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Friday, June 26, 2009

Double Indemnity (1944) - Insurance and murder

Double indemnity is a clause or provision in a life insurance or accident policy whereby the company agrees to pay the stated multiple (e.g. double) of the face amount in the contract in cases of accidental death. An accidental death is a death that is neither intentionally caused by a human being, such as homicide, nor from natural causes, such as cancer or heart disease. The probability of a death in the United Stated arising from accidental reasons has a low probability, and hence double indemnity is an insurance scenario that is sold cheaply. As you might think, for a couple where either member is thinking of separating and is willing to become a criminal, the thought of bumping off your spouse in a way that the death can be claimed as an accidental death can seem very attractive. But not all the plans in life work out, and the insurance industry has sleuths who investigate accidental death cases in order to rule out any fraud.

Double Indemnity (1944) starring  Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson and directed by Billy Wilder

Double Indemnity is a multiple Oscar nominated movie, released in 1944, and directed by Billy Wilder, based on the theme of Double Indemnity where a wife seeks to get her husband murdered, with the depiction as an accident. The movie was based on a novella by James M. Cain of the same name, that appeared over 8 issues of the 1935 edition of Liberty magazine. The story is based on the 1927 case of a lady based in Queens, Ruth Snyder, who along with her lover got her husband murdered after he took out an insurance scheme with a double indemnity clause.
The movie plays out in flashback, with Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman for Pacific All-Risk dictating his story into a dictaphone for the benefit of his colleague, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who is a claims adjuster, and investigating the same case that Neff is intimately involved in. Neff is in his death throes, being shot and badly wounded.
The story was that Neff met Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) at her house when he had gone to renew the car insurance of her husband. They flirt, and then Barbara asks Neff how to take out a new insurance policy on her husband without her husband getting to know, something that causes the suspicious antenna on Neff to start working, for a person in the insurance business, that question is very fishy, and he suspects that she wants her husband killed. He refuses, but she follows him to his house and persuades him to become part of a plan to kill her husband. They work out a plan where her husband falls from a moving train.
The insurance company sends Keyes to investigate, who after some initial hesitation, concludes that Barbara must have a hand in this murder. He has no knowledge about the involvement of Neff. Then Lola, the dead man's daughter and the step-daughter of Phyllis comes to Neff for help, especially since her mother had died when Phyllis was taking care of her as a nurse. Neff soon realizes that Phyllis is also seeing Lola's boy-friend, and soon realizes that he can get Phyllis and the boy-friend to become the main suspects.
Neff has a confrontation with Phyllis, and Phyllis shoots first, but does not shoot again, refraining from making the killing attack; accepting that her refusal to shoot again means she could now be in love with Neff. She hugs Neff, who then shoots her dead. Neff drives back to the office, for the end of the flashback, and collapses on the floor of the office after making his confession, in time for Keyes to hear everything.

Oscar nominations;
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Barbara Stanwyck)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Director (Billy Wilder)
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
Best Picture
Academy Award for Best Sound, recording
Best Writing, Screenplay