Film noir drama
Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) convinces bored insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to murder her husband so they can collect his insurance policy. Everything goes as planned, until Walter’s boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) takes over the investigation and the pair become suspicious of each other’s motives.
Fred MacMurray – Walter Neff
Barbara Stanwyck – Phyllis Dietrichson
Barton Keyes – Edward G. Robinson
Tom Powers – Mr. Dietrichson
Porter Hall – Mr. Jackson
Richard Gaines – Mr. Norton
Jean Heather – Lola Dietrichson
The original trailer of Double Indemnity:
–Double Indemnity is based on a book by James M. Cain, which in turn was based on a real-life 1920’s murder trial. The author later stated that if he had come up with the changes to the plot that the screenwriters made for the film, he would have used them in his book.
-Multiple studio’s wanted to film the story when the book was published in serial form in 1935. However, the strict Hays Production Code prevented this as they felt it promoted murder. Almost ten years later, the Code had softened a bit and Paramount was able to film the story with only a bit of censoring.
-Casting proved to be a challenge. According to screenwriter/director Billy Wilder everybody turned down the role of Walter Neff and he had to convince Fred MacMurray to take the role. Barbara Stanwyck had her doubts about playing someone so cold and ruthless as well, until Wilder said: ‘Are you a mouse or an actress?’.
– Tom Powers, who played Mr. Dietrichson, was a popular Broadway actor. He hadn’t been in a film since 1917, but after Double Indemnity he was able to have a small comeback in Hollywood.
-Even though director Billy Wilder and writer Raymond Chandler wrote the script together, they detested each other. Billy thought that Raymond was a drunk and Raymond thought Wilder was disrespectful. At one point Raymond even walked out and the studio had to accept a list of demands to get him to return.
-A month into shooting Billy Wilder realized that Barbara Stanwyck’s wig looked really bad. It was too late to re-shoot, so he just told the press that the bad wig was on purpose.
–Double Indemnity was shot during World War II. Due to wartime food rationing, policemen were stationed during a scene in a store so nobody would attempt to take any of the food.
-To create the illusion of waning sunlight in Phyllis’ house, a mix of smoke and silver dust was used.
-Only after filming did people realize that Fred MacMurray still had his wedding ring on during many scenes.
-Much emphasis was put on Phyllis’ ankle bracelet in the film. Back then it was thought that a woman wearing an ankle bracelet was signaling that she was married but still available to other men.
– Double Indemnity was one of seven-hundred Paramount films that were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution. Because of the television re-runs the film was able to capture a large audience and generate fans spanning multiple generations.
Best Picture – Double Indemnity – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Best Actress – Barbara Stanwyck – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Best Director – Billy Wilder – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Best Screenplay – Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Best Cinematography – John F. Seitz – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Best Sound – Loren L. Ryder – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Best Music – Miklos Rosza – Academy Awards of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 1945
Although Double Indemnity wasn’t the first film-noir, it was definitely one of the most important. The film was controversial for its day, even inspiring a campaign that urged people not to see it on ‘moral grounds’. But it is branded as a trailblazer in Hollywood and has inspired many similar films since. Double Indemnity influenced films like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Basic Instinct.
Aside from its influence, the film is also lauded for its quality, such as the excellent writing and great direction. Double Indemnity sets the mood of the original novel perfectly and captures the audience from beginning to end. It is still analyzed in film classes and it is the favorite film of many screenwriters.