Double Indemnity appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not reference quality, this became a largely positive presentation.
Sharpness usually worked well, as the majority of the movie brought appealing accuracy and delineation. Some softness crept in at times, mainly during low-light interiors, but these didn’t create distractions.
I noticed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes also appeared absent. With a healthy layer of grain, I didn’t suspect any egregious noise reduction, and print flaws remained negligible. In some of the shots where Walter recorded his confession, I could see thin vertical lines on the right side of the screen, but
Blacks felt deep and rich, while shadows felt smooth and clear, an important factor given all the dimly-lit shots. This turned into a quality image.
While the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Double Indemnity didn’t dazzle, it worked fine for its age. Dialogue came across as acceptably natural and distinct for the era and no problems arose in regard to intelligibility or edginess.
Effects were similarly clear and realistic, and they displayed no signs of distortion. Music seemed reasonably robust given the track’s restrictions.
No issues with background noise or flaws interfered with the audio. This felt like a more than adequate track for a film from 1944.
How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the ”Legacy Series” DVD from 2006? Audio felt pretty comparable, as the lossless Blu-ray track couldn’t do much to overcome the limitations of the source.
Visuals offered the expected upgrade, as it looked better defined, more dynamic and cleaner. This turned into a clear step up in quality.
Note that a 1998 DVD came first, and it was a visual mess. The 2006 DVD blew it away, which obviously meant this Blu-ray offered an even more substantial improvement over the 1998 release.
Also note that a 2014 Blu-ray of the film also exists. Unfortunately, I never saw it, so I can’t compare it to the Criterion release.
The Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. Also found on the 2006 DVD, we get an audio commentary from film historian Richard Schickel as he provides a running, screen-specific chat.
Schickel covers the usual mix of subjects. Schickel discusses some biographical notes about the author, the cast and the crew, differences between the novel and the movie, origins and facets of film noir, cast and performances, dialogue and some scene specifics, and a bit of critiquing.
In the past, I’ve felt that Schickel’s commentaries suffered from two main flaws: too much dead air and too much narration. The first problem still occurs, as Schickel goes silent too much of the time.
However, he avoids his usual tendency to simply describe the action, so when Schickel talks, he makes the most of his time. He gives us pretty good notes about the flick and related topics. The empty spots make the track a little frustrating, but at least Schickel gives us reasonably good information much of the time.
Also found on the 2006 DVD, we locate a 37-minute, 57-second documentary called Shadows of Suspense. The show features notes from Schickel, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir author Eddie Muller, Once and Future Myths author Phil Cousineau, filmmaker William Friedkin, Film Noir Encyclopedia author Elizabeth Ward, USC School of Cinema-Television professor Dr. Drew Casper, critic and TV producer Paul Kerr, Film Noir Reader Series editor Alain Silver, LA Confidential author James Ellroy, Noir Fiction author Paul Duncan, UCLA Film, Television and Digital Media professor Vivian Sobchack, author and film critic Kim Newman, The Noir Style author James Orsini, and cinematographers Owen Roizman and Caleb Deschanel.
“Suspense” examines the origins of film noir and its societal roots, information about those involved with Indemnity and its development. We learn about challenges related to bringing the story to the screen, adaptation issues and the uneasy collaboration between Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, casting and crew, performances, cinematography, makeup, costumes and hair, dialogue and censorship issues, an alternate ending, the film’s reception and later impressions of it.
A bit of material repeats from the commentary, but not a ton. Instead, we find a lot of fresh and insightful information in “Suspense”. The show offers a pretty good overall examination of the film and also delves well into its importance within film history. This is a tight and interesting program.
In addition to the film’s trailer, the rest of the set provides extras not found on the prior DVD. Recorded in early 2022, an Interview with Film Scholar Noah Isenberg runs 17 minutes, 19 seconds.
Isenberg discusses the life and career of writer/director Billy Wilder, with an emphasis on Indemnity. Isenberg offers a solid overview in this short discussion.
Also from February 2022, we get a 31-minute, 23-second Conversation Between Film Scholars Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith. In this piece, they cover their view of the film as well as some interpretation and facts about the production. They give us useful notes.
Disc One ends with two Radio Plays. We get a March 5, 1945 Screen Guild Theater adaptation (29:21) as well as a Lux Radio Theatre version (56:20) from October 30, 1950.
Both bring back Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray as the leads, though given their lengths, obviously they offer very different takes on the tale. Walter Abel plays Keyes in the 1945 production, whereas William Cannon takes the part for the 1950 show.
Unsurprisingly, 1950 becomes the more complete and more satisfying rendition of the story. 1945 drops massive chunks of the plot, as we lose any reference to Dietrichson’s daughter Lola, a fairly significant aspect of the complete narrative.
I can’t claim either creates an especially compelling rendition of the story. Still, both offer intriguing adaptations, and even the short one becomes fun in its own abbreviated way.
On a second disc, we get Billy, How Did You Do It?, a three-episode BBC documentary from January 1992. All together, the segments fill a total of three hours, three minutes, 18 seconds.
In these segments, filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff chats with Billy Wilder about his movies. This becomes a true career-spanning discussion, one that gives us a lot of good insights about Wilder’s work.
The package concludes with a booklet that includes art, credits and an essay from critic Angelica Jade Bastien. Though not one of Criterion’s best booklets, it adds some value.
Note that the Criterion disc loses some extras from the 2006 DVD and the 2014 Blu-ray. It drops a second audio commentary as well as a 1973 made for TV version of Indemnity.
Despite its status as a classic, I found 1944’s Double Indemnity to be less compelling than anticipated, mainly due to the presence of Fred MacMurray in the lead role. Without him, I might like it more, but he completely ruins any tension or drama. The Blu-ray offers good picture plus appropriate sound and an appealing array of bonus features. Despite my continued lack of strong affection for the movie itself, I find a lot to like about this fine release.
To rate this film, visit the 2006 review of DOUBLE INDEMNITY