Double Indemnity appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A tremendous improvement over the original DVD release, this version of Indemnity looked pretty solid.
Virtually no issues with sharpness occurred. Wide shots remained strong, as the whole package lacked soft elements. The flick consistently came across as crisp and distinctive. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement also appeared absent.
Unlike its predecessor, the 2006 Indemnity DVD lacked substantial source flaws. Sure, I noticed occasional specks and marks, but not to a significant degree. The debris caused minor distractions at most, nothing like the mess that marred the prior disc. Grain remained natural and not too heavy. Brightness also improved, as the movie exhibited a nice silvery sheen that created well-delineated low-light shots. These stayed consistently visible within the film’s cinematographic parameters, and blacks were dark and firm. The smattering of source defects dropped my grade to a “B+”, but this was still a strong image, and a serious improvement over the old disc and its “D+” visuals.
While the monaural soundtrack of Double Indemnity didn’t display such a big leap in quality, it nonetheless worked better than its predecessor. 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. Those elements appeared livelier than I recalled and created the movie’s main improvements. I detected a light layer of background noise throughout the film, though this decreased as the flick progressed, another reason to prefer this version. This left the 2006 Indemnity with a “B” instead of the original disc’s “C+”.
While the original DVD came devoid of extras, this “Legacy Series” release adds a bunch of components. We begin with an Introduction by Film Historian Robert Osbourne. It lasts two minutes, 30 seconds as Osbourne tells us a little about issues the story faced as it made its way to the big screen. This acts as a decent little teaser for the movie and the other supplements; it’s not a particularly valuable intro, but it’s better than most.
Two separate audio commentaries follow. The first comes from film historian Richard Schickel as he provides a running, screen-specific chat. He 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 at times, but at least Schickel gives us reasonably good information much of the time.
For the second commentary, we hear from film historian/screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. The text receives much of the attention. We get notes about author James M. Cain as well as screenwriters Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. We also hear about the movie’s noir elements, how it fit in the careers of those involved, character and story themes as well as interpretation, Dobbs’ relationship with Wilder and the director’s methods, and general thoughts about the genre and the film’s era.
Dobbs strongly dominates the track, as Redman acts more as an interviewer. Dobbs proves very chatty and he helps carry this interesting piece. It doesn’t act as a great history of the film; more details about the production would be nice. Nonetheless, it’s a great anecdotal view of things and it works well.
In addition to the movie’s trailer, DVD One includes a documentary called Shadows of Suspense. In this 37-minute and 55-second piece, we find the usual mix of movie clips, archival materials and interviews. The show features 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 commentaries, 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.
One component appears on DVD Two: a 1973 Made for TV edition of Double Indemnity. This one casts Richard Crenna in the Fred MacMurray role and places Samantha Eggar in Barbara Stanwyck’s part. It runs 73 minutes, 40 seconds and features a pretty literal remake of the original film. Its Steven Bochco-penned script hews very closely to the Wilder/Chandler version and only a few variations occur. In fact, the resemblance is so strong that it’s somewhat galling Bochco took credit for it and just said it’s “based on” the earlier work. The 1973 text lifts massive hunks of dialogue from the original and plays in a very similar manner. The primary change comes from a diminution of Lola’s role; she plays a much smaller part here than in the 1944 edition.
The 1973 Indemnity fails to replicate the original’s style, though. It screams “early Seventies TV movie”. We get TV movie cinematography, TV movie sets, TV movie music – you name it. In almost every way, this Indemnity suffers by comparison to its predecessor. Just take one look at Walter’s swinging dockside bachelor pad for a prime example of the remake’s shortcomings.
The only potential improvement comes from Crenna as Neff. Many will prefer MacMurray, of course, but I think Crenna is stronger in the part. He seems more natural and believable as Walter. He doesn’t present a stellar performance, but I think he outdoes MacMurray.
Lee J. Cobb takes on the Edward G. Robinson role and almost matches up with his predecessor. Since I loved Robinson’s turn, I won’t go that far, but Cobb proves quite satisfactory as Keyes. He’s a little crabbier in that part but almost as enjoyable.
Unfortunately, all the other actors fall short of their precursors. Even though I don’t think a lot of Stanwyck’s work in the original, she blows away the terribly unsatisfying performance from Eggar. Haughty and stiff, she lacks even the modest icy allure demonstrated by Stanwyck. Compared to Eggar, Stanwyck comes across as a steamy seductress; this version’s Phyllis is a dud.
Ultimately, the 1973 Indemnity becomes little more than an interesting historical element. It lacks the dramatic impact of the original, as it offers a bland presentation without any sizzle or flair. Fans will watch it once out of curiosity and then forget it immediately.
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 have liked it more, but I thought he completely ruined any tension or drama. The DVD offers very good picture plus solid sound and a pretty terrific set of extras.
Although I remain less than enthusiastic about Indemnity as a film, I recommend this release. The movie’s reputation makes it a “must see”, and this is a fine DVD set. Fans who already own the previous release definitely need to pick up this version as well. It outdoes the old DVD in every possible way.