The movie opens with a shot of a man, walking in crutches. The idea of it sounds harmless. And yet, with the ominous music playing and the silhouette creeping closer to the camera, the scene efficiently haunts. Within these few seconds, while credits fade in and out, noir, as a style, has already proven its efficacy. It’s an auspicious start for a film that will only get better.
The story of “Double Indemnity” is narrated by an insurance salesman named Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray). Through a dictaphone, he confesses to have taken part in a criminal scheme. It all began on a visit to the Dietrichson residence. Walter is on an errand to renew auto insurance. The husband is not present, but Phyllis, the towel-clad wife (Barbara Stanwyck), is. Walter is immediately smitten by her. At first, the two converse about insurance. After gauging their sexual chemistry, they engage in a 40s-style metaphorical flirtation. He leaves amused, itching for another visit. She tells him to come back tomorrow evening.
The next day, she cancels and tells him to come back another time. Walter obeys, but on his second visit, Mr. Dietrichson is once again absent. The insurance man becomes suspicious of the tempting wife. She claims she has relayed the information and her husband is willing to renew. And then, in an act of worry and coy, Phyllis brings up her rich husband’s hazardous line of work. She wonders of attaining an accident policy for him, but without the husband knowing. Walter instantly perceives her brazen intent.