years ago, my good friend Uncle Jasper told me about this movie Ace in the Hole. He said something like, “You gotta see it, Will. You’ll love it.” At the time we were both heavily into Billy Wilder’s films, so I made a mental note to see it when I could. The film proved rather hard to track down, though, as it had never been released to DVD and its VHS release had long since gone out of print. But the real reason is most likely my penchant for procrastination, because even when Criterion put out a stunning edition of the film in 2007, I decided to watch it later. This time it was because sometime in the mid-2000s I had tired of watching classic films, so I thought I’d wait until a better time presented itself. But as those who also procrastinate will know, there never is a better time and before you know it another five years have passed. So that’s why Ace in the Hole was the first film I locked in for my Blind Spot list, and honestly, I think the experience was even better for waiting.

Ace in the Hole starts with a pompous journalist riding in his car into Albuquerque, NM… behind a tow truck. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a big-time journalist from New York, but he’s a little down on his luck. He lost his job so he’s come to Albuquerque in hopes of landing something quick and repairing his reputation through a dynamite story that makes headlines nationwide. Even though the paper in Albuquerque mostly covers local interest stories like fairs and rattlesnake events, he’s confident he can drum up something. Tatum’s confidence is his overwhelming trait, but his entrance via tow truck shows us that he’s also something of an unreliable force and not as self-sufficient as he’d like us to believe.

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