''Double Indemnity'' is a 1944 American
In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition,Farmer, Lindsay: "Crime, definitions of", in Can ... film noir
Film noir (; ) is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Cinema of the United States, Hollywood Crime film, crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and motivations. The 1940s and 1950s are generally regarde ...
Billy Wilder (; ; born Samuel Wilder; June 22, 1906 – March 27, 2002) was an Austrian-American filmmaker. His career in Hollywood spanned five decades, and he is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Classic Holl ...
, co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler
, and produced by
George Gard "Buddy" DeSylva (January 27, 1895 – July 11, 1950) was an American songwriter, film producer and record executive. He wrote or co-wrote many popular songs and, along with Johnny Mercer and Glenn Wallichs, he co-founded Capitol Reco ...
and Joseph Sistrom. The screenplay was based on James M. Cain
's 1943 novel of the same title
, which appeared as an eight-part serial for '' Liberty
'' magazine in February 1936.
The film stars
Frederick Martin MacMurray (August 30, 1908 – November 5, 1991) was an American actor. He appeared in more than one hundred films and a successful television series, in a career that spanned nearly a half-century. His career as a major film le ...
as an insurance salesman, Barbara Stanwyck
as a provocative housewife who is accused of killing her husband, and
Edward G. Robinson
Edward G. Robinson (born Emanuel Goldenberg; December 12, 1893January 26, 1973) was a Romanian-American actor of stage and screen, who was popular during the Hollywood's Golden Age. He appeared in 30 Broadway plays and more than 100 films duri ...
as a claims adjuster whose job is to find phony claims. The term " double indemnity
" refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies that doubles the payout in cases when the death is accidental.
Praised by many critics when first released, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards
, but did not win any. Widely regarded as a classic, it often is cited as having set the standard for film noir. Deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the U.S.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress (LOC) is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the ''de facto'' national library of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country. The librar ...
in 1992, ''Double Indemnity'' was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry
. In 1998, it was ranked No. 38 on the
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American nonprofit film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.
's list of the 100 best American films
of all time, and in 2007 it placed 29th on their 10th Anniversary list
. Wilder considered ''Double Indemnity'' his best film in terms of having the fewest scripting and shooting errors, and always maintained that the two things he was proudest of in his career were the compliments he received from Cain about ''Double Indemnity'' and from
Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, (; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictiona ...
for his handling
of her '' Witness for the Prosecution
In 1938, insurance salesman Walter Neff returns to his office in downtown
Los Angeles ( ; es, Los Ángeles, link=no , ), often referred to by its initials L.A., is the largest city in the state of California and the second most populous city in the United States after New York City, as well as one of the w ... with a gunshot wound on his shoulder. He records a confession on a dictaphone
Dictaphone was an American company founded by Alexander Graham Bell
that produced dictation machines. It is now a division of Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Although the name "Dictaphone" is a trademark, it has be ... for his friend and colleague, claims adjuster Barton Keyes. A flashback ensues.
Walter meets the alluring Phyllis Dietrichson during a house call to remind her husband to renew his automobile insurance policy. They flirt, until Phyllis asks about buying an accident insurance policy for her husband - without his knowledge. Walter deduces Phyllis is contemplating murder and wanting no part of it, he picks up his hat and quickly leaves. Later, Phyllis shows up at Walter's apartment and uses the excuse of the latter forgetting his hat to seduce him to murder her husband. The plan is to trick Dietrichson into signing what he thinks is a renewal. The policy has a double indemnity clause that pays double for an accidental death due to rare circumstances.
Later, Phyllis drives her husband to the train station to attend his college reunion. Walter hides in the back seat, kills him and boards the train posing as Mr. Dietrichson. After the train gets underway, Walter goes to the outdoor platform at the back, ostensibly to smoke. He jumps off at a prearranged spot to meet Phyllis and drag Dietrichson's body onto the tracks.
Norton, the company's president, believes the death was suicide, but Keyes dismisses this theory. Soon, however, he begins to have doubts about the claim's legitimacy. Keyes tells Walter his theory while Phyllis hides behind the door: that she had an accomplice murder Dietrichson for the insurance money. However, he has no proof.
The victim's daughter, Lola, tells Walter she is convinced that her stepmother Phyllis is behind her father's death. Lola's mother also died under suspicious circumstances, and Phyllis was her nurse. Realizing Phyllis has killed before, Walter begins seeing Lola to keep her from going to the police with her suspicions, and later through guilt and to protect her from her stepmother. Walter fears Phyllis will murder Lola over her suspicions and because Dietrichson had changed his will
Will may refer to:
* Will and testament, instructions for the disposition of one's property after death
* Will (philosophy), or willpower
* Will (sociology)
* Will, volition (psychology)
* Will, a modal verb - see Shall and will
... in Lola's favor, leaving Phyllis nothing.
Keyes finds a witness who says the man on the train was younger than the dead man. Walter warns Phyllis that pursuing the insurance claim in court risks exposing the murder. He tries to convince her to lie low and let him try to convince Norton to pay out the claim.
Lola tells Walter she has discovered that her boyfriend, the hotheaded Nino Zachette, has been seeing Phyllis behind her back. Walter confronts Phyllis and tells her that he knows about her and Zachette. He guesses she is planning for Zachette to kill Lola and him, but tells her that he intends to kill her and frame Zachette. Phyllis shoots Walter in the shoulder, but finds herself unable to finish him off, realizing that she cares for someone else for the first time in her life. Walter does not believe Phyllis and kills her. He waits for Zachette and advises him not to enter the house. He convinces him to call Lola.
Walter drives to the office and turns on the dictaphone, returning to the start of the film. Keyes arrives unnoticed and hears the truth. Walter tells him he is fleeing to Mexico, but collapses. Keyes lights a cigarette for Walter, while waiting for the police and an ambulance.
* Raymond Chandler cameo as a man reading a magazine outside Keyes' office as Neff exits
Bess Flowers (November 23, 1898 – July 28, 1984) was an American actress best known for her work as an extra in hundreds of films. She was known as "The Queen of the Hollywood Extras," appearing in more than 350 feature films and numerous ... as Norton's secretary
* Betty Farrington as Nettie, Dietrichson's maid
* Teala Loring
Teala Loring (born Marcia Eloise Griffin; October 6, 1922 – January 28, 2007) was an American actress who appeared in over 30 films during the 1940s.
Life and career
Born in Denver, Colorado, she was the sister of actors Debra Paget, Li ... as Pacific All-Risk Insurance telephone operator
* Sam McDaniel as Charlie, Garage Attendant
* Miriam Nelson as Keyes' secretary
* Douglas Spencer as Lou Schwartz, Neff's office mate
James M. Cain based his novella on a 1927 murder perpetrated by a married Queens, New York, woman and her lover whose trial he attended while working as a journalist in New York.
In that crime, Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to kill her husband Albert after having him take out a big insurance policy – with a double-indemnity clause. The murderers were quickly identified, arrested and convicted. The front page photo of Snyder's execution in the electric chair at Sing Sing
Sing Sing Correctional Facility, formerly Ossining Correctional Facility, is a maximum-security prison operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in the village of Ossining, New York. It is about north ..., captured by reporter Tom Howard using a hidden camera attached to his right ankle, has been called the most famous newsphoto of the 1920s.
''Double Indemnity'' began making the rounds in Hollywood shortly after it was published in ''Liberty'' magazine in 1936. Cain had made a name for himself the year before with '' The Postman Always Rings Twice'', a story of murder and passion between a migrant worker and the unhappy wife of a café owner. Cain's agent sent copies of the novella to all the major studios and within days, MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount
Paramount (from the word ''paramount'' meaning "above all others") may refer to:
Entertainment and music companies
* Paramount Global, also known simply as Paramount, an American mass media company formerly known as ViacomCBS. The following busin ..., 20th Century-Fox
20th Century Studios, Inc. (previously known as 20th Century Fox) is an American film studio, film production company headquartered at the Fox Studio Lot in the Century City area of Los Angeles. As of 2019, it serves as a film production arm o ..., and Columbia were competing to buy the rights for $25,000. Then a letter went from Joseph Breen at the Hays Office, and the studios withdrew their bids at once. In it, Breen warned:
The general low tone and sordid flavor of this story makes it, in our judgment, thoroughly unacceptable for screen presentation before mixed audiences in the theater. I am sure you will agree that it is most important ... to avoid what the code calls "the hardening of audiences," especially those who are young and impressionable, to the thought and fact of crime.
Eight years later, the novella was added to the collection of Cain's works titled ''Three of a Kind''. Paramount executive Joseph Sistrom thought the material was perfect for Wilder, and the studio bought the rights for $15,000. Paramount resubmitted the script to the Hays Office, but the response was identical to the one eight years earlier. Wilder, Paramount executive William Dozier and Sistrom decided to move forward anyway. They submitted a film treatment crafted by Wilder and his writing partner Charles Brackett, and this time the Hays Office approved the project with only a few objections: the portrayal of the disposal of the body, a proposed gas-chamber execution scene, and the skimpiness of the towel worn by the female lead in her first scene.
Cain maintained that Joseph Breen owed him $10,000 for vetoing the property back in 1935 when he would have received $25,000.
Paramount (from the word ''paramount'' meaning "above all others") may refer to:
Entertainment and music companies
* Paramount Global, also known simply as Paramount, an American mass media company formerly known as ViacomCBS. The following busin ... purchased the rights to the novella for Wilder, the next step was a screenplay. The property was regarded around Hollywood as unfilmable because of its iniquitous characters and the restrictions imposed by the Motion Picture Production Code
The Motion Picture Production Code was a set of industry guidelines for the self-censorship of content that was applied to most motion pictures released by major studios in the United States from 1934 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the .... Although he had worked on the treatment, Charles Brackett decided it was too sordid and bowed out of the project, leaving Wilder to find another collaborator. His first choice, Cain was working for another studio and unavailable (although Cain claimed he never asked). [ McGilligan, Patrick (1986). ''Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood's Golden Age''. Los Angeles: University of California Press. . p. 127] Producer Joseph Sistrom, an avid reader and an admirer of '' The Big Sleep'', then suggested Raymond Chandler.
Wilder later recalled with disappointment his first meeting with Chandler. Envisioning a former private detective who had worked his own experiences into gritty prose, he instead met a man he later described as looking like an accountant. Chandler was new to Hollywood, but saw it as a golden opportunity. Not realizing that he would be collaborating with Wilder, he demanded $1,000 and said he needed at least a week to complete the screenplay, to which Wilder and Sistrom simply looked at one another in amazement. To help guide him in writing a screenplay, Wilder gave Chandler a copy of his own screenplay for the 1941 '' Hold Back the Dawn'' to study. After the first weekend, Chandler presented 80 pages that Wilder characterized as "useless camera instruction"; [Lally, p. 128] Wilder quickly put it aside and informed Chandler that they would be working together, slowly and meticulously. By all accounts, the pair did not get along during their four months together. At one point Chandler even quit, submitting a long list of grievances to Paramount as to why he could no longer work with Wilder. Wilder, however, stuck it out, admiring Chandler's gift with words and knowing that his dialogue would translate very well to the screen.
Chandler and Wilder made considerable changes to Cain's story. For one thing, the ending was overhauled. For another, the character of Barton Keyes was changed from a fairly clueless co-worker into an enemy mentor.
Initially, Wilder and Chandler had intended to retain as much of Cain's original dialogue as possible. It was Chandler who first realized that the dialogue from the novella did not translate well to the screen. Wilder disagreed and was annoyed that Chandler was not putting more of it into the script. To settle it, Wilder hired a couple of contract players from the studio to read passages of Cain's original dialogue aloud. To Wilder's astonishment, Chandler was right, and in the end, the movie's cynical and provocative dialogue was more Chandler and Wilder than it was Cain. Chandler also did a lot of fieldwork while working on the script and took large volumes of notes. By visiting various locations that figured into the film, he brought a sense of realism about Los Angeles that seeped into the script. For example, he hung around Jerry's Market on Melrose Avenue in preparation for the scene during which Phyllis and Walter discreetly meet to plan the murder. [Phillips, ''Creatures'', p. 170]
The tumultuous relationship between Wilder and Chandler only enhanced the product of their collaboration. Wilder, in fact, believed that discord, a tug-of-war, was a vital ingredient, necessary for a fruitful collaboration: "If two people think alike," he once said, "it's like two men pulling at one end of a rope. If you are going to collaborate, you need an opponent to bounce things off of." [Phillips, ''Some Like'', p. 17.] His tugging with Chandler did have a softer side, it seems: Over 60 years after the film's initial release, mystery writer and Chandler scholar Mark Coggins documented the fact that Chandler had agreed to appear in a cameo at 16 minutes into the film, glancing up from a magazine as Neff walks past outside Keyes' office. This is significant because, other than a snippet from a home movie, there is no other footage of Chandler known anywhere.
When Chandler came to work with Wilder, he was a recovering alcoholic. Wilder said: "He was in Alcoholics Anonymous, and I think he had a tough time with me – I drove him back into drinking." [Lally, p. 129] By the time the picture was released, Chandler was disillusioned with the writers' lot in Hollywood; he published an angry piece titled "Writers in Hollywood" for ''The Atlantic Monthly'' in November 1945 in which he complained: "The first picture I worked on was nominated for an Academy Award (if that means anything), but I was not even invited to the press review held right in the studio." He neglected, however, to mention that the studio had kept him on salary during the eight-week shooting schedule and that no changes to the script were allowed without his approval – a very rare accommodation for screenwriters, particularly newcomers, in those days. [Phillips, ''Creatures'', p. 181] Offended, Wilder responded by saying: "We didn't invite him? How could we? He was under the table drunk at Lucy's," a nearby watering hole for Paramount employees. This relationship with Chandler is what drew Wilder to his next film, '' The Lost Weekend'', about an alcoholic writer. Wilder made the film, in part, "to explain Chandler to himself."
Cain was impressed with the way his book turned out on the screen. After seeing the picture half a dozen times, he was quoted as saying "It's the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in it I wish I had thought of. Wilder's ending was much better than my ending, and his device for letting the guy tell the story by taking out the office dictating machine – I would have done it if I had thought of it." [McGilligan, p. 125]
Wilder's and Brackett's estrangement during ''Double Indemnity'' was not a permanent one. Years later, Wilder characterized their time apart as just another kind of adultery: "1944 was 'The Year of Infidelities, he said. "Charlie produced '' The Uninvited'' ... I wrote ''Double Indemnity'' with Raymond Chandler ... I don't think he ever forgave me. He always thought I cheated on him with Raymond Chandler." Brackett spun the breakup in a decidedly different light, saying "Billy got so despondent at being without me that we did ''The Lost Weekend'', a depressing film about a writer who has trouble writing." ''The Lost Weekend'' was a distinguished offspring for the reconciled partnership – they left Oscar night with three Awards: Best Picture for producer Brackett, Best Director for Wilder, and a shared pair of statuettes for both for Best Screenplay. They worked together through '' Sunset Boulevard
Sunset Boulevard is a boulevard in the central and western part of Los Angeles, California, that stretches from the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades east to Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles. It is a major thoroughfare in t ...'' in 1950, then split for good.
Wilder and Chandler's ''Double Indemnity'' screenplay was included in Library of America
The Library of America (LOA) is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LOA has published over 300 volumes by authors rangi ...'s second volume of Chandler's work, ''Later Novels and Other Writings'' (1995). This volume also includes the aforementioned "Writers in Hollywood" piece by Chandler.
Having the two protagonists mortally wound each other was one of the key factors in gaining Hays Office approval for the script: the
The Motion Picture Production Code was a set of industry guidelines for the self-censorship of content that was applied to most motion pictures released by major studios in the United States from 1934 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the ... demanded that criminals pay, on screen, for their transgressions. In addition, ''Double Indemnity'' broke new cinematic ground on several fronts, one of these being the first time a Hollywood film explicitly explored the means, motives, and opportunity of committing a murder. It took skillful performers to bring nuance to these treacherous characters, and casting the roles of Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson was a challenge for Wilder.
Sistrom's and Wilder's first choice for the role of Phyllis Dietrichson was Barbara Stanwyck. At the time, Stanwyck was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood and the highest-paid woman in America. [ (Her eventual co-star MacMurray matched Stanwyck's prominence at the pay window: in 1943, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, and the fourth highest-paid American.) Given the nature of the role, Stanwyck was reluctant to take the part, fearing it would have an adverse effect on her career. According to Stanwyck:
I said "I love the script and I love you, but I am a little afraid after all these years of playing heroines to go into an out-and-out killer." And Mr. Wilder – and rightly so – looked at me and he said "Well, are you a mouse or an actress?" And I said "Well, I hope I'm an actress." He said "Then do the part". And I did and I'm very grateful to him.
The character of Walter Neff was not only a heel, he was a weak and malleable heel – many Hollywood actors, including Alan Ladd,
[Lally, p. 135]
James Francis Cagney Jr. (; July 17, 1899March 30, 1986) was an American actor, dancer and film director. On stage and in film, Cagney was known for his consistently energetic performances, distinctive vocal style, and deadpan comic timing. He ..., Spencer Tracy
Spencer Bonaventure Tracy (April 5, 1900 – June 10, 1967) was an American actor. He was known for his natural performing style and versatility. One of the major stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, Tracy was the first actor to win two cons ..., Gregory Peck
Eldred Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 – June 12, 2003) was an American actor and one of the most popular film stars from the 1940s to the 1970s. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Peck the 12th-greatest male star of Classic Hollywood ... and Fredric March
Fredric March (born Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel; August 31, 1897 – April 14, 1975) was an American actor, regarded as one of Hollywood's most celebrated, versatile stars of the 1930s and 1940s.Obituary ''Variety'', April 16, 1975, p ... passed on it. [Lally, p. 134] Wilder recalls "scraping the bottom of the barrel" and approaching George Raft
George Raft (born George Ranft; September 26, 1901 – November 24, 1980) was an American film actor and dancer identified with portrayals of gangsters in crime melodramas of the 1930s and 1940s. A stylish leading man in dozens of movies, Raft is .... Raft was illiterate, so Wilder had to tell him the plot. About halfway through, Raft interrupted him with "Let's get to the lapel bit." "What lapel bit?" a bewildered Wilder replied. "The lapel," the actor said, annoyed by such stupidity. "You know, when the guy flashes his lapel, you see his badge, you know he's a detective." This was his vision of the film, and because it wasn't part of the story, Raft turned the part down. [ Zolotow, Maurice (1977). ''Billy Wilder in Hollywood''. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. . p. 117.] (This was the last in a series of roles turned down by Raft in films which turned out to be classics.)
Wilder finally realized that the part should be played by someone who could not only be a cynic, but a nice guy as well. [
Fred MacMurray was accustomed to playing "happy-go-lucky good guys" in light comedies, and when Wilder first approached him about the role, MacMurray said "You're making the mistake of your life!" Playing a serious role required acting, he said "and I can't do it."] [Phillips, ''Some Like'', p. 61] But Wilder pestered him about it every single day – at home, in the studio commissary, in his dressing room, on the sidewalk – until he simply wore the actor down. MacMurray felt safe about his acquiescence because Paramount, which had him under contract and had carefully crafted his good guy image, would never let him play a "wrong" role. [Sikov, p. 202] His trust, however, was misplaced: His contract was up for renewal at the time, and because his friend and co-star Carole Lombard had shrewdly and successfully taught him how to play hardball with the studio bosses, he was not the pliable pushover of old. Paramount executives decided to let him play the unsavory role to teach him a lesson. A lesson was indeed taught, but not the one Paramount had in mind. [Sikov, p. 203] MacMurray made a great heel and his performance demonstrated new breadths of his acting talent. "I never dreamed it would be the best picture I ever made," he said. [Zolotow, p. 118]
Edward G. Robinson was reluctant to sign on for the role of Barton Keyes, but not for the same reasons as MacMurray and Stanwyck. Having been a star since '' Little Caesar'' in 1930, this role represented a step downward to the third lead. Robinson later admitted "At my age, it was time to begin thinking of character roles, to slide into middle and old age with the same grace as that marvelous actor Lewis Stone". It also helped, as he freely admitted, that he drew the same salary as the two leads for fewer shooting days. [
The original ending to the Cain novella called for the characters to commit double suicide. Suicide, however, was strictly forbidden at the time by the
The Motion Picture Production Code was a set of industry guidelines for the self-censorship of content that was applied to most motion pictures released by major studios in the United States from 1934 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the ... as a way to resolve a plot, so Wilder wrote and filmed a different ending in which Neff goes to the gas chamber while Keyes watches. This scene was shot before the scenes that eventually became the film's familiar ending, and once that final intimate exchange between Neff and Keyes revealed its power to Wilder, he began to wonder if the gas chamber ending was needed at all. "You couldn't have a more meaningful scene between two men", Wilder said. [Lally, p. 137] He later recounted: "The story was between the two guys. I knew it, even though I had already filmed the gas chamber scene ... So we just took out the scene in the gas chamber," [Phillips, ''Creatures'', p. 180] despite its $150,000 cost to the studio. [ Removal of the scene, over Chandler's objection,] [ removed Production Code head Joseph Breen's single biggest remaining objection to the picture that regarded it as "unduly gruesome" and predicted that it never would be approved by local and regional censor boards.] [Lally, p. 138] The footage and sound elements are lost, but production stills of the scene still exist.
The look of the film was achieved through the work of cinematographer John F. Seitz. At the time, Seitz was the premier director of photography on the Paramount lot; his work extended back to the silent era. Wilder had worked with Seitz on his previous film, '' Five Graves to Cairo'', for which Seitz was nominated for an Academy Award, and Wilder praised Seitz's willingness to experiment and fail. [Lally, p. 124] Here Wilder taps into his 1920s Berlin roots, and he and Seitz give the film a look subtly reminiscent of German expressionism
German Expressionism () consisted of several related creative movements in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin during the 1920s. These developments were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central ..., with dramatic deployment of light and shadows. [Lally, p. 136] "He was ready for anything", Wilder said. "Sometimes the rushes were so dark that you couldn't see anything. He went to the limits of what could be done." [Sikov, p. 206] They contrasted the bright sunny Southern California exteriors, shot on location, with dark, gloomy, rotten interiors shot on sound stages to give the audience a sense of what lurks just beneath the facade – and just who is capable of murder. The contrast was heightened, in Wilder's words, by "dirtying up" the sets. Once the set was ready for filming, Wilder went around and overturned a few ashtrays to give the house an appropriately grubby look. Wilder and Seitz also blew aluminum particles into the air so that, as they floated down, they looked just like dust. [Phillips, ''Some Like'', p. 63]
Another technique Seitz used was " venetian blind" lighting which almost gives the illusion of prison bars trapping the characters. Barbara Stanwyck later reflected: "for an actress, let me tell you the way those sets were lit, the house, Walter's apartment, those dark shadows, those slices of harsh light at strange angles – all that helped my performance. The way Billy staged it and John Seitz lit it, it was all one sensational mood." [Muller, p. 58]
For Neff's office at Pacific All Risk, Wilder and set designer Hal Pereira conspired to create a little in-house joke, typical of Billy Wilder. In the opening scenes, as Walter Neff stumbles off the elevator on his way to his office to record his confession, the vast two-tiered office is empty and dark. With the camera following him, Neff lurches towards the balcony railing overlooking rows and rows of uniform corporate desks. Neff turns left, but the camera continues forward until it reaches the brink and stares down for an anxious moment into a colorless American business purgatory. Here, Pereira is said to have copied an existing office: the corporate headquarters of Paramount Pictures in New York City. [Sikov, p. 207]
Wilder decked Stanwyck out in the blonde wig "to complement her anklet ... and to make her look as sleazy as possible." [ This wig has been cited by some as being the picture's biggest flaw, claiming that it looks too "fake".] According to Wilder, this was exactly what he was going for when he chose the wig, wanting to project "the phoniness of the girl – Bad taste, phony wig", with cheap perfume to match. [Phillips, ''Some Like'', p. 62] Unconvinced, Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva
George Gard "Buddy" DeSylva (January 27, 1895 – July 11, 1950) was an American songwriter, film producer and record executive. He wrote or co-wrote many popular songs and, along with Johnny Mercer and Glenn Wallichs, he co-founded Capitol Reco ... was overheard to say "We hired Barbara Stanwyck, and here we get George Washington." [
The production was not without its lucky accidents: The company had just finished shooting the final segment of the sequence where Phyllis and Walter make their getaway after dumping their victim's body on the tracks. The crew was breaking for lunch before striking the set. In the script, the pair get in their car and simply drive away. But as Wilder got into his own car to leave, it wouldn't start. Inspired, he ran back and ordered the crew back. Wilder reshot the scene, only this time as Phyllis starts the car, the motor stalls and won't turn over. She tries several more times, but the car won't start and the two look at each other in growing panic. Walter desperately reaches over, turns the key and guns the motor, finally starting the car. Only then do they speed away from the crime scene. The result was one of the more suspenseful scenes in the film, but was not in the original script.] [Phillips, ''Creatures'', pp. 175-76] MacMurray was surprised when he first saw it onscreen: "When I ... turned the key I remember I was doing it fast and Billy kept saying 'Make it longer, make it longer,' and finally I yelled 'For Chrissake Billy, it's not going to hold that long,' and he said 'Make it longer,' and he was right." [Zolotow, p. 116]
Wilder managed to bring the whole production in under budget at $927,262 despite $370,000 in salaries for just four people ($100,000 each for MacMurray, Stanwyck, and Robinson, and $70,000 – $44,000 for writing and $26,000 for directing – for himself). [Sikov, p. 211]
The score to ''Double Indemnity'' was composed by Miklós Rózsa, whose work on Wilder's previous film ''Five Graves to Cairo'' had been his first real Hollywood engagement for a major studio. Wilder had praised that work and promised to use Rózsa on his next film. Wilder had the idea of using a restless string tremolo (as in the opening to
Franz Peter Schubert (; 31 January 179719 November 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast ''oeuvre'', including more than 600 secular vocal wor ...'s Unfinished Symphony) to reflect the conspiratorial activities of Walter and Phyllis against her husband which Rózsa felt was a good one (and the symphony is actually used with a very melodramatic effect in the scene with Lola and Walter in the hill above Hollywood Bowl, 1:23–1:26). As work progressed, Wilder's enthusiasm about Rózsa's score only grew, but the studio's Musical Director Louis Lipstone was of a different mind; he and Wilder previously clashed over some post-production cuts he had made to the ''Five Graves'' score which created problems with the music's continuity and logic. Now the two were coming to loggerheads again. [Sikov, pp. 210–11] [ Rózsa, Miklós (1982). ''Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa''. New York: Hippocrene Books. . p. 119]
When it came time to record the score for ''Double Indemnity'', Lipstone made no secret that he despised what Rózsa had done, to which Wilder finally turned to him and snapped "You may be surprised to hear that I love it. Okay?" Lipstone then disappeared and was not seen at the sessions again. He later summoned Rózsa to his office and reprimanded him for writing "Carnegie Hall music" which had no place in a film. Rózsa took this as a compliment, but Lipstone assured him it was not – and suggested he listen to the music from '' Madame Curie'' to learn how to write a proper film score. When Rózsa pointed out that ''Double Indemnity'' was a love story, Lipstone suggested his music was more appropriate to '' The Battle of Russia''. [Rózsa, p. 121] Lipstone was convinced that as soon as the studio's Artistic Director Buddy DeSylva
George Gard "Buddy" DeSylva (January 27, 1895 – July 11, 1950) was an American songwriter, film producer and record executive. He wrote or co-wrote many popular songs and, along with Johnny Mercer and Glenn Wallichs, he co-founded Capitol Reco ... heard the music he would throw it out. At a screening soon after, DeSylva called him over; expecting heads to roll, Lipstone eagerly huddled with his chief – only to have DeSylva praise the music, saying it was exactly the dissonant, hard-hitting score the film needed. The boss's only criticism: There was not enough of it. By this time, Lipstone had an arm around DeSylva, asking unctuously "I always find you the right guy for the job, Buddy, don't I?" [Rózsa, pp. 122]
The score was nominated for an Academy Award, and the success brought Rózsa offers to do as many films as he had time for. [
Exteriors of the Dietrichson house in the film were shot at a , Spanish Colonial Revival house built in 1927. The house can still be seen today; it is located at 6301 Quebec Drive
in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. The production team copied the interior of the house, including the spiral staircase, almost exactly on a soundstage at Paramount.
Interiors of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Company were filmed in the Bradbury Building, a location that has since become one of the most famous shoot locations in Los Angeles.
For years, it was believed the exterior of the train station in the film was the Mission Revival Style Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Glendale, California built in 1923, but the scene was filmed at the Southern Pacific Railroad Station, located at 201 N. Front Street, Burbank, bearing a prop sign that read Glendale. That station no longer exists; the Burbank Metrolink station now stands on the site. The Glendale station remains, however, and can now be seen as part of the Glendale Transportation Center. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance or "great artisti ... on May 2, 1997.
Other locations around Los Angeles used in the film were an apartment building at 1825 N. Kingsley Drive in Hollywood where Walter Neff lived and the building on the southwest corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Western. That building still stands, but the Newman Drug Store originally on the ground floor is no longer there.
''Double Indemnity''s first theatrical engagement was at the Keith's in Baltimore, on July 3, 1944. The film then opened nationwide on July 6, 1944, and was an immediate hit with audiences – despite a campaign by singer
Kathryn Elizabeth Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986) was an American contralto. Referred to as The First Lady of Radio, Smith is well known for her renditions of Irving Berlin's " God Bless America" & " When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain ... imploring the public to stay away on moral grounds. [Sikov, p. 213] James M. Cain recalled "there was a little trouble caused by this fat girl, Kate Smith, who carried on a propaganda asking people to stay away from the picture. Her advertisement probably put a million dollars on its gross." [McGilligan, p. 128]
It was not uncommon at the time for studios to take out ads in trade journals promoting the virtues of their own films. David O. Selznick, no stranger to self-aggrandizement, frequently sought to put a high-culture gloss on his pictures with "trade-book" ads. At just the time ''Double Indemnity'' was released, Selznick's '' Since You Went Away'' was enjoying some box-office success. In his ads, Selznick quoted various dignitaries claiming it was the finest picture they had ever seen, how it served such a noble purpose, how it elevated humanity to new levels – no high-toned platitude was too lofty to invoke. Indeed, the ad averred, the words ''Since You Went Away'' had become "the four most important words uttered in motion picture history since '' Gone with the Wind''." [Sikov, p. 212] Wilder despised such tactics, so he placed an ad of his own: ''Double Indemnity'', it claimed, were the two most important words uttered in motion picture history since '' Broken Blossoms''. Selznick was not amused and threatened to stop advertising in any of the trades if they continued to run Wilder's ads. [
Reviews from the critics were largely positive, though the content of the story made some uncomfortable. While some reviewers found the story implausible and disturbing, others praised it as an original thriller. In his mixed review of the film in ''The New York Times'', film critic
Francis Bosley Crowther Jr. (July 13, 1905 – March 7, 1981) was an American journalist, writer, and film critic for '' The New York Times'' for 27 years. His work helped shape the careers of many actors, directors and screenwriters, though his ... called the picture "Steadily diverting, despite its monotonous pace and length." He complained that the two lead characters "lack the attractiveness to render their fate of emotional consequence", but also felt the movie possessed a "realism reminiscent of the bite of past French films". [Lally, p. 139]
Howard Barnes at the '' New York Herald Tribune
The ''New York Herald Tribune'' was a newspaper published between 1924 and 1966. It was created in 1924 when Ogden Mills Reid of the ''New-York Tribune'' acquired the ''New York Herald''. It was regarded as a "writer's newspaper" and competed ...'' was much more enthusiastic, calling ''Double Indemnity'' "one of the most vital and arresting films of the year", and praising Wilder's "magnificent direction and a whale of a script". The trade paper '' Variety'' wrote that the film "sets a new standard for screen treatment in its category". [
Radio host and Hearst paper columnist Louella Parsons said "''Double Indemnity'' is the finest picture of its kind ever made, and I make that flat statement without any fear of getting indigestion later from eating my words."] [Hoopes, p. 347]
Philip K. Scheur, the '' Los Angeles Times
The ''Los Angeles Times'' (abbreviated as ''LA Times'') is a daily newspaper that started publishing in Los Angeles in 1881. Based in the LA-adjacent suburb of El Segundo since 2018, it is the sixth-largest newspaper by circulation in the U ...'' movie critic, ranked it with '' The Human Comedy'', '' The Maltese Falcon'', and '' Citizen Kane
''Citizen Kane'' is a 1941 American drama film produced by, directed by, and starring Orson Welles. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Herman J. Mankiewicz. The picture was Welles' first feature film. ''Citizen Kane'' is frequently cited ...'' as Hollywood trailblazers, and Alfred Hitchcock wrote to Wilder saying that "Since ''Double Indemnity'', the two most important words in motion pictures are 'Billy' and 'Wilder. [
The film's critical reputation has only grown over the years. In 1977, Leslie Halliwell gave it a 4-star (top) rating, and wrote: "Brilliantly filmed and incisively written, perfectly capturing the decayed Los Angeles atmosphere of a Chandler novel, but using a simpler story and more substantial characters." In a 1998 review for his "Great Films" series, film critic ] Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert (; June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013) was an American film critic, film historian, journalist, screenwriter, and author. He was a film critic for the ''Chicago Sun-Times'' from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, Ebert beca ... thought the romance between MacMurray and Stanwyck showed "little psychological depth", while MacMurray and Robinson showed the "genuine emotion" of a surrogate father-son relationship that represented the film's heart. Ebert praised director Wilder and cinematographer Seitz. He wrote "The photography by John F. Seitz helped develop the noir style of sharp-edged shadows and shots, strange angles and lonely Edward Hopper settings."
Rob Fraser from '' Empire
An empire is a "political unit" made up of several territories and peoples, "usually created by conquest, and divided between a dominant center and subordinate peripheries". The center of the empire (sometimes referred to as the metropole) ex ...'' called the film “Film noir at its finest, a template of the genre, etc. Billy Wilder in full swing, Barbara Stanwyck's finest hour, and Fred MacMurray makes a great chump.”
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wan ..., the film holds a 97% approval rating with an average rating of 9.1/10, based on 105 reviews. On Metacritic
Metacritic is a website that aggregates reviews of films, TV shows, music albums, video games and formerly, books. For each product, the scores from each review are averaged (a weighted average). Metacritic was created by Jason Dietz, Marc D ..., the film has a weighted average score of 95 out of 100 based on 18 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Academy Award nominations
At the 17th Academy Awards on March 15, 1945, ''Double Indemnity'' was nominated for seven Oscars, but did not win any.
Filmed and released during the dark days of World War II
World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ..., the film was not popular with the Academy. Wilder went to the awards ceremony expecting to win, even though the studio had been backing its other big hit of the year, Leo McCarey
Thomas Leo McCarey (October 3, 1898 – July 5, 1969) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He was involved in nearly 200 films, the most well known today being '' Duck Soup'', '' Make Way for Tomorrow'', ''The Awful T ...'s ''Going My Way'', and studio employees were expected to vote for the studio favorite. As the awards show wore on and ''Double Indemnity'' lost in category after category, it became evident that there would be a ''Going My Way'' sweep. McCarey beamed as his picture won award after award, and when he was named Best Director, Wilder could no longer take it. When McCarey made his way to the stage to accept the award for best picture, Wilder, sitting on the aisle, stuck out his foot and tripped him. "Mr. McCarey ... stumbled perceptibly," he gleefully recalled. [Lally, p. 140] After the ceremony while he and his wife Judith were waiting for his limousine to arrive, he yelled so loudly that everybody could hear him: "What the hell does the Academy Award mean, for God's sake? After all – Luise Rainer won it two times. Luise Rainer!" [Zolotow, p. 123]
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American nonprofit film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.
Leade ... included the film on these lists:
* 1998: AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movies – #38
* 2001: AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Thrills – #24
* 2002: AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Passions – #84
* 2003: AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Heroes and Villains:
** Phyllis Dietrichson, Villain #8
* 2007: AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #29
In 1998 the film was ranked at No. 43 in '' Time Out'' magazine's poll of ''Top 100 films of all time.'' In 1999 '' Entertainment Weekly
''Entertainment Weekly'' (sometimes abbreviated as ''EW'') is an American digital-only entertainment magazine based in New York City, published by Dotdash Meredith, that covers film, television, music, Broadway theatre, books, and popular cu ...'' voted it at No. 50 on their list of ''100 Greatest Movies of All Time''. In January 2002, the film was voted at No. 29 on the list of the "Top 100 Essential Films of All Time" by the National Society of Film Critics. The film was included in '' Time
Time is the continued sequence of existence and events that occurs in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future. It is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, ...''s All-Time 100 best movies list in 2005. The Writers Guild of America ranked the film's screenplay the 26th greatest ever. In 2015, ''Double Indemnity'' ranked 35th on BBC #REDIRECT BBC
Here i going to introduce about the best teacher of my life b BALAJI sir. He is the precious gift that I got befor 2yrs . How has helped and thought all the concept and made my success in the 10th board exam. ...'s "100 Greatest American Films" list, voted on by film critics from around the world.
''Double Indemnity'' is an important (and some say the first) example of a genre of films called
Film noir (; ) is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Cinema of the United States, Hollywood Crime film, crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and motivations. The 1940s and 1950s are generally regarde .... According to Robert Sklar, a former chairperson of the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, classic film noir is marked by major thematic elements: a plot about a crime told from the point of view of the criminal; exploration of psychosexual themes; and a visually "dark and claustrophobic framing, with key lighting from sources within the mise-en-scène casting strong shadows that both conceal and project characters' feelings".
''Double Indemnity'' has been compared with Wilder's other acclaimed film noir: '' Sunset Boulevard
Sunset Boulevard is a boulevard in the central and western part of Los Angeles, California, that stretches from the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades east to Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles. It is a major thoroughfare in t ...'' (1950). The narrative structure in both films begins and ends in the present, but the bulk of the plot is told in flashback narrated by their protagonists. Sklar explains, " e unusual juxtaposition of temporalities gives the spectator a premonition of what will occur/has occurred in the flashback story. ... Besides ''Double Indemnity'' and '' Detour'', voice-over is a key aspect of '' Mildred Pierce'', '' Gilda
''Gilda'' is a 1946 American film noir directed by Charles Vidor and starring Rita Hayworth in her signature role and Glenn Ford. The film is known for cinematographer Rudolph Maté's lush photography, costume designer Jean Louis's wardrobe fo ...'', '' The Lady from Shanghai'', and '' Out of the Past
''Out of the Past'' (billed in the United Kingdom as ''Build My Gallows High'') is a 1947 film noir directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. The film was adapted by Daniel Mainwaring (using the p ...'' ... as well as many others." Critic and writer Wendy Lesser notes that the narrator of ''Sunset Boulevard'' is dead before he begins narrating, but in ''Double Indemnity'', "the voice-over has a different meaning. It is not the voice of a dead man ... it is ... the voice of an already doomed man."
Ironically, Wilder stated:
I never heard that expression film noir when I made ''Double Indemnity'' ... I just made pictures I would have liked to see. When I was lucky, it coincided with the taste of the audience. With ''Double Indemnity'', I was lucky.
''Double Indemnity'' was adapted as a radio play on two broadcasts of '' The Screen Guild Theater'', first on March 5, 1945 with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, then five years later on February 16, 1950 with Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. It was adapted to the October 15, 1948 broadcast of the '' Ford Theatre'' with
Burton Stephen Lancaster (November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994) was an American actor and producer. Initially known for playing tough guys with a tender heart, he went on to achieve success with more complex and challenging roles over a 45-yea ... and Joan Bennett and the October 30, 1950 broadcast of '' Lux Radio Theater
''Lux Radio Theatre'', sometimes spelled ''Lux Radio Theater'', a classic radio anthology series, was broadcast on the NBC Blue Network (1934–35) (owned by the National Broadcasting Company, later predecessor of American Broadcasting Company ...'' with MacMurray and Stanwyck.
Other films inspired by the Snyder-Gray murder include '' The Postman Always Rings Twice'' (also based on a Cain novel) and '' Body Heat
Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different. A thermoconforming organism, by contrast, simply adopts the surrounding temperature ...'' (1981). Both ''Postman'' and ''Double Indemnity'' were remade: ''Double Indemnity'' as a television movie in 1973
* January 1 - The United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark enter the European Economic Community, which later becomes the European Union.
* January 15 – Vietnam War: Citing progress in peace negotiations, U.S. ... starring Richard Crenna (who also starred in ''Body Heat''), Lee J. Cobb, and Samantha Eggar; and is included on a bonus disc in the American DVD release of the original film. The ''Postman Rings'' remake was a 1981 theatrical release directed by Bob Rafelson and starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. An Indian film, '' Jism'' (2003), was inspired by the film.
''Double Indemnity'' is one of the films parodied in the 1993 film '' Fatal Instinct''; the hero's wife conspires to have him shot on a moving train and fall into a lake so that she can collect on his insurance, which has a "triple indemnity" rider. Carol Burnett
Carol Creighton Burnett (born April 26, 1933) is an American actress, comedian, singer, and writer. Her groundbreaking comedy variety show '' The Carol Burnett Show'', which originally aired on CBS was one of the first of its kind to be hosted ... parodied the film as "Double Calamity" on her TV show.
After the success of ''Double Indemnity'', imitators of the film's plot were rampant. In 1945, Producers Releasing Corporation, one of the
A B movie or B film is a low-budget commercial motion picture. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature ... studios of Hollywood's Poverty Row, filmed a movie titled ''Single Indemnity'' starring Ann Savage and Hugh Beaumont. Released as '' Apology for Murder'', Paramount was not fooled by the title change and quickly obtained an injunction against the film's release that still remains in effect.
So many imitations flooded the market that Cain believed he deserved credit and remuneration. Instead he led a movement within the Screen Writers Guild to create the American Author's Authority, a union that owned its members' works, negotiated better subsidiary deals, and protected against copyright infringement on behalf of its members. This was, however, during the depth of the Red Scare
A Red Scare is the promotion of a widespread fear of a potential rise of communism, anarchism or other leftist ideologies by a society or state. The term is most often used to refer to two periods in the history of the United States which ar ... in Hollywood and Guild members rejected the socialist notion. [Muller, p. 59]
* List of American films of 1944
essay by Matt Zoller Seitz at National Film Registry
The Black Heart of Double Indemnity
an essay by Angelica Jade Bastién at The Criterion Collection
film script at the Internet Movie Script Database
''Double Indemnity: The Complete File''
; Streaming audio
on Screen Guild Theater: March 5, 1945
Lux Radio Theater
''Lux Radio Theatre'', sometimes spelled ''Lux Radio Theater'', a classic radio anthology series, was broadcast on the NBC Blue Network (1934–35) (owned by the National Broadcasting Company, later predecessor of American Broadcasting Company ...: October 30, 1950
1940s crime thriller films
Adultery in films
American black-and-white films
American crime thriller films
Articles containing video clips
1940s English-language films
Films about capital punishment
Films about murder
Films based on American novels
Films based on works by James M. Cain
Films directed by Billy Wilder
Films scored by Miklós Rózsa
Films set in 1938
Films set in Los Angeles
Films shot in Los Angeles
Films with screenplays by Billy Wilder
Films with screenplays by Raymond Chandler
Paramount Pictures films
United States National Film Registry films
Universal Pictures films
1940s American films