Favorite things about… Double Indemnity (1944)

NOTE: This post is a part of TMP’s Barbara Stanwyck Filmography project. I’m on a mission to view (or re-watch) and review all of Barbara Stanwyck’s films! For more posts in this series, visit the Listography page.

The favorite film:
Double Indemnity, a 1944 noir directed by Billy Wilder, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Raymond Chandler

(Image via Film Affinity)

(Image via Film Affinity)

The synopsis:
Walter Neff is a straight-laced and successful insurance salesman. During a house call to remind a client that his car insurance policy is up for renewal, Walter meets Phyllis Dietrichson, his client’s wife. Phyllis is uninterested in car insurance, though. She wants to know how to take out an accident policy, insuring her husband’s life without him knowing about it.

The cast:
Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson
Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff
Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes
Jean Heather as Lola Dietrichson
Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson

Fun facts:

  • Based on a novel by James M. Cain, who also wrote the novels The Postman Always Rings Twice and  Mildred Pierce. Cain’s novel, in turn, was inspired by a real-life case, the murder of Albert Snyder. The written version of this tale was serialized in Liberty magazine.
  • Barbara Stanwyck was the first choice for the role of Phyllis Dietrichson, but finding a leading actor took more work. A number of actors, including Alan Ladd, James Cagney, Gregory Peck, and George Raft turned the part down according to Kevin Lally’s Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder.
  • According to TCM, upon seeing Stanwyck’s wig for the first time, one Paramount exec commented: “We hire Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”
  • Raymond Chandler makes a cameo in this film, his first and only on-screen appearance.
  • The production code dictated that in the scene of Phyllis and Walter’s first meeting, where she is wrapped in a towel after sunbathing, Phyllis’ towel was required be longer than knee-length.
  • Though the film is regarded as one of the best of the noir genre, Wilder and Chandler struggled to cooperate on the script, both admitting that they found each other difficult to work with.
  • Stanwyck and MacMurray both reprised their roles for a 1950 Lux Radio Theatre production of Double Indemnity.

Favorite things:

  • That ominous music over the opening credits!
  • Sweaty Fred MacMurray leading us into flashback land with a dictaphone
  • “I killed Dietrichson. Me, Walter Neff. Insurance salesman, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars… until a while ago, that is. Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money, and for a woman. But I didn’t get the money, and… I didn’t get the woman.”
  • The Dietrichsons’ sassy maid, interrogating Walter and warning him that the liquor cabinet is locked
  • “There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.”

    (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

    (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

  • Walter’s obsession with the anklet
  • Walter and Phyllis’ confrontation over the accident insurance policy
  • “I knew I had a hold of a red-hot poker and the time to drop it was before it burned my hand off.”
  • For a straight-laced insurance salesman, Walter sure is quick to jump at the chance to get rid of Phyllis’ husband — not only that, but he masterminds the whole ordeal, assuring Phyllis it’ll be done right!
  • “Who needs a hat in California?”
  • “Files, duplicates, triplicates…”
  • “We’re hitting it for the limit, baby. That’s why it’s got to be the train!”
  • Walter and Phyllis’ inconspicuous meetings at the grocery store
  • “I kept telling myself that maybe those fates they say watch over you had gotten together and broken his leg to give me a way out.”
  • Edward G. Robinson playing a character on the right side of the law!
  • “Margie. I bet she drinks from the bottle.”
  • “I picked you for the job not because I think you’re so darn smart, but because I thought you were a shade less dumb than the rest of the outfit. Guess I was wrong. You’re not smarter, Walter. You’re just a little taller.”
  • Phyllis’ not-at-all-upset expression when Walter kills Mr. Dietrichson
  • What’s a murderous couple to do when their getaway car won’t start?
  • “I was afraid that she might go to pieces a little, now that we’d done it, but she was perfect. No nerves, not a tear, not even a blink of the eyes.”
  • “Let us examine this so-called accident.”
  • “Nice going, Mr. Norton. You sure carried that ball.”
  • Good ol’ Keyes and his hunches
  • The fact that Keyes standing is as tall as a seated Walter:

    (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

    (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

  • “They’ve committed a murder, and it’s not like taking a trolley ride together where they can get off at different stops.”
  • Phyllis’ shock when Walter brings up “the first Mrs. Dietrichson,” only to throw the whole thing back in Walter’s face by pointing out that he was the one who planned Mr. Dietrichson’s death
  • “I’m all through thinking, baby. I just came to say goodbye.”
    “Goodbye? Where are you going?”
    “You’re the one that’s going, baby, not me. I’m getting off the trolley car right at this corner.”
  • “We’re both rotten.”
    “Only you’re a little more rotten.”
  • The tension between Stanwyck and MacMurray during their big confrontation
  • True love is when you can’t muster up the anger to shoot your man a second time, according to Phyllis.
  • Keyes’ surprisingly calm reaction to the truth about the Dietrichson case
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4 thoughts on “Favorite things about… Double Indemnity (1944)

  1. Todd Benefiel says:

    Yeah, my one of my favorite noirs…lots of cool stuff and favorite moments in this one. The dialogue was outstanding, but there were some pretty cool shots, too…and Edward G. Robinson was a treat to watch. But where was Raymond Chandler’s cameo? I’d never heard he was in it until now!

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    • Lindsey says:

      Blink and you’ll miss him! Fred MacMurray walks past him after leaving Edward G. Robinson’s office. He’s sitting in a wooden chair, reading a book. I think it’s around 15 minutes in, though I dont remember the exact time stamp.

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