Fred MacMurray sells insurance in this 1944 movie. He vibrates with all the cliches about folks who sell insurance, except he's sorta honest. Just like most of the things that happen to you in life, it takes a pair of gams up to there along with a set of perky pointers to turn him. The first time we see Barbara Stanwyck in the film, she's standing at the top of a staircase with nothing on but a towel and an ankle bracelet. MacMurray starts at the ankle bracelet and works his way up, just like I did. And when you get to the top of that snapshot, there's a face to die for. And he will.
Billy Wilder took a pretty big chance here in having MacMurray tell you how the story ends before you've even taken a mouthful of popcorn. But that's the thing about a great story: It can start anywhere and work its way backwards or forwards, as long as all the twists and turns won't be sorted out until the screen says ~FIN~.
No matter how you feel about Edward G. Robinson, you've got to love him in this flick. He plays the claims manager who can spot a fraudulent claim quicker than Jerrold Nadler can spot the dessert tray in a crowded restaurant. He calls his instinct his "little man inside," which is quite funny when you think about the Short Man Complex by which Robinson must have been victimized. When he stands next to MacMurray in the movie, as he does a lot, his eyes are at navel level. He's constantly smoking huge cigars which always seem to need a light when he and MacMurray are talking. The quirky trademark of the film, aside from Stanwyck's ankle bracelet (which gets mentioned at least a dozen times, it seems) is MacMurray lighting Robinson's cigar for him with a thumbnail one-handed strike of the match. You can guess the little ironic twist on this motif at the end of the film when Freddie boy lies in the doorway of the insurance company's building, totally fucked by fate, women, and a bullet. Notice, if you will, that the final cigarette he'll light up in a very smoky movie is coated in his own blood. Likely, he'll not even get to enjoy it before the cops come and start the process (which went very quickly back in logical times) which will have him in the gas chamber with some really toxic secondhand fumes. By the way, have you ever tried lighting a wooden match with your thumbnail? You scrape off a little bit of that match head under your thumbnail when you're wowing folks with this little parlor trick and it'll make that "overfilled Zippo lighter fluid burn" on your leg seem like kid's play.
I don't know why I love this movie so much. There are other film noir flicks out there which are much better. Most of them have Bogart in them. The chemistry between him and Bacall was so much nastier and more wonderful than what MacMurray and Stanwyck manage in this one. MacMurray calls her "baby" all the time, and that does start to grate on your nerves after a while. But it's the intricate plot line that makes it so tasty, I suppose. We actually believe that this idea of fixing up an accidental death life insurance policy on the stiff of a loser she's married to comes to them, as in a dream or a vision, and that MacMurray is sucked in because it's as much his idea as it is hers. She plays him like a Hohner harmonica, in B flat, and watching him (and you) figure out just how fucking evil this broad is -- that's where the fun's at.
James M. Cain wrote the novel from which Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, taking a lucrative break from his Philip Marlowe books, squeezed out a screenplay. Cain also wrote Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice. If you're wondering how this one did come Oscar time, the three major awards that year all went to Going My Way? Billy Wilder did win Best Director the following year for The Lost Weekend, which also won Best Picture.
In this era of anything goes, and it better damn well go if you want box office, it's refreshing to see a film here where the only penetration you see consummated by the hot to trot couple is in the form of a few bullets fired at each other. I guess Freud would have had a field day with that one.