Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★★

Has there ever been a better crafter of stories in the history of cinema than Billy Wilder? Whether funny or dark (though it's usually somewhere in between), his films are perfectly constructed and proportioned: not a scene is wasted in explanation, and you can be sure the most cursory plot strand is going to be tied up before the end credits roll. And then there's the joy of listening to his characters speak: this perhaps says more about me than it does about Wilder, but I doubt I'll ever not find it staggering that this non-native speaker of English had a more peerless command of the language in several idiomatic forms than the vast majority of his contemporaries. But you watch something like Double Indemnity, and you see that not only could this man write, he could also direct: of course the hardboiled dialogue and the fatalistic narrative are important, but without the claustrophobic atmosphere he cooks up with the help of cinematographer John F. Seitz and composer Miklos Rozsa, this just wouldn't be what it is: the quintessence of film noir in just about every way, a film that perfected a style and genre before any others had the chance to and that continues to make those others - even the best of them - look wan in comparison.

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