Office memorandum. 'Walter Neff to Barton Keyes, Claims Manager, Los Angeles, July 16, 1938. Dear Keyes: I suppose you'll call this a confession when you hear it. Well, I don't like the word 'confession.' I just want to set you right about something you couldn't see because it was smack up against your nose. You think you're such a hot potato as a Claims Manager; such a wolf on a phony claim. Maybe you are. But let's take a look at that Dietrichson claim, Accident and Double Indemnity. You were pretty good in there for a while, Keyes. You said it wasn't an accident. Check. You said it wasn't suicide. Check. You said it was murder. Check. You thought you had it cold, didn't you? All wrapped up in tissue paper with pink ribbons around it. It was perfect - except it wasn't, because you made one mistake. Just one little mistake. When it came to picking the killer, you picked the wrong guy. You want to know who killed Dietrichson? Hold tight to that cheap cigar of yours, Keyes. I killed Dietrichson - me, Walter Neff, insurance salesman, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars... [He glances down at his shoulder wound] - until a while ago, that is. Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?
The living room was still stuffy from last night's cigars. The windows were closed and the sunshine coming in through the venetian blinds showed up the dust in the air. On the piano in a couple of fancy frames were Mr. Dietrichson and Lola, his daughter by his first wife. They had a bowl of those little red goldfish on the table behind the big Davenport. But to tell you the truth, Keyes, I wasn't a whole lot interested in goldfish right then, not in auto renewals, nor in Mr. Dietrichson and his daughter Lola. I was thinking about that dame upstairs and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us.
It was a hot afternoon, and I can still remember the smell of honeysuckle all along that street. How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?
So I let her have it, straight between the eyes. She didn't fool me for a minute, not this time. I knew I had ahold of a red hot poker, and the time to drop it was before it burned my hand off...I was all twisted up inside and I was still holding on to that red-hot poker. And right then it came over me that I hadn't walked out on anything at all, that the hope was too strong, that this wasn't the end between her and me. It was only the beginning.
So we just sat there, and she started crying softly like the rain on the window. And we didn't say anything. Maybe she had stopped thinking about it, but I hadn't. I couldn't because it was all tied up with something I'd been thinking about for years. Since long before I ever ran into Phyllis Dietrichson. Because, you know how it is Keyes, in this business you can't sleep for trying to figure out all the tricks they could pull on you. You're like the guy behind the roulette wheel, watching the customers to make sure they don't crook the house. And then one night, you get to thinking how you could crook the house yourself. And do it smart. Because you've got that wheel right under your hands. You know every notch in it by heart. And you figure all you need is a plant out front, a shill to put down the bet. And suddenly the doorbell rings and the whole setup is right there in the room with ya. [pause] Look, Keyes, I'm not trying to whitewash myself. I fought it, only I guess I didn't fight it hard enough. The stakes were $50,000 dollars, but they were the life of a man too, a man who'd never done me any dirt except he was married to a woman he didn't care anything about. And I did.
That was all there was to it. Nothing had slipped, nothing had been overlooked, there was nothing to give us away. And yet, Keyes, as I was walking down the street to the drugstore, suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help me. I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.
This Dietrichson business. It's murder, and murders don't come any neater. As fancy a piece of homicide as anybody ever ran into. Smart, tricky, almost perfect - but...I think Papa has it all figured out. It's beginning to come apart at the seams already. Murder is never perfect. It always comes apart sooner or later. When two people are involved, it's usually sooner. Now we know the Dietrichson dame is in it and the somebody else. Pretty soon, we'll know who that somebody else is. He'll show. He's got to show. Sometime, somewhere, they've got to meet. Their emotions are all kicked up. Whether it's love or hate, it doesn't matter. They can't keep away from each other. They may think it's twice as safe because there are two of them. But it isn't twice as safe. It's ten times twice as dangerous. They've committed a murder. And it's not like taking a trolley ride together where they can get off at different stops. They're stuck with each other and they've got to ride all the way to the end of the line and it's a one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery.
Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He'll be in then.
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?
Walter: Yes, I was. But I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around ninety.
Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter: Suppose it doesn't take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Walter: That tears it. 8:30 tomorrow evening, then.
Phyllis: That's what I suggested.
Walter: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so. I usually am.
Walter: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter: I wonder if you wonder.
Keyes: I'm the guy that has to sit here up to my neck in phony claims so they won't throw more money out the window than they take in at the door.
Walter: Okay, turn the record over and let's hear the other side.
Keyes: Well, I get darn sick of tryin' to pick up after a gang of fast-talking salesmen dumb enough to sell life insurance to a guy who sleeps in the same bed with four rattlesnakes. Walter, I've had twenty-six years of this and let me tell ya, I -
Walter: And you loved every minute of it, Keyes. You love it, only you worry about it too darn much, you and your little man. You're so darn conscientious you're driving yourself crazy. You wouldn't even say today's Tuesday unless you looked at the calendar. Then, you'd check to see if it was this year's or last year's calendar. Then you'd find out who'd printed the calendar and find out if their calendar checked with the World Almanac's Calendar.
Keyes: Now that's enough out of you, Walter. Now get outta here before I throw my desk at you. [looks in his pocket for a match]
Walter: [takes his own match and lights Keyes' cigar] I love you, too. [voiceover] I really did, too, you old crab. Always yelling your head off, always sore at everybody. You never fooled me with your song and dance, not for a second. I kinda always knew that behind all the cigar ashes on your vest was a heart as big as a house.
Walter: Look, baby. You can't get away with it. You want to knock him off, don't ya?
Phyllis: That's a horrible thing to say.
Walter: Whaddya think I was anyway? A guy that walks into a good-looking dame's front parlor and says, 'Good afternoon. I sell accident insurance on husbands. Have you got one that's been around too long? One you'd like to turn into a little hard cash? Just give me a smile and I'll help you collect?' Huh! Boy, what a dope you must think I am!
Phyllis: I think you're rotten.
Walter: I think you're swell. So long as I'm not your husband.
Phyllis: Get out of here.
Walter: You bet I'll get out of here, baby. I'll get out of here but quick.
Walter: And now you hate him.
Phyllis: Yes, Walter. He's so mean to me. Every time I buy a dress or a pair of shoes, he yells his head off. He never lets me go anywhere. He keeps me shut up. He's always been mean to me. Even his life insurance all goes to that daughter of his. That Lola.
Walter: Nothing for you at all, huh?
Phyllis: No, and nothing is just what I'm worth to him.
Walter: So you lie awake in the dark and listen to him snore and get ideas.
Phyllis: Walter, I don't want to kill him. I never did. Not even when he gets drunk and slaps my face.
Walter: Only sometimes you wish he was dead.
Phyllis: Perhaps I do.
Walter: And you wish it was an accident and you had that policy for $50,000 dollars. Is that it?
Phyllis: Perhaps that too.
Phyllis: I hate him. I loathe going back to him. You believe me, don't you, Walter?
Walter: Sure I believe you. [They kiss]
Phyllis: I can't stand it anymore. What if they did hang me?
Walter: They're not going to hang you, baby.
Phyllis: It's better than going on this way.
Walter: They're not gonna hang you because you're gonna do it and I'm gonna help you.
Phyllis: Do you know what you're saying?
Walter: Sure I know what I'm saying. We're gonna do it and we're gonna do it right. And I'm the guy that knows how. There's not going to be any slip up. Nothing sloppy, nothing weak, it's gotta be perfect. [They kiss each other and then he leads her toward the door] Call me tomorrow. But not from your house. From a booth. And watch your step every single minute. This has gotta be perfect, do ya understand? Straight down the line.
Phyllis: Straight down the line.
Phyllis: [about Lola] She's putting on an act for you, crying all over your shoulder, that lying...
Walter: Keep her out of this. All I'm telling you is, we're not going to sue.
Phyllis: Because you don't want the money any more even if you could have it, because she's made you feel like a heel all of a sudden?
Walter: It isn't the money any more. It's our necks. We're pulling out. Do you understand?
Phyllis: Because of what Keyes can do? You're not fooling me, Walter. It's because of Lola. What you did to her father. You're afraid she might find out someday and you can't take it, can you?
Walter: I said, 'Leave her out of this.'
Phyllis: It's me I'm talking about. I don't want to be left out of it.
Walter: Stop saying that. It's just that it hasn't worked out as we wanted. We can't go through with it, that's all.
Phyllis: We have gone through with it, Walter. The tough part is all behind us. We just have to hold on now and not go soft inside. Stick close together the way we started out...I loved you, Walter, and I hated him. But I wasn't going to do anything about it. Not until I met you. You planned the whole thing. I only wanted him dead.
Walter: And I'm the one that fixed it so he was dead. Is that what you're telling me?
Phyllis: And nobody's pulling out. We went into this together and we're coming out at the end together. It's straight down the line for both of us. Remember?
Walter: [voiceover] Yes, I remembered. Just like I remembered what you had told me, Keyes. About that trolley car ride and how there was no getting off until the end of the line where the cemetery was. And then I got to thinking what cemeteries are for. They're to put dead people in. I guess that was the first time I ever thought about Phyllis that way. Dead, I mean. And how it would be if she were dead.
Walter: Sometimes people are where they can't talk. Under six feet of dirt maybe. And if it was you, they'd charge that up to Zachetti too, wouldn't they? Sure they would. And that's just what's gonna happen, baby. Cause he's coming here tonight in about 15 minutes - with the cops right behind him. It's all taken care of.
Phyllis: That would make everything lovely for you, wouldn't it?
Walter: Right. And it's got to be done before that suit of yours comes to trial and Lola gets a chance to sound off. Before they trip you up in the stand and you start to go under and drag me down with ya.
Phyllis: Maybe I had Zachetti here so they won't get a chance to trip me up so we can get the money and be together.
Walter: That's cute. Say it again.
Phyllis: He came here first, asked where Lola was. I made him come back. I was working on him. He's a crazy sort of guy. Quick-tempered. I kept hammering into him that she was with another man so he'd go into one of his jealous rages and then I'd tell him where she was. And you know what he would have done to her, don't you, Walter?
Walter: Yeah. And for once I believe you, because it's just rotten enough.
Phyllis: We're both rotten.
Walter: Only you're a little more rotten. You got me to take care of your husband for ya. And then you get Zachetti to take care of Lola, maybe take care of me too. Then somebody else would have come along to take care of Zachetti for ya. That's the way you operate, isn't it, baby?
Phyllis: Suppose it is. Is what you've got cooked up for tonight any better?
Walter: [after Phyllis shoots a gun at him, missing him] You can do better than that, can't you, baby? You'd better try it again. Maybe if I came a little closer? How's this? Think you can do it now? [She lowers her gun, trembling. He takes the gun] Why didn't you shoot again, baby? Don't tell me it's because you've been in love with me all this time.
Phyllis: [crying] No, I never loved you, Walter, not you or anybody else. I'm rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said. That's all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn't fire that second shot. I never thought that could happen to me.
Walter: Sorry, baby, I'm not buying.
Phyllis: I'm not asking you to buy. Just hold me close. [she hugs him, but then draws back when she feels the gun against her]
Walter: Good-bye baby. [He shoots her]
Walter: Know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell ya. 'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.