Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Double Indemnity (1944)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Double Indemnity (1944)

In Billy Wilder's classic film noir suspense/thriller - it was a witty, hard-boiled screenplay with a flashbacked story, and became one of the greatest, darkest film noirs of all time, and one of the best films of the 40s. The cynical, witty, and sleazy thriller was about adultery, corruption and murder. Other noirs (classic and neo-noir) with similar themes included The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Body Heat (1981), and The Last Seduction (1994). This great film noir received no Academy Awards, although it was nominated in seven categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress.

Its brilliant script was based on the 1943 crime novel by James M. Cain, scripted by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. In the novel, the main characters were named Walter Huff and Phyllis Nirdlinger.

This masterpiece represented the peak of 'film noir'. Both lead actors, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (both playing against type) gave the performances of their careers, with MacMurray providing an effective first-person narration. Although the film had a steamy crime plot (an adulterous evil woman plotted the murder of her husband through her association with an insurance investigator), it was able to follow the prescriptions of the Hays Code while still infusing the story with controversial sex and murder scenes.

The plot was told in a flashback (with a tense voice-over narration) by the seriously-wounded protagonist - an insurance salesman who fell hard for a blonde-wigged, sexy housewife with a shiny anklet. The femme fatale enticed him into a scheme to murder her husband, in order to fraudulently collect a double indemnity accident policy pay-off. A perceptive, dogged, co-worker insurance claims agent became suspicious and began to unravel the case. In the uncompromising ending, the two lovers plotted against each other and ended up trying to kill each other.

  • the intriguing opening title sequence followed the path of insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) with crutches in the middle of the night, who painfully entered a downtown Los Angeles office building - the Pacific All-Risk Insurance Company; he took the elevator to the 12th floor to his office, where he began the film's haunting flashbacked narrative (mostly into a Dictaphone recording device) - a confession dictated about a murder and how he was implicated: ("Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?")
  • earlier, Neff had been shot by a woman (and had retaliated by killing her with two point-blank gunblasts). Would he survive before an ambulance arrived, or would his wish for death (either from blood loss or from the San Quentin gas chamber) come true?
  • his story began with the extremely memorable, introductory entrance of cool, enticing, pretty blonde-wigged with bangs femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck); the persuasive, sinister, brassy, shrewd, predatory and dissatisfied housewife first emerged draped in a towel on account of being interrupted while sunbathing
  • at the top of a stairs landing in her Spanish-styled Glendale, CA home, she looked down and asked bewitchingly of smart-talking agent Walter Neff standing below her in her front hallway during a routine call: "Is there anything I can do?"; she noted that she wasn't "fully covered"; taking her in lustfully, he slyly joked about the Dietrichsons' car-insurance "coverage"; she said that she didn't mind talking about the policies: "If you'll wait till I put something on, I'll be right down"

Pictures of Phyllis' Husband and Daughter Lola (by Her First Husband)

Typical Noirish Lighting - Venetian Blinds Casting Shadows
  • as Neff waited in the living room, he noticed family pictures (of her husband and daughter by her first husband), and thought to himself: "I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me... and I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us"
  • soon after she dressed, the camera focused on her legs (from Neff's point-of-view as he observed her approach) where she wore an engraved, gold ankle strap on her left ankle, flashing it at him as she came down the stairs; he also watched her exhibitionism as she finished buttoning up her blouse and put on her lipstick in front of a mirror

Her Gold Anklet Viewed When Descending Stairs

Buttoning Up Her Blouse
  • in a classic sequence in her living room filled with sexual innuendo, he first complimented her ("That's a honey of an anklet you're wearing, Mrs. Dietrichson"); before speaking about his offer of reduced-price accident insurance, they playfully and flirtatiously engaged in a double-entendre, bantering conversation about "speeding" and "traffic tickets" - a driving/fast car metaphor. She coyly countered his advances and rebuffed him: "There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour" - she claimed he was going 90 mph; he was immediately entranced and attracted to her, but even early on, he understood her lethal, strangely-calculating look and smell, thinking as he returned to his office:

    It was a hot afternoon, and I can still remember the smell of honeysuckle all along that street. How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?...But I kept thinking about Phyllis Dietrichson - and the way that anklet of hers cut into her leg.

  • Neff worked with Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), an inflexible, expert 26-year veteran claims investigator who was capable of quickly spotting dishonest claims; Keyes bragged about his finely-tuned ability to detect false claims, by his possession of his own intuitive "little man" that was capable of shrewdly detecting, rooting out, and punishing evil; before leaving Keyes' office, Neff quickly lit a wooden match for his friend's cigar (one of many such instances in the film)
  • during their subsequent second business conversation in her home the next afternoon (without the maid or her husband present), Phyllis described her older, boring husband's (Tom Powers) dangerous profession with the drilling crews in the Long Beach oil fields. And she complained about her loveless, emotionless marriage:

    He has a lot on his mind. He doesn't seem to want to listen to anything except maybe a baseball game on the radio. Sometimes we sit here all evening and never say a word to each other....So I just sit and knit.

  • obviously an experienced predator and knowing of Neff's undisguised lustful interest in her, she inquired about buying an accident insurance (a double-indemnity policy) for her husband - without him knowing about it - "without bothering him at all...he needn't know anything about it." At first, Neff was suspicious of her motives: ("Look, baby. You can't get away with it. You want to knock him off, don't ya?...Boy, what a dope you must think I am!") and thought he was clever to reject her - and promptly left - with his voice-over commentary: "So I let her have it, straight between the eyes. She didn't fool me for a minute, not this time. I knew I had ahold of a red hot poker, and the time to drop it was before it burned my hand off"
  • but then like a moth to a flame/light, he remained allured by her: "I was all twisted up inside and I was still holding on to that red-hot poker. And right then it came over me that I hadn't walked out on anything at all, that the hope was too strong, that this wasn't the end between her and me. It was only the beginning"
  • in his darkly-lit apartment that same evening at about 8 pm, Phyllis appeared at his doorway, on the pretense of returning his hat from earlier that afternoon, although her real intent was to entice him into a dangerous affair; she peeled off her coat, and was revealed to be wearing a very tight, form-fitting white sweater designed to excite him
  • by the wet window pane, Phyllis reiterated more about the suffocating relationship she had in her marriage; she told how she was trapped like a caged animal in a loveless marriage to her domineering and mean husband Dietrichson (in his second marriage): "I feel as if he was watching me. Not that he cares, not anymore. But he keeps me on a leash so tight I can't breathe"
By the Wet Window Pane - an Impulsive Kiss
(Neff: "I'm crazy about you, baby" Phyllis: "I'm crazy about you, Walter"
  • but as she drifted away from Neff to leave, he grabbed her by the wrist and kissed her, feverishly telling her:

    Walter: I'm crazy about you, baby.
    Phyllis: I'm crazy about you, Walter.
    Walter: The perfume on your hair. What's the name of it?
    Phyllis: I don't know. I bought it in Ensenada.
    Walter: You ought to have some of that pink wine to go with it. The kind that bubbles. All I got is bourbon.
    Phyllis: Bourbon is fine, Walter.

  • back in the living room with their drinks, Phyllis again explained about being trapped in a loveless marriage to her domineering and mean husband Dietrichson. She was unable to convince the hateful Mr. Dietrichson to grant her a divorce. She married him out of pity after the death of his first wife (who was sick for a long time), when she served as the wife's nurse. Phyllis imagined killing her husband in an enclosed garage by carbon monoxide poisoning
On the Sofa - Phyllis Explaining How She Was Trapped, and Comforted by Neff
  • Phyllis cried about her predicament as he held her on the sofa. He put his arms around her and told her: "And I don't want you to hang, baby. Stop thinking about it, will ya?" But Neff admitted that he was taken by her teary-eyed seductiveness, in a flash-forward to his dictation
  • when the scene tracked/dissolved back to Walter's apartment the same evening, it was implied that they had sex in the interim; Neff reclined on the sofa smoking a cigarette, and Phyllis was fixing her makeup; she expressed her disdain about returning to her husband; Neff had already decided to join her in scheming to kill her husband and help her make it look like an accident - to collect on her husband's accident insurance policy; he assured her that they were going to do it with a brilliant, scheming plot:

    Phyllis: "I hate him. I loathe going back to him. You believe me, don't you, Walter?"
    Walter: "Sure I believe you." (They kissed.)
    Phyllis: "I can't stand it anymore. What if they did hang me?"
    Walter: "They're not going to hang you, baby."
    Phyllis: "It's better than going on this way."
    Walter: "They're not gonna hang you because you're gonna do it and I'm gonna help you."
    Phyllis: "Do you know what you're saying?"
    Walter: "Sure I know what I'm saying. We're gonna do it and we're gonna do it right. And I'm the guy that knows how."

  • a kiss (and more during a dissolve) sealed the murderous pact between them. He grabbed her tightly and dug his fingers into her arm. Neff expressed himself with a fierce determination in his voice, vowing that everything must be perfection "straight down the line."

    There's not going to be any slip up. Nothing sloppy, nothing weak, it's gotta be perfect. (They kissed each other and then he led her toward the door.) Call me tomorrow. But not from your house. From a booth. And watch your step every single minute. This has gotta be perfect, do ya understand? Straight down the line.

  • as she went out the door, she repeated his words: "Straight down the line." Ultimately, she had convinced Neff to murder her unsuspecting, boring husband (and make it look like an accident)

Dietrichson's Step-Daughter Lola (Jean Heather)

Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers)
  • Neff met a few nights later with Mr. Dietrichson to sign up for the auto insurance renewal; Dietrichson's step-daughter Lola (Jean Heather) served as a witness; Neff was able to get the distracted Dietrichson to sign what he thought was his renewal application for an auto insurance policy; he was easily duped and actually signed with his second signature, a $50,000 accident insurance policy with double indemnity provisions; in a side-plot, Lola was deceptively going out with penniless, 25 year-old Italian boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr)
  • the two conspirators continued to meet surreptitiously, often talking in a supermarket over shelves stocked with groceries, to cooly and clandestinely discuss the complicated details of the planned murder (that was required to be on a train, so they could share 'double indemnity' accident insurance proceeds of $100,000 dollars) and wait for the right set of circumstances to arise; it was feared there would be a delay when Dietrichson broke his leg at work
  • the nerve-wracking murder sequence occurred as Phyllis drove her husband (with crutches and his left leg in a cast) to the train station in Glendale, CA to travel to Palo Alto, CA for a 4-day Stanford University annual class reunion - Neff in the back seat reached from behind and killed Mr. Dietrichson by breaking his neck; a camera close-up of Phyllis's unmoving, stoic, and stony face staring straight ahead was all that was revealed during the murder that was brutally carried out on the seat next to her
  • after the murder, Neff masqueraded as Dietrichson (with crutches), and boarded the San Francisco-bound train, and then he jumped off the moving train shortly later when it slowed, and rendezvoused with Phyllis to "replace" himself on the tracks with the already-dead husband; it was made to look like Dietrichson was killed when he fell off the train
  • and then, in one of the film's most gripping and tense scenes, after committing the murderous crime, their car refused to start three times as the car motor sputtered again and again for many agonizing moments
  • the police suspected no foul play, but the plan went awry when Dietrichson's accident insurance claim went to dogged agent Keyes for investigation; the Insurance Company President Edward S. Norton (Richard Gaines) was unwilling to pay and kept stating that the death was a suicide (and therefore the company wasn't liable); the bereaved "widow" Mrs. Dietrichson appeared in the office and criticized Norton for coldly rejecting the case
  • in an unforgettable, rapid-fire speech-monologue, Keyes contemplated the suicide angle, and rattled off suicide statistics and various ways to commit suicide (each with subdivision categories) as he explained to Norton how unlikely it was for someone to commit suicide by jumping off a slow-moving train; he actually illustrated how the Dietrichson claim was probably a legitimate accident claim: ("And do you know how fast that train was going at the point where the body was found? 15 miles an hour. Now, how can anybody jump off a slow-moving train like that with any kind of expectation that he would kill himself? No, no soap, Mr. Norton. We're sunk and we'll have to pay through the nose, and you know it")
  • in another tense scene, Neff's co-worker and friend Keyes, paid an unexpected visit to Neff's apartment; he kept pondering to himself about how the "little man" inside him sensed fraud (he sensed it was neither suicide nor an accident); after their conversation, as Keyes left for the elevator in the hallway, Phyllis ducked behind Walter's open door to escape notice
  • meanwhile, Lola met with Neff and raised his suspicions about Phyllis, whom she accused of repeated foul play and pre-meditated murder (of her mother six years earlier, and now her step-father) for financial gain
  • Keyes kept pressing his suspicious hunches with his fellow insurance worker Walter: "This Dietrichson business. It's murder, and murders don't come any neater. As fancy a piece of homicide as anybody ever ran into. Smart, tricky, almost perfect - but...I think Papa has it all figured out"; he explained his new theory, exactly similar to the real murder scheme, a conspiratorial scheme by Phyllis and "somebody else." He felt that the "perfect" murder was already coming apart at the seams: ("They've committed a murder. And it's not like taking a trolley ride together where they can get off at different stops. They're stuck with each other and they've got to ride all the way to the end of the line and it's a one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery"); he spoke about how the two homicidal conspirators were on a deadly, one-way trolley "ride together...all the way to the end of the line"
  • back at the supermarket, Neff explained to Phyllis how everything was falling apart - Keyes had figured it all out, had an expert witness, and was rejecting her accident claim; things were becoming strained between Neff and Phyllis, and she was suspicious about Neff's secret meetings with Lola; he began to imagine seeing Phyllis dead, and not riding all the way "to the end of the line" with her
A Worried Encounter Between Neff and Phyllis Back in the Supermarket
  • the next time they met - in view of the Hollywood Bowl, Lola told Walter that she was suspicious that an affair was being conducted between Phyllis and her ex-boyfriend Nino Zachetti; Lola believed they were partners in crime in the murder of her father; Keyes even confirmed with Neff that it was likely that Zachetti was Phyllis' accomplice, and that Neff was not the "somebody else"; Walter phoned Phyllis and made plans to meet her that night at 11 o'clock at her house - to get rid of Phyllis himself and have Zachetti framed for both murders
  • as the film was wrapping up, a deadly double-cross scene took place between the two conspirators in the darkened Dietrichson living room where Phyllis sat awaiting Neff; when he arrived, she admitted that they were both rotten: Phyllis: "We're both rotten." Neff: "Only you're a little more rotten. You got me to take care of your husband for ya"
  • Neff had intentions to kill Phyllis, but she upstaged him with 'plans of her own' - to persuade Zachetti to kill Lola; as Neff closed the window curtains, she pulled out a concealed, shiny, metallic gun planted under her chair - Phyllis shot Neff once in the shoulder and he taunted her to finish him off with another shot: ("You can do better than that, can't ya, baby? Better try again. Maybe if I came a little closer? How's this? Think you can do it now?"), but she lowered her gun and hesitated to kill him for some reason (because of her love for him, or because of her conscience?)
In the Darkened Living Room, Phyllis Pulling Out Concealed Gun and Wounding Neff in the Shoulder
  • he took her gun away, and she admitted her rottenness again and that she had used him: "I'm rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said." But he didn't "buy" her act that she couldn't fire a second shot because she loved him; then during a final erotic embrace after she asked to be held close and she surrendered to him in his arms, she drew slightly back in surprise and fear, realizing that it was her final moment when she sensed the barrel of his gun against her chest; Walter grimly shot her with two point-blank gunshots at point-blank range into her chest, as he coldly told her: ("Goodbye, baby")
Final Erotic Encounter and Embrace - Neff: "Good-bye, baby"
  • after murdering Phyllis, as he left the house, Neff had second thoughts about carrying out his frame-up of Zachetti when he saw him about to enter the house; he told Zachetti that he must go to the corner drugstore, call Lola, and reconcile himself to her
  • as the flashback ended, Keyes confronted Neff recording into a dictaphone in the office building at 4:30 am; Keyes had listened to much of Neff's confession and told him: "Walter, you're all washed up"; Neff mentioned how Keyes' hadn't figured out his crime: ("'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close, right across the desk from you"); as the insurance agent was dying slumped in a doorway, he was offered a light for his cigarette by Keyes (a reversal of their normal relationship)

Walter Neff's Sweaty, Dying Confession in His Office - Start of Flashback

Insurance Agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Front Foyer of Dietrichson House

Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) Caught Sunbathing

Sexual Banter in Phyllis Dietrichson's Living Room While Discussing Insurance Matters

"There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff"

"How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?"

Neff's Colleague - Inquisitive Claims Adjuster Keyes (Edward G. Robinson): "My little man tells me"

First Instance of Neff Lighting Keyes' Cigar

Second Meeting at Her Home - Inquiries About the Purchase of Insurance For Her Husband (Without His Knowledge)

Phyllis' Unannounced Appearance at 8 PM at Walter's Apt. Doorway

After a Transition, the Implication That They Had Sex Together (off-screen)

The Roots of a Dangerous Plan in His Apartment to Kill Her Husband For Insurance Money

The Vow Between Them: "Straight down the line"

Mr. Dietrichson Fooled Into Signing a Car Accident Policy and a Life Insurance Policy

A Surreptitious and Furtive Meeting Between Walter and Phyllis in Jerry's Supermarket

Phyllis' Cold-Hearted Stare During Murder of Her Husband by Neff Hiding in Back Seat

Neff Masquerading as Dietrichson, With Crutches

After the Murder, The Car Refused to Start

Dogged Investigator Keyes' Suicide Statistics Speech to Reluctant-to-Pay Insurance Company President Norton

Phyllis Hiding Behind Neff's Apartment Door in the Hallway

Keyes Explaining His Hunches to Neff (Who Nervously Listened) About the Conspirators

Lola's Suspicions That Nino and Phyllis Killed Her Step-Father

Walter's Diversion of Nino After Murdering Phyllis

Flashback Over: A Dying Neff Confessing to Barton Keyes in Conclusion


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