Based on a true story, a novel by James M. Cain, and a screenplay by Raymond Chandler and director Billy Wilder, a woman and an insurance salesman murder her husband for a double claim.
In 1938 in an empty Los Angeles office Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) dictates his confession to murder and insurance fraud for a woman and money he didn't get. Walter tells his story. In May he knocks on the door and meets Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) to fix her car insurance. She invites him back and wants accident insurance on her husband without telling him. Walter says no and accuses her of plotting murder. Phyllis comes to Walter's apartment, and they embrace. Walter warns her that murderers trying to collect insurance get caught. She tells him that she loathes her husband, and Walter says they will do it perfectly. Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) tells Walter that he only wants to renew his car insurance. Later Walter tells Phyllis that he got his signature on the accident policy. He tells her to have him take a train because a train death pays double indemnity. Lola Dietrichson (Jean Heather) gets a ride with Walter to meet her boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr). Walter meets Phyllis in a market, and she says her husband broke his leg. Claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) offers Walter a job in claims, but he declines.
Phyllis calls Walter that her husband is taking a train. Walter sets up alibis and hides in the back of Dietrichson's car. Phyllis drives and turns off the main road; Walter kills her husband. Walter uses the crutches, gets on the train, and goes to the observation car, where he talks to Jackson (Porter Hall) before sending him away for cigars. Walter gets off the train, meets Phyllis, and carries Dietrichson's body. She drives Walter to his apartment.
Keyes tells Walter that the inquest said Dietrichson died falling off the train. The boss Norton tells Keyes and Walter it was not an accident but suicide, and he questions Phyllis. Norton proposes a settlement, but she gets upset and leaves. Keyes tells Norton that suicide is unlikely from a slow-moving train. Keyes asks Walter why Dietrichson did not put in a claim for his broken leg, suspecting he did not know he had an accident policy. Keyes suspects Phyllis, who is hiding as he leaves. Walter tells Phyllis they should not see each other for a while. Lola comes to Walter's office and says she has the same bad feeling she had when her mother died and Phyllis was her nurse. Walter takes Lola to dinner.
Keyes tells Walter that Dietrichson was not on the train but was killed before. He calls in Jackson, who says the man on the train was younger and not Dietrichson. Walter meets Phyllis at the market and argues not to sue. Walter sees Lola, who suspects Nino and Phyllis of killing her father. Nino has been seeing Phyllis. Walter searches Keyes' office and learns he does not suspect him but Nino. Walter meets Phyllis at eleven at her place. She shoots at him once, and then he shoots her twice. Outside Walter sees Nino and tells him to call Lola. Walter is dictating his story when Keyes comes in. Walter is bleeding and asks Keyes for four hours; but he collapses, and Keyes calls an ambulance.
This classic film noir probes a murder plot from the
viewpoint of the murderer, who apparently felt betrayed by the
woman who seduced him into the crime.