Walter Neff: Who’d you think I was anyway? The guy that walks into a good looking dame’s front parlour and says, “Good afternoon, I sell accident insurance on husbands… you got one that’s been around too long? One you’d like to turn into a little hard cash?”
R: This is a lot less convoluted than The Maltese Falcon, and as a result I found myself really getting into it. it probably helps that it’s so damn quotable too, don’t you think, baby?
F: Yes I agree. I find it odd how my main issue with The Maltese Falcon was how it didn’t do enough to surprise me. Whereas this tells you in the opening scene how it’s going to end yet I was still hooked by that journey.
R: It’s that thing Hitchcock said: if you show two people eating at a table and then out of nowhere a bomb goes off, well that’s fine, you get a few seconds of surprise and excitement from it. But if at the start of the scene you show the audience a bomb ticking under the table, then suddenly the mundane dinner conversation is cut with phenomenal tension. This movie uses that trick a lot, and very effectively.
F: I’ve never heard that from Hitchcock before but it’s very true. I think the main character of a Walter Neff is interesting – obviously naive and completely infatuated with Mrs Dietrichson – but he comes across a bit sleazy at the beginning too. Credit to Fred MacMurray who manages to keep the character charming throughout though.
R: Sure, but I think it’s the dialogue more than the acting that makes the character charming. In fact the performances of the leads might be the weakest element of the film. They stray the wrong side of goofy sometimes, don’t you think?
F: No I think I’d disagree. I actually really believed the femme fatale role and the poor sucker who gets dragged into her world. And I enjoyed the performances a lot. But I did enjoy the unravelling of the story more!
R: It’s quite an achievement to make the world of insurance claim investigation so exciting, but it’s also the thing that gives the film a unique flavour. It’s not some hard-boiled cop unravelling the crimes here, it’s a chirpy office worker. Barton Keyes is the standout character for me – he’s certainly got a lot of the best lines.
F: Yes he’s a lot of fun. I also enjoy the mention of actuaries in the second Billy Wilder film on the list! This is quite different in style to The Apartment but I enjoyed both a lot!
Is it worthy of the top 100?
R: It’s a simple story but told very effectively. It’s a yes from me.
F: Yes I enjoyed this a lot.