This is the story of a beautiful blonde sociopath and an insurance salesman too smart for his own good.
Fred MacMurray plays (against type) the conniving Walter Neff, who tries to play his employee’s system and get a big payoff. A seemingly normal and level-headed guy when introduced in the story, he completely loses all his wits when he meets the amazing Phyllis Dietrich – played by Barbara Stanwyck. Apparently, the smell of honeysuckle perfume and one glance at a gold anklet will strip a man of all reason.
Well, not quite all. When Neff conspires with Phyllis to have her horrible hubby sign a life insurance policy without reading it, then bump him off, he arranges it to look like an accident. Under those conditions, Phyllis gets double the payoff. (Thus, the movie’s name.)
Unfortunately for Neff, he has a very annoying conscience, among other things. His boss, played by Edward G. Robinson, eventually smells a rat. Plus there’s the poor, innocent step-daughter, who fills Neff in on the fact that Phyllis is a homicidal loonie.
As you can guess, none of this ends well.
Oh, but the movie’s lines (co-written by the awesome Raymond Chandler) are so good. They are part of what makes this film so memorable.
The counterpoint of humor and darkness is inspired, as shown in scenes like these:
Despite Neff’s utter stupidity, he manages to get some satisfaction at the end. But like the best film noir, his efforts aren’t enough to save him.
This classic film noir gets two thumbs up!