When you know “whodunit,” the questions become more complex, and the murder takes second to what it’s like to be a murderer, or more specifically, a co-murderer.
“Double Indemnity” (1944, unrated), Billy Wilder’s classic film noir, will screen at 6:30 p.m. Thursday upstairs at Mesa Public Library as part of its ongoing Free Film Series.
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) sells insurance, but when he meets Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), wearing only her towel, he forgets all about her husband’s lapse in coverage.
Other than her sharp wit and ability to dress quickly, Neff doesn’t know much about her. Nevertheless, he engages her in a plan to off her beloved, now quite well-insured in the case of an accident — doubly insured should the accident occur on a train.
The murder goes off with only the smallest of hitches, but that doesn’t mean happily ever after for Neff and Dietrichson. The lovers still need to fool Neff’s boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), who has a “little man” inside himself who always knows when someone’s pulling a scam.
In the spirit of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Neff’s own little man tortures him every day with possibilities: how Keyes might deduce their scheme, how Dietrichson might not exactly be the lustful object of desire to which his libido had reduced her.
It’s dangerous enough to commit murder by oneself; to do the deed with a near stranger might be fatal.
Wilder does a beautiful job directing this edgy, cagey, moody, shrewd, foolheaded, foxy film, and while the acting is spot on throughout, Stanwyck in particular does a great job of concealment. By the end, “Double Indemnity” is a whodunit, because we never quite know who Dietrichson is or what she really wants, though it’s probably not something Neff can provide.
The film series is sponsored by Friends of Los Alamos County Libraries.