Attraction scene: Billy Wilder's 'Double Indemnity'



Unbridled lust and the siren at the top of the stairs: Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's 'Double Indemnity' (1944).

In Hollywood film noir, attraction invariably has deadly consequences.

As John Milton might have put it, it is about the desire to eat the "fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste" brings "death into the world, and all our woe". In Double Indemnity, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman who has pushed himself through the door of a house up in the hills of LA in a bid to sell an auto-renewal policy. Mr Dietrichson hasn't been returning his calls and so he decides to make a personal visit. Dietrichson is not at home but his wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), is. Neff first sees her at the top of the stairs. "Is there anything I can do," she purrs as she stands there dressed only in a bath towel with a pair of sunglasses dangling from her right hand.

The moment of the first meeting is furtive and voyeuristic but also has a comic element. Neff has come to talk about insurance and here he is, confronted with a siren who looks like Hollywood's answer to Eve. We are complicit in his guilt and titillation as he stares with such unbridled lust at her. The dialogue zings with double-entendres. "The insurance runs out on the 15th. I'd hate to think of your having a smashed fender or something while you're not... fully covered." "Perhaps I know what you mean, Mr Neff. I've just been taking a sun bed." "No pigeons around, I hope."

The salesman's attraction for Phyllis is overwhelming. In one of the most fetishistic shots in all Wilder's work, we gaze with Neff as he eyes Phyllis's long, long legs descending the staircase. Now dressed all in white, she sits coquettishly, making sure that Neff has full view of her anklet. She is the black widow, slowly drawing him into a scheme to kill her husband.

"It was a hot afternoon and I can still remember the smell of honeysuckle all the way along that street," he tells us in a voice-over as he describes the drive back to the office. "How could I know that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?"

In that instant when he sees Phyllis on the stairs, Neff sets out on the road to ruin. It is as the genre dictates a deadly attraction and Stanwyck is the quintessential femme fatale. The attraction comes laced with disgust. In film noir, an element of misogyny and sexual anxiety is always there. The woman is always to blame. It is her fault that she has lured in the man to perform some heinous deed or other. Later in Double Indemnity, Phyllis tells Neff she is "rotten to the heart", while she casually flicks cigarette ash into the carpet, just to make sure we are under no illusion she is some squeaky clean all-American girl.

The warning signs are there. It's Neff who blunders into her life rather than vice versa, but from that first moment of attraction, he can't pull himself away from her.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on