The plot: Los Angeles insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls under the spell of Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), the seductive wife of a client. Together, they trick her husband into signing a life insurance policy then orchestrate his death to look like an accident, so Phyllis will collect twice under the double indemnity clause. Just one catch: Neff's mentor Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), the insurance company's claims adjuster, smells foul play.
Why it's worthy: Ranked No. 29 on AFI's 100 Greatest American Films and written by mystery noir master Raymond Chandler with director Billy Wilder (see "The Apartment"), "Double Indemnity" graphically illustrates that insurance fraud doesn't pay. It's also absolutely mesmerizing.
"'Double Indemnity' is one of the best screenplays ever written; I own a book that just dissects the screenplay because it's pretty much perfect," says Pelecanos. "The really smart thing about that movie is that the insurance agents aren't just a father figure (Robinson) and a son; it's sort of hinted that there is a deeper relationship there, which kind of makes it a little bit more perverse. It's a beautiful movie."
Set notes: By all means, see it. In glorious black and white.