The spiffy, suave James M. Cainbased mega-noir that spawned a billion scheming-bitch thrillers, this expert night of the Hollywood soul is such a genre axiom it practically scans like a mid-’40s shopper’s catalogue for noiristes: fedoras; venetian blinds; cigarettes; leaking bullet wound; treacherous blonde; serious-as-cancer slang banter; dumb, doomed men everywhere you turn.
Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray become unforgettable, delicious clichés the minute they cock their eyebrows at one another in and around Billy Wilder’s shadowy L.A. interiors. But this film was also the moment, as the war still raged, when noir had its first real stiffy, basking in the cold-blooded algebra of two amoral bastards plotting the death of an innocent jerk — and as we all watch them do it, we hope it works.
The darkness has been with us ever since. Wilder climbed to the A-list with this hot dog (something like the Book of Genesis of prenup-advocacy scenarios, no small matter in Hollywood then as now), and the Oscars threw nominations at it, but oddly it was a box-office mediocrity, buried by lighter fare.
Any attempt at common cultural literacy can hardly survive without it, though we can only hope that the Film Forum camp-gigglers can be muzzled, so the double-cross malaise can seep into your cranial fluid and do its work.