Double Indemnity (1944) – 4K Ultra HD Review

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Double Indemnity1944.

Directed by Billy Wilder.
With Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Byron Barr, John Philliber and Tom Powers.

SYNOPSIS:

Criterion continues its series of classic film 4K upgrades with Billy Wilder’s 1944 film, Double Indemnity. The 4K presentation is sublime and Criterion has added a pair of Blu-rays, one for a 2K copy of the film plus some bonus material and the other containing a three-hour examination of the life and career of the prolific author. .

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“Film noir” is a recognizable term for most moviegoers, but when Billy Wilder Double Indemnity Released in theaters in 1944, it was still a novel idea, leading many critics in the decades that followed to call it the first film noir. So if you’re a fan of the genre and haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance to enjoy it in glorious 4K, thanks to Criterion.

Co-written with pulp fiction author Raymond Chandler, Double Indemnity is about a seemingly mild-mannered insurance salesman named Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) who falls in love with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), the wife of one of his clients. When he makes a pass at Phyllis, she enlists him in a scheme to get her husband to involuntarily purchase accident insurance and then meet his death so she can collect double the value of the policy, also known under the name of double indemnity.

They pull off the first part of the plot, but Walter’s suspicious boss begins to question Mr. Dietrichson’s death, leading Walter to befriend Phyllis’ stepdaughter to learn more about the past of her new lover. It soon becomes clear that he could become Phyllis’ next victim, setting the stage for a climactic ending.

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Double Indemnity is notable because not only is it an early example of film noir, but the script is full of Billy Wilder’s trademark. In particular, the first time Walter meets Phyllis, their back and forth is peppered with double meanings as the pair express their interest in each other. They avoid direct language, as if they don’t want to say their true intentions out loud lest someone overhears them.

It’s also a notable movie because it’s set in Los Angeles, rather than New York, Chicago, or some other obvious choice. LA was strongly associated with the glitz and glamor of Hollywood at the time, so it was one of the rare opportunities for moviegoers to experience a seedy side of the city. And, yes, LA is still considered a glamorous city, but Double Indemnity paved the way for filmmakers to show it in a different light, like that of Curtis Hanson LA Confidential.

This film was shot in black and white, and the 4K presentation here is a sight to behold. The only other extra on the 4K disc is the commentary track, leaving plenty of room for the movie to look its best. My understanding is that Double Indemnity has suffered from a few lackluster presentations in the past, particularly with close-ups that look washed out, but the film looks gorgeous here, with lots of close-up detail and rich, inky black shadows, among other things.

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Criterion also included a pair of Blu-rays, one with the same 4K presentation (you’d probably struggle to see a difference between Blu-ray and 4K on a standard configuration) and some of the extras and the other along with the rest of the bonus features. The company also ordered a few new extras, which I’ll note below:

• Commentary Track: From 2006, this track features the late Richard Schickel providing one of those “movie class in a commentary track” discussions that Criterion is famous for. He leaves nothing to chance when examining the film, from its inception as an adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel to a legacy that continues to resonate today.

• New interview with Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith (32 minutes): The reviewing duo discuss the film inside and out, even going so far as to debate amongst themselves whether Double Indemnity is the greatest film noir.

• New interview with Noah Isenberg (18 minutes): The scholar, who edited the book Billy Wilder on assignment, looks back on the director’s long and prolific career. In particular, we learn a lot about Wilder’s early years in Europe and how his pre-World War II experiences shaped his film career in the United States.

shadows of suspense (38 minutes): This 2006 documentary delves into the history of film noir. He spends a lot of time on Double Indemnity but also reviews many other movies.

• Radio Plays (87 minutes): These are two radio adaptations of the film, one from 1945 and the other from 1950. MacMurray and Stanwyck reprise their roles for both.

Billy, how did you do? (185 mins): Featuring the entirety of the second Blu-ray disc, it’s the ultimate look at the writer/director/producer’s career, with plenty of interview footage from him and others he has influenced. It was created in 1992 for the BBC.

Also included is the original trailer for the film, along with Criterion’s usual printed booklet. This is a fold-out brochure that contains information on the restoration, as well as an essay by critic Angelica Jade Bastién.

Scintillating Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Film: ★ ★ ★

Brad Cook

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