The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center
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Double Indemnity based on the short novel by James M. Cain, is considered the ultimate film noir by many. In fact, some critics think the whole genre began with this classic. If it hadn’t been for director Billy Wilder’s persistence, Double Indemnity may never have made it to the screen. Just about every actor in Hollywood turned down the male lead and Barbara Stanwyck, Wilder’s first choice to play Phyllis Dietrichson, had to be talked into playing a cold, calculated killer. Fred MacMurray, who up to this time had played likeable leads in romantic comedies, was afraid playing Walter Neff might be a career-killing move.
Before directing, Wilder had established himself as one of the best writers in Hollywood. He wrote or cowrote the screenplays for classic films like Ninotchka, Midnight, Ball of Fire, and Hold Back the Dawn, to name a few. In 1944, Wilder was still considered a novice, having only directed two films prior to Double Indemnity. Wilder’s first two films, Five Graves to Cairo and The Major and the Minor were well received by both the public and critics, but they were considered conventional films and didn’t do much to burnish his image as a director to watch. That was all about to change.
|In 1943, Barbara Stanwyck was the |
highest paid woman in America.
Stanwyck, already noted as Wilder’s first choice, is the ultimate femme fatale. She not only manipulates MacMurray’s Walter, but us as well. We’re never quite sure what she’s thinking. MacMurray’s nice-guy image also works to his advantage. He seems like your typical, but harmless, wise-guy, not someone who would plan a murder for money and a “dame.” In a supporting role, Edward G. Robinson shines as Neff’s coworker and friend Barton Keyes. Keyes can spot a phoney insurance claim a mile away and he’s certain there’s something fishy about the Dietrichson case. Mix it all together with John Seitz’s incredible black and white cinematography and you’ve got a stylized thriller on your hands.
Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. It was shut-out in all categories. The Leo McCarey hit, Going My Way was the big winner that year, capturing the award for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Best Supporting Actor.
|Publicity shot of Fred MacMurray|