Images of America

A Social and Historical Look
at America Through the Movies

Study Guide - Double Indemnity (1944)

Director : Billy Wilder

Stars :
Fred MacMurray .... Walter Neff
Barbara Stanwyck .... Phyllis Dietrichson
Edward G. Robinson .... Barton Keyes

Preparation :
Read the movie reviews at

Historical/Social Significance :
The film's story was based on a real-life crime in March of 1927 perpetrated by married Queens, NY housewife Ruth (Brown) Snyder and her lover, a 32 year-old corset salesman Judd Gray. She persuaded her "Lover Boy" to kill her husband Albert, editor of Motor Boating magazine, after having her spouse take out a $48,000 insurance policy - with a double-indemnity clause. But their sloppy, conspiratorial murder was quickly detected and they were apprehended. Both were convicted and sentenced to death - and were electrocuted in January of 1928 at Sing Sing. - Tom Dirks

The influence of this definitive film noir can be found in other countless imitations ever since - Tom Dirks

Synopsis :
Phyllis Dietrichson seduces Insurance agent Walter Neff to help her get rid of her husband..

    Guided Questions for Viewing :
    Assessment questions will be based on the following :
  • In what way does this movie fit in as a film noir?
  • What were the motivations of femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in the movie.
  • In film noir, many of the male leads are weak, flawed men. How does Walter Neff fit this profile?
  • In film noir, lighting is often a major component. Discuss the use of fractured lighting in Double Indemnity with respect to particular scenes.
  • Many male leads who were doing criminal activities still managed to have an aura of a heroic character about them. Do you think if Phyllis Dietrichson was a male she would appear more heroic?
  • Talk about Keyes and his role in the movie. Was he the hero? Was he the main character?

Dirks, Tom. "Double Indemnity".

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