Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde

There’s a scene in Double Indemnity where Fred MacMurray ventures out on the open platform of a moving train. Disguised as the man he just murdered, Mr. Dietrichson, MacMurray’s crooked insurance salesman is about to fake a fall from the train and collect double the insurance money. But his plan is interrupted by a chatty fellow passenger. The suspense is deliciously unbearable. You can’t wait for MacMurray to send the passenger away on a false errand. You want this murderous antihero to get away with it.

That’s what makes Double Indemnity a seminal film noir. It’s also likely why the film’s director and co-writer Billy Wilder was dubbed a cynic by the Hollywood press. In the wake of his recent death in March 2002, he’s being reevaluated in kindlier terms. People Weekly renamed him a subversive. Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss offered up this defence: “Nearly 40 years ago, critic Andrew Sarris wrote, ‘Billy Wilder is too cynical to believe even his own cynicism.’ Today we can see that Wilder was less a cynic than a premature realist.”

Cynic or subversive, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde on the set, dictatorial or self-deprecating, one thing about Wilder is clear. He’s one of the greats. His films are witty, dark, trailblazing, fatalistic and oddly empathetic. Detective stories like The Maltese Falcon end with the heroic detective triumphing over the evil underworld. Watching Double Indemnity, the audience identifies with the backstabbing murderers. And Gloria Swanson may play a deluded diva in Wilder’s greatest film Sunset Boulevard, but her desire to be loved is not grotesque, merely human.

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Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. (2020, Jan 31). Retrieved February 25, 2020, from https://essaysonline.net/dr-jekyll-or-mr-hyde/