It’s late at night as a car frantically drives through the darkness, going past the stop sign and nearly having a collision with another driver. A man who is in a hurry to turn up at his workplace in downtown Los Angeles. It stops at a halt outside of The Pacific All Risk Insurance Company. A tall guy steps out of the car donning a fedora and a long coat.
A man greets him at the entrance ” why hello there, Mr. Neff..working pretty late aren’t you..you look kind of all in, at that.” Mr. Neff doesn’t say much expect that he would rather get to his office than make small talk with a guy who can’t get life insurance because there’s something loose in his heart.
Up at the office, Walter Neff sits in the darkness of the room and slowly lights up a cigarette. His sweat visible in the shadows of the light as he picks up the dictaphone..”It all began last May. Around the end of May it was. I’d been out to Glendale to deliver a policy on some dairy trucks. On the way back I remembered this auto renewal near Los Feliz Boulevard. So I drove over there “.
Flashback to Walter Neff, an insurance salseman who works magic at his job. He goes to pay a visit to Mr. Dietrichson about some renewals on his automobiles but is greeted by his wife who stands at the top of the staircase wearing her best dressed smile, since that was all she was wearing, besides the towel wrapped around her body.
Mr Neff smirks in appreciation. He explains that her husband’s insurance ran out, all the while keeping his gaze locked onto hers. He shows he cares because “ i’d hate to think of you having a smashed fender..or something while you’re not fully covered “.
With her face on straight, she greets him in the living room while he tries to avoid those legs stretched along the couch. They breifly talk about her husbands insurance whilst Walter dons his impressive charm of 11 years In the buisness to explain the rates and charges of a new featured policy. The lady is impressed so it seems. “Your’e a smart insurance man arent you Mr. Neff? “
Walter turns his gaze back to miss long legs, ” wish you’d tell me what’s engraved on that anklet “. She responds that it’s just her name. “Phyllis”. Walter smiles once again in a way a man does when he wants to get closer to a mysterious woman. “ I think i like that. I’d have to drive it around the block a couple of times”.
There’s a speed limit in this state Mr Neff. 45 miles an hour..
How fast was I going officer?..suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Their flirtation is as hot as a red hot poker that could pierce a person’s heart. She surely appreciates these remarks and invites him back tomorrow evening. Buisness is almost forgotten in the midst of their flirtation, a saucy comeback of a conversation that only a noir movie can bring forth in full glory.
From the moment he had met Phyllis, her gaze and her honeysuckle perfume, captivated his senses. He didn’t realise such a sweet taste could turn so sour.
Feeling like a million, back at his office there was a phone message from Phyllis. She didn’t want to meet him at the appointed time they arranged, but on a thursday afternoon instead. He was a busy man with alot lined up but he couldn’t shake the feeling he had for her, “..and the way that anklet of hers cut into her leg”. He needed to see that again.
That afternoon, over iced tea, they try to get down to buisness about those renewals for the automobile, but Phyllis wants to put a break on that. “Tell me Walter, on this insurance, how much comission do you make? “..The other day a casing line snapped. It’s got me all jittery thinking about it. Suppose something like that happened to my husband..dont you think he ought to have accident insurance?”
Walter speaks his profession and casually continues to explain the captical sum and the payment if worse should come of it, which sparks far more interest in Phyllis. Unknowingly, Walter just supposes you need to think of everything when it comes to buisness.
Figeting her hands together, Phyliis tries to charm her way through her supposed innocence, so she could get an accident policy for her husband without him knowing about it. “ He’s superstitious about it. If there was a way to get it like that, all the worry would be over, you see what i mean? “
Walter and his good eyesight, realises her intentions, “Look baby you cant get away with it” and swiftly proves to bid her goodbye. He later distracts himself at bowling and drinking beer to get that sour taste out from her iced tea and everything that came with her, until she came knocking on his apartment that rainy night.
On the couch, sat this venerable lady pouring her heart out over bourbon, to a man she had managed to pull some emotional strings with. She explains her dysfunctional marriage to a drunken husband who often hits her and he’s “so mean to me. He never lets me go anywhere. He keeps me shut up. Walter i dont want to kill him”..Walter acknowledges this ” only sometimes you wish he was dead”.
Based on the novel by James M. Cain who is a brilliant writer of hardboiled crime, comes this live adaptation of equal entertainment. It’s the wonderful characters of the well suited gentleman who speaks faster than a moving train and the (almost) damsel in distress, being the perfect bombshell one could hope to lust after, that plays her seductive but tough roles so well, all parcelled in a noir setting of ‘who did it’ that I have come to love in so many novels, notably that by the works of Raymond Chandler ,who even makes his cameo in this movie.
Everyones smoking, everyone’s drinking and I’d like mine with a noir setting on the side. It’s my favourite kind of taste.
The movie is the epitome of a classic, dark noir movie I always invisioned it to be as I would read such novels through the night. The sleek, playful dialogue is smart and sharp at every turn and the narration of the voice over leaves plenty of room for admiration.
Sometimes accidents happen and somebody slips up. Sometimes you think you’ll go past unnoticed, you’re a nobody, you were never here and never there..and sometimes you think you’ve gotten it all figured out..all wrapped up in tissue paper with pink ribbons around it.
Credits: Directed by Billy Wilder, Screenplay by Raymond Chandler, based on the novel by James M. Cain
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and others
Music by: Miklos Rozsa