5. Double Indemnity (1944)
Directed by Billy Wilder
What it’s about: Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) doesn’t like her husband. I mean, she really doesn’t like him, and enlists the services of Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), the top salesman at the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co., to help carry out the perfect crime.
Why watch it: Well, a few years back, the American Film Institute ranked Double Indemnity as the No. 29 greatest movie of all time. In addition, Stanwyck gives one of the silver screen’s great villainous performances. Stanwyck’s baddie is not the over-the-top type we’re used to these days. Hers is a slow, slow burn that is both subtle and cruel in its execution.
What Your Peers Are Reading
Business takeaway: Check the fine print on your insurance policies or any legal document before you sign them. You never know what you might find in there.
Memorable scene: When Phyllis and Walter meet for the first time, the double entendres erupt like machine gun fire. It’s both seductive and dangerous and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Barton Keyes: Well, I get darn sick of trying 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.
Barton Keyes: But it isn’t twice as safe. It’s 10 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 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.
Walter Neff: 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.
Walter Neff: Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money — and a woman — and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?
Next up: Up in the Air
4. Up in the Air (2009)
Directed by Jason Reitman
What it’s about: George Clooney plays a corporate headhunter who lives out of a suitcase, traveling the country to fire people whose bosses don’t have the cojones to do it themselves. In fact, in the previous year alone Ryan Bingham (Clooney) spent 322 days on the road and “43 miserable days at home.” His goal is to achieve 10 million miles flown, a feat reached by only six other people.
Why watch it: The film provides keen insight into the frequent business traveler, and also addresses the brutality of corporate downsizing.
Business takeaway: If you’re going to live out of a suitcase — or, in Bingham’s metaphor for life, a backpack — you have to realize the strain it will put on any personal attachments you have.
Memorable scenes: The montage of how efficient Bingham is when he travels is a marvel of minimalism. Also, the IT conference party he crashes accurately cuts to the bone with its shuffling dance floor and karaoke set up.
Bingham: To know me is to fly with me. This is where I live.
Bingham: Stuff your life in a backpack then try to walk. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move.
Bingham: (on reaching 10 million miles.) I’d be the seventh person to do it. More people have walked on the moon.
Next up: Citizen Kane
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by Orson Welles
What’s it about: Based loosely on the rise of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane is about the life and lost innocence of Charles Foster Kane (played by the then 25-year-old Orson Welles, who also directed and co-wrote this cinematic epic). Welles later denied that the film was only about Hearst, saying it was instead a composite of industry barons of that era.
Why watch it: The American Film Institute ranked the film the greatest American movie of all time in 1998, and again in 2007. Its impact and influence on movies is indisputable. The use of camera angles, lighting and depth of focus are studied in film schools and emulated in films to this day. If I were judging it merely as a movie, it would be higher on this list. But I’m looking at it from its impact on business.
Business takeaway: Power corrupts. Greed, for lack of a better word, is not good.
Memorable scene: The opening with Kane (Welles) uttering the single word, “Rosebud” and allowing the snow globe to roll from his hand and crash to the floor.