So you bought a life insurance policy.
I sincerely hope you enjoy the feeling that you did something selfless for your family. Because that warm feeling is the only thing that life insurance is good for.
You’re very likely to leave your family with more money if you take the insurance payments and invest them yourself.
The money that you give away to the insurance company is used for everything but your family’s needs. It is used to pay the insurance salesman who ripped you off. It is used to pay the claims managers who try to find ways to avoid paying your next of kin when you die.
Besides being a waste of money, buying life insurance has another troubling side effect: It makes it financially beneficial for someone to root for your untimely death. Or even to kill you.
“Double Indemnity” is one of the greatest films of all time, and it is the only one I can think of that explores the corrupting force of life insurance.
Fred MacMurray is fantastic as Walter Neff: a handsome, confident Los Angeles insurance salesman. He’s basically Don Draper with fewer emotional issues.
Walter’s life starts to get very interesting when he knocks on the door of desperate housewife Phyllis Dietrich (Barbara Stanwyck). Walter and Phyllis flirt like pros, and it isn’t too long before Phyllis asks to take out a hefty accidental death policy on her husband.
And then, of course, they hatch a plot to kill him and pocket the money.
It sounds like a cookie-cutter Alfred Hitchcock movie. But writer/director Billy Wilder is much more interesting than Hitchcock. This is not a thriller; it’s an exploration of what makes an average guy like Walter Neff become a murderer and how his sophisticated murder scheme unravels. The answer to both questions is: the insurance industry.
If Walter had sold vacuum cleaners or encyclopedias, he never would have found himself in this awful mess.
This was 1944. It was no secret that every man could kill if put in the proper situation. Just as mild-mannered Klaus Schmidt was capable of being a guard at a death camp because of the evil leadership in Berlin, Walter Neff was capable of killing a man for profit because of the evil insurance industry.
At its heart, “Double Indemnity” is a sweet, unexpected love story between Walter … and his nerdy co-worker Barton Keyes (the amazing Edward G. Robinson).
Barton is a genius. He has the mind of an actuarial statistician and the instincts of a master detective. He urges Walter to quit selling insurance and join him in the Fraud Investigation department. Then, tragically, Barton ends up slowly unraveling the mystery of the Dietrich murder, dooming his best friend Walter in the process.
“Double Indemnity” is film noir at its very best.
It’s also a devastating indictment of the insurance industry and its corrupting influence. Reducing a life to its monetary value is an ugly business.