Walter Neff (Huff in the novel) is the anti-heroic protagonist of James M. Cain's novella Double Indemnity and its 1944 and 1973 film adaptations. He's an affable insurance salesman who develops a fondness for Phyllis Dietrichson and assists her in plotting a scene to murder her husband for his savings, while at the same time, plotting to rebel against the system in order to beat it.
In the 1944 production, he was portrayed by the late Fred MacMurray in a role against type.
Why He Rocks
- Fred MacMurray (1944 film) is completely at the top of his game as this morally ambiguous insurance man, pulling off what's easily one of his best performances. This part is especially noteworthy and special as MacMurray's usually known for playing genial, lightweight, good-guy roles in comedies. Here, his character's an anti-heroic/villainous figure within a drama/crime film, and yet it still manages to be a well played out role.
- Even though he's an archetype, like the 1944 film's other two central characters -- in his case, he's a hardboiled insurance who serves as the narrator of the classic film laying out the story of how a routine sales call somehow turned into a steamy adulterous affair with the femme fatale, and he thought he was in love with the woman-- he seems deeper and more complex than the usual noir protagonist. Aside from the graceful performance, he seems to form a love triangle with Phyllis and Keyes.
- He shares incredible chemistry with Walter Neff with combining dialogue between the pair that absolutely crackles, even with the Hays Code in effect.
- Thanks to his 11 years of experience on the insurance company, he's shown to be an incredible manipulator and planner placing serious thought and creativity into the murder with Phyllis' husband covering his tracks and making sure they were prepared for any outcome, (Meticulously setting up his numerous alibis, changing into a navy blue suit resembling Dietrichson's, faking a cast on his leg, leaving his apartment and walking to the Dietrichson house without being seen, and hiding on the back seat floor of the Dietrichson car. Then after murdering Phyllis' husband within the car, he'd "replace" him on the train and make his murder look like an accident). His plan was so well-executed and almost managing to rebel against his system, only failing due to Barton Keyes managing to see through the deceptions.
- Even though Walter Neff winds up becoming Phyllis' partner in crime with her murder plan, he was still a smooth-talking and charismatic insurance salesman and a very likable and sympathetic protagonist who acts like an everyman. He even falls back on an attempt to frame an innocent person for his crimes, calling it off at the last minute and realizing just what he had done and turning himself in confessing all of his crimes.