This film came out in 1944, the same year David O. Selznick released Since You Went Away (1944). Part of the campaign for the latter film were major ads that declared, "'Since You Went Away' are the four most important words in movies since 'Gone With the Wind'!" which Selznick had also produced. Wilder hated the ads and decided to counter by personally buying his own trade paper ads which read, "'Double Indemnity' are the two most important words in movies since 'Broken Blossoms'!" referring to the 1919 'D.W. Griffith' classic. Selznick was not amused and even considered legal action against Wilder. Alfred Hitchcock (who had his own rocky relationship with Selznick) took out his own ads which read, "The two most important words in movies today are 'Billy Wilder'!"
Author James M. Cain later admitted that if he had come up with some of the solutions to the plot that screenwriters Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler did, he would have employed them in his original novel.
Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler did not get along well while writing this film's script, a process that was apparently filled with arguments. Wilder claimed that he flaunted his womanizing ability at the time to torment the sexually-repressed Chandler.
Barbara Stanwyck was the first choice to play Phyllis, but she was unnerved when seeing the role was of a ruthless killer. When she expressed her concern to Billy Wilder, he asked her, "Are you a mouse or an actress?"
In the scene where Phyllis is listening at Neff's door as he talks with Keyes, Keyes exits into the hallway and Phyllis hides behind the door. The door opens into the hallway which isn't allowed by building codes even back then, but it does give Phyllis something to hide behind and increases the tension.
During production, one day Raymond Chandler failed to show up at work and was tracked down at his home, and he went through a litany of reasons why he could no longer work with director Billy Wilder. 'Mr. Wilder frequently interrupts our work to take phone calls from women... Mr. Wilder ordered me to open up the window. He did not say please... He sticks his baton in my eyes...I can't work with a man who wears a hat in the office. I feel he is about to leave momentarily.' Unless Wilder apologized, chandler threatened to resign. Wilder surprised himself by apologizing. "It was the first - and probably only - time on record in which a producer and director ate humble pie, in which the screenwriter humiliated the big shots."
The blonde wig that Barbara Stanwyck is wearing throughout the movie was the idea of Billy Wilder. A month into shooting Wilder suddenly realized how bad it looked, but by then it was too late to re-shoot the earlier scenes. To rationalize this mistake, in later interviews Wilder claimed that the bad-looking wig was intentional.
The character Walter Neff was originally named Walter Ness, but director/writer Billy Wilder found out that there was a man living in Beverly Hills named Walter Ness who was actually an insurance salesman. To avoid being sued for defamation of character, they changed the name. In the novel, his name is Walter Huff, and Dietrichson is Nirdlinger
Raymond Chandler hated the experience of writing the script with Billy Wilder so much that he actually walked out and would not return unless a list of demands was met. The studio acceded to his demands and he returned to finish the script with Wilder, even though the two detested each other.
When "Double Indemnity" was first published in 1935, offers of up to $25,000 were tendered but nothing came of it at the time because the Hays Office considered the novel unsuitable for filming. James M. Cain was ultimately offered $15,000 by Paramount. He was to get half on signing and the other half if the script was approved by the Hays Office.
When approached about adapting the novel to the screen, Raymond Chandler told Billy Wilder that he had to get at least $150 a week in salary and was surprised when Joseph Sistrom told the writer that they had planned to give him $750 a week.
In 1942 Raymond Chandler said that Cain was "a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking... everything he touches smells like a billygoat.
Raymond Chandler, who knew nothing about screen writing or film making had never been in a studio before "Double Indemnity," did not care for Billy Wilder. He thought the director spoke too fast, was too jumpy and was disrespectful because he wore a baseball cap indoors.
The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards but lost out on the night to Going My Way (1944). Billy Wilder was seriously annoyed at Leo McCarey's sweep that when McCarey's name was called for Best Director, Wilder stuck his foot out into the aisle, tripping McCarey up. (Wilder would get his revenge the following year when The Lost Weekend (1945) won 4 Oscars, while McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) only picked up 1.)
Co-written with Raymond Chandler. Billy Wilder didn't really get on with the famous novelist whose constant drinking irritated the director. Wilder effectively exorcised his demons about dealing with alcoholics with his next film, The Lost Weekend (1945).
Raymond Chandler was kept on a writer's retainer during the film's 8 week shooting period. This was a highly unusual occurrence for any writer at any studio at the time, signifying the high regard that Chandler was held in by Paramount and Billy Wilder.
Edward G. Robinson's initial reluctance to sign on largely stemmed from the fact he wasn't keen on being demoted to third lead. Eventually he realized that he was at a transitional phase of his career plus the fact that he was getting paid the same as Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray for doing less work.
About 16 minutes into this movie, Chandler is sitting outside an office as Fred MacMurray walks past. Chandler glances up at MacMurray from a paperback he is reading, a great clue of his identity.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The part of Walter Neff was originally offered to George Raft. He insisted that he would only take on the role if his character turned out to be an FBI agent at the end, entrapping Barbara Stanwyck's character. As this ran completely counter to James M. Cain's original novel, he naturally didn't get the part.
A different ending was shot, with Neff being caught by the police and executed while Keyes looks on in despair. Billy Wilder decided it would be poignant and fitting for both characters if instead Neff were to die in his office with Keyes by his side as he expressed his regret.