Double Indemnity Movie Poster Image

Double Indemnity

Dark, dialogue-heavy classic of grim suspense.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Classic
  • Release Year: 1944
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The antihero is a once-honest man turned murderer, whose whole confession frames the movie. Even though he faces the consequences for his actions, he seems almost fatalistic, not apologetic, about his actions. But in the end he does prevent another murder. Phyllis is quite the "wicked stepmother" type, in addition to her other faults.


One man murders another with his bare hands, offscreen. Two people are shot at close range.


Phyllis seen briefly, clad demurely in a towel. Otherwise her seductive affair with Walter Neff is all talk, mood, and innuendo.

Not applicable

The tie-in novel by James M. Cain.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Quite a bit of smoking, cigarettes, and cigars.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a grim, downbeat "film noir" narrative. Evil doesn't triumph, but the main character makes bad choices and is pretty much doomed from the inception. He falls for another man's wife and tries to help her kill her husband (the woman also turns out to embody the worst sort of wicked-stepmother image, late in the story). There is nothing explicitly sensual in this narrative, even as much later "steamy erotic thrillers" copied the vibe and used it as an excuse for graphic sex and nudity. This one would merit just a PG today.

What's the story?

Told in flashback, this classic film noir centers on insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who pays a call to the home of Phyllis Dietrich (Barbara Stanwyck) and is immediately smitten with her. Glamorous Phyllis makes no secret about her unhappy marriage to an older man, and how much she'd like to see her husband get insured heavily -- and then die. Lovestruck Walter tells Phyllis that since he knows the business inside and out, he can stage a foolproof murder that will pay double. When Phyllis' husband "accidentally" breaks his neck, even Walter's sharp-eyed partner seems fooled -- temporarily. As the screws tighten on Walter, he starts to realize just how devious Phyllis can be.

Is it any good?


DOUBLE INDEMNITY has all the hallmarks of film noir – it's a moody, pessimistic crime story with strong overtones of spiritual bankruptcy and moral cynicism. The best of film noir sizzles with crackling, sardonic dialogue, veiled lust, terrific black-and-white photography, and overtones of impending doom. This is one of the best, all right, even if, like Casablanca, it's practically all talk.

Even today, these characters' jaded attitudes toward taking a life is bracingly sinister; as if right and wrong don't matter in this milieu, only getting caught or getting away with it. Add to this lack of remorse themes of obsession and betrayal and the power of great film noir is revealed.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Walter Neff, and why a smart, successful insurance salesman would throw away his life for a scheming woman. Are his motivations realistic, or more of a crossover from "film noir," the wave of pessimistic detective movies and moody crime thrillers that suddenly came out of 1940s Hollywood? What modern movies have you seen that remind you of the classic film noir style? You might get history-minded kids to look into the life and work of writers James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler who inspired this film, and even further back to the real-life 1927 Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray murder case that inspired this movie.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 24, 1944
DVD/Streaming release date:January 28, 1998
Cast:Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Fred MacMurray
Director:Billy Wilder
Studio:Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Run time:104 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written byFilmNoir March 15, 2011

High school type of film

I really liked Double Indemnity, it's a work of genius, it takes the aspects of film noir and times them by 10, which is one of the reasons it is such an important part of noir history. It's based off the book that was written by by Cain, but at the time Cain was already working for a film studio, so Chandler, who wrote "The Big Sleep" worked with Billy Wilder to create the script for the film. They hated each other though, but it produced a wonderful movie nonetheless. The movie "Double Indemnity" takes the dark lighting to the extreme so that there are scenes where it is hard to see what is happening, but never too dark that you can't see at all. There isn't any violence or sex, but it is implied, you never actually see anything. It is fairly clean, but the story behind it is definitely for young adults, and not for children. I saw it in my Senior noir class a few weeks ago and, to quote my teacher, it is the "quintessential film noir".
Teen, 16 years old Written bymongofa February 12, 2011

best for young teens and up

This is Billy Wilder's first big movie and it's fantastic. It's dark and suspenseful. You wish that Fred MacMurray's character hadn't getten himself into the things he did because he seems like a nice guy. There are great plot twists. Barbara Stanwyck. Edward G Robinson and Fred MacMurray deliver great performances.
Adult Written byVoiceofthekids April 9, 2008

Pretty cool

I think this movie was based on a book, im not sure but it must have been a killer story! I love how the story unfolds, but surly not a young childeren movie, 13+ i say.