Double Indemnity (1944)
This classic noir, penned by the not so harmonic couple Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, is so tight and industrious that we just cannot help ignoring the cheesy narration and the snappy, overly clever dialogue. The film is the smuggest of the classic noirs, but arguably also among the most engaging and well-directed as Wilder brings on the setup in the most delicate of manners before keeping us on the edge of our seats through playful shifts in the balance of power. Our protagonist, Walter Neff, is the self-assured insurance salesman for whom everything has come easy in life. And it seems this trend will continue when he meets the sexy, alluring Phyllis Dietrichson. Against Neff's cocky manner, her gentle nature and seductive ideas seem forgiving, almost ethical. This moral ambiguity is cleverly discussed by Wilder, who controls the audience almost cynically in order to be able to reap his rewards. The most remarkable feat is how the film manages to maintain a high level of suspense seemingly without hiding anything. Barbara Stanwyck's Mrs. Dietrichson is the most believable and sympathetic of the era's femme fatales, and Edward G. Robinson is the funny and unlikely voice of reason in a career best performance.