(NOTE: This review has mild spoilers, it doesn’t spoiler everything, but I would possibly recommend watching the film first). I was left completely speechless. From the opening shot to the absolutely genius ending shot, this film drew me in. The film begins with Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman who returns to his office building one night and begins to record a message for a colleague at his work, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). All we know from the start is that Walter has committed murder, we have no access to other details which gives the film a perfect setup to make the viewer be extremely curious as to what is going on. Afterwards, it begins to be told in flashback as Walter records his message which allows for narration that does not feel forced because well, he’s recording a message. Right off the bat, I noticed how great the fast, snappy dialogue was as Walter meets and begins a conversation with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). This fast dialogue is a huge advantage to the film because not only does it allow for smartly written lines and a well-paced film, it even allows for the occasional moment of comic relief because it never feels out of place.
Walter and Phyllis eventually seem to like each other even though Phyllis is married, she hates her husband, he’s always drunk, never talks to her, and sometimes even beats her. Walter is there to talk insurance but Phyllis’ husband is not there, Walter decides to take the opportunity to flirt with Phyllis. She brushes him off at first but eventually meets him at his home. This meeting at Walter’s home leads to the two deciding to kill Phyllis’ husband and using the double indemnity clause for insurance to allow Phyllis’ to get $100,000 rather than $50,000 by making it seem Walter’s death was an accident. This is all only in maybe the first twenty minutes which displays how ingenious the film’s dialogue is, it allows for a lot to get done in a short amount of time. The performances by the two leads are incredible, you can always see in the two leads eyes that something isn’t right. Phyllis has a cold, sinister look in her eyes throughout. Walter has a look of confidence but eventual worry as the murder plays out.
Easily one of the best aspects of the film is the amazing use of shadows which is a staple in the classic noir genre. Not only is it used as a piece of characterization, but it’s used to give the film a beautiful, unique, stylistic look that could more than likely only be done in black and white. Throughout the film, Walter lights a match for Barton Keyes for his cigarettes and I was wondering throughout, “Why would they keep on showing that?” And on the final shot, I understood. It allowed for a genius parallel in what is probably one of my favorite final shots of a film ever due to its simplicity and use of said parallel. If anything, this is a definitive piece of cinema. Not only is it filled with some of the best twists in film with double crossing and smart writing, it is stuffed with genius camera work, perfect performances, and snappy dialogue that gives the film a unique touch and great pacing. Ultimately, this is a film that anyone who loves a good mystery should watch but most importantly, anybody who studies film, should give this one a watch. This is filmmaking perfection at it’s finest.