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Billy Wilder
Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, John Philliber
Writing Credits:
James M. Cain (novel, "Double Indemnity in Three of a Kind"), Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler

It's Love And Murder At First Sight!

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in this gripping film noir from Academy Award-winning director Billy Wilder. A calculating wife encourages her wealthy husband to sign a double indemnity policy proposed by smitten insurance agent Walter Neff. As the would-be lovers plot the unsuspecting husband's murder, they are pursued by a suspicious claims manager (Edward G. Robinson). It's a race against time to get away with the perfect crime in this heart-racing Academy Award-nominated masterpiece.

Box Office:
$927.262 thousand.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $28.99
Release Date: 8/22/2006

Disc One
• Introduction by Film Historian Robert Osbourne
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Schickel
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian/Screenwriter Lem Dobbs and Film Historian Nick Redman
• “Shadows of Suspense” Documentary
• Trailer
Disc Two
Double Indemnity 1973 Made for TV Movie


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Double Indemnity: Legacy Series (1944)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 13, 2006)

For movie fans, it's always fun to hear about the other actors who were considered for now-classic roles. Would we still have loved Raiders of the Lost Ark if Tom Selleck played Indiana Jones? How would we have felt about The Graduate with Robert Redford in the lead?

The most famous tale is apparently apocryphal. That involves the rumored casting of Ronald Reagan as Rick in Casablanca, a part that eventually went to Humphrey Bogart. The truth of this yarn is questionable, though it's often accepted as fact; even if it's false, the idea of warm and homey Ronnie as bitter and cynical Rick is awfully entertaining.

To see how that situation might have ended, we need look no further than 1944's Double Indemnity, a classic film noir that starred Fred MacMurray. Best known for gently comedic paternal roles in movies like The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor, MacMurray seemed miscast for this dark tale of murder and romantic affairs. In fact, when I first saw his name attached to the flick, I thought I read wrong.

Unfortunately, my information was correct. MacMurray plays amiable insurance salesman Walter Neff. One day Neff stops by the home of a client to update his policy when he meets the man's sultry wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). An affair soon begins, and the two plot to off her husband, collect on an insurance policy and live happily ever after.

Of course, things don't work out as planned, a fact we know from the start, since Neff tells almost the whole film in flashback. As we first meet him, he's been injured and is dictating his tale to be heard later by his coworker, claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Neff relates the details, which we see acted out for us.

All in all, the film is well-crafted and plotted. It moves at an effective and compelling pace and provides a lot of smart dialogue and intriguing events. So why didn't I much like it?

One word: MacMurray. Try as I might, I simply couldn't accept him in such a dark and troubled role. Plain and simple, the guy's a goofball and he seemed completely inappropriate in the part. To hear his attempts to spit out biting "tough guy" dialogue made me snicker, and that's not the desired result. Nothing was worse than MacMurray's constant use of the phrase "baby" to address Stanwyck; unfortunately, his affected tone makes it come out as "bebby" and it becomes very amusing.

Some regard MacMurray as a great casting choice because of his inherent “ordinary guy” appeal. They feel that such an actor makes more sense than someone more hard-bitten and edgy. I don’t disagree with that theory, but I still find MacMurray to be a poor choice for the actual part. He just can’t handle the dialogue given to him without sounding like a goof.

Frankly, Stanwyck didn't do much for me either. Her acting seemed competent but her appearance felt wrong for the femme fatale role. She generally looked somewhat frumpy and unappealing, especially since she was hampered by a very unattractive hairstyle; she wears an awkward, unconvincing wig through the film, and it detracts from her look.

More problems stem from some of the supporting actors. Richard Gaines seemed terribly overwrought and artificial as Edward Norton, and Byron Barr's turn as Nino Zachetti also suffered from terminal attempted-tough-guy blues. Of all the cast, only Robinson really succeeded. He played the role with appropriate tenacity and fire and he alone displayed excellent acting; some of the other actors were acceptable, but none were really good other than Robinson.

Old Eddie G. almost saves the film, but ultimately I just couldn't get past dopey Fred MacMurray in the lead. Clearly I'm in the minority here, but I thought Double Indemnity ultimately fell short of its goals due to his presence. The rest of the movie had a lot going for it, but I simply couldn't stop laughing at the lead. Since Indemnity isn't a comedy, that's a problem.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus A

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5217 Stars Number of Votes: 23
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