Nominated for seven Oscars, this 1944 black and white classic stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.
The movie opens as Walter (Fred MacMurray) dictates a confession to his boss, Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Walter, an insurance agent, begins the story on the day he makes a house call regarding an automobile policy and is greeted by the client’s wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck).
Walter watches as the hypnotically beautiful Phyllis descends a staircase:
Seducing Walter with her purposeful glance, Phyllis says she gets all jittery thinking about her husband’s welfare and the fact he has no life insurance. She asks, “Is there a way to get an insurance policy on my husband’s life without him knowing about it?”
At first Walter plays along, but then, sitting opposite Phyllis, he challenges her, “You want to knock him off, don’t you?” Phyllis rebukes Walter with her response, “I think you’re rotten.”
Later that night Walter is in his apartment mulling their chance meeting when his doorbell rings. He knows immediately it’s Phyllis. She’s come to tell him he’s wrong about her, because she doesn’t want to kill her husband. She then goes on to explain why she wants to kill her husband.
But Walter warns Phyllis she’ll never get away with it because insurance claims are scrutinized by men who know more tricks than a carload of monkeys. He tells her a bad setup is like a slice of rare roast beef to a Claim Man.
Walter clutches Phyllis and explains he doesn’t want her to hang, which is why he’s going to provide a plan no Claim Man will ever catch. They will conspire to get Phyllis’ husband to sign a life insurance application, and then Phyllis will see to it her husband takes the train to his next conference because certain accidental deaths pay double the policy amount — Double Indemnity. Because Phyllis’ husband is about to fall off the back of a train.
And then they kiss.
One night soon after, Phyllis and her husband prepare for Walter’s arrival:
Walter is coming to collect the husband’s signature on an automobile insurance policy, but in the meantime Walter slips him the blank life insurance application:
As the husband applies his drunken scrawl, guess who stands in the back of the frame licking her chops?
But Phyllis isn’t the only witness in the front parlor that night. Seated in the rear corner is Lola, the husband’s grown daughter by his previous wife, who died of an illness years prior:
With the husband’s signature in place, Walter departs with a spring in his step. Except guess who is waiting for Walter in the dark car?
Days pass and the plan takes shape. Walter and Phyllis meet in the food market to exchange information so as not to be seen together.
Meanwhile, one day at the insurance office, Walter’s boss, Keyes, asks Walter if he’d like to stop making sales calls and instead become a Claim Man.
But Walter says no thanks to a desk job, because he wants to stick with sales.
Finally it’s the night Walter and Phyllis have planned for: the husband’s business trip. Phyllis offers her husband a ride to the train station, and he hobbles to the car with a cast and crutches due to an accident earlier in the week. He settles into the passenger side of the car. Unbeknownst to the husband, there’s someone hiding in the back seat.
And before you know it, Phyllis has veered off the route, down a dark street.
Then Walter dresses like the husband and fashions a pretend cast. Phyllis drops Walter off at the train station as conspicuously as possible in order to gather witnesses. Walter limps his way down the length of the train on the husband’s crutches until he reaches the last car, the Observation Deck, which is open to the night.
Walter is annoyed to discover a fellow passenger already enjoying the Observation Deck, so he devises a scheme and sends the man to a distant car for Walter’s cigars. And then Walter jumps.
But Walter isn’t hurt, and in fact lands on the predetermined spot to rendezvous with Phyllis and the dead body in her trunk. Walter drags the husband’s body to the train tracks so it looks as though he fell.
With mission accomplished, Walter and Phyllis return to their separate lives so they don’t arouse suspicion. The police conclude that Phyllis’ husband got tangled in his own crutches and fell off the train. It looks as though everything is in place, and yet a fear grips Walter, who suddenly feels as if everything will go wrong. He walks down the street but he can’t hear his own footsteps.
Days pass without issue and confidence grows, and one night Phyllis calls Walter from the pay phone in the corner drugstore.
Walter agrees to accept Phyllis’ company and readies himself for the visit when suddenly there is someone else at his door. It’s Keyes, his boss, and Keyes has a sudden hunch about Phyllis’ husband. He thinks falling off the train was no accident, and he has a hunch Phyllis didn’t act alone.
But meanwhile, guess who has arrived from the corner drugstore and is listening behind Walter’s apartment door?
After Keyes departs, Phyllis slips into Walter’s apartment where they discuss the need to proceed more cautiously.
A few days later, the husband’s grown daughter Lola visits Walter in his office and tells him a few things about Phyllis. First of all, before marrying her dad, Phyllis was her mother’s nurse and was responsible for her death. And second, Bossy can’t remember because long movie.
Walter decides to take Lola out for a drive and dinner so she doesn’t tell anyone else Phyllis killed her mother.
A few days later, Walter and Phyllis once again meet accidentally on purpose in the aisle of the grocery store to discuss the fact that the insurance office has rejected Phyllis’ claim and investigators are growing closer to the truth.
With growing sympathy for Lola, Walter allows his anger toward Phyllis to surface. He sees clearly he was used, not for love but for logistics. He tells Lola he wants off the trolley whose last stop is the cemetery.
A few days later, Walter takes Lola out for another drive. They end up sitting on the grass, talking, above the Hollywood Bowl:
And it’s here Lola confides to Walter that her boyfriend has been visiting Phyllis every day, and she suspects him of being Phyllis’ accomplice in her father’s murder.
A few days later, the insurance office confirms the same suspicion. Walter sees a chance to frame Lola’s boyfriend, and he decides to pay Phyllis a visit. A gun-packing visit.
Walter tells Phyllis he’s been nothing but a sucker, and he’s come to say goodbye. His plan is to kill Phyllis and frame Lola’s boyfriend. “We’re both rotten,” Walter says. “Only you’re a little more rotten.”
As Walter moves across the room to close a window, Phyllis fingers a hidden gun. Suddenly a gunshot. Followed by a kiss, followed by another gunshot.
Will Phyllis live to kill again? Will Walter die or go on to star in My Three Sons which is arguably the same as dying?