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Double Indemnity (1944) Poster

Trivia

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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.
The scene where Neff and Dietrichson can't get their car started after the murder was added by Wilder after his car wouldn't start at the end of a shooting day.
This marks the only film appearance of screenwriter and novelist Raymond Chandler.
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."
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The movie was based on the novel by James M. Cain, which in turn was based on the true story of Ruth Snyder, the subject of a notorious 1920s murder trial.
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On viewing the film's rushes, production head Buddy G. DeSylva remarked of Barbara Stanwyck's blonde wig, "We hired Barbara Stanwyck, and here we get George Washington".
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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
We never learn the first name of Mr. Dietrichson.
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In the first scene in which Walter first kisses Phyllis, we see a wedding ring on Walter's hand. Fred MacMurray was married and the ring was not noticed until post-production.
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #29 Greatest Movie of All Time.
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The victim, Mr. Dietrichson, is an oil company executive. Screenplay writer Raymond Chandler was an oil company executive before he became a writer.
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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.
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Various studios expressed interest in the story when it first appeared in serial form in 1935 but realized it was unfilmable within the strictures of the newly-established Production Code.
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In the early 1970s Paramount had plans to remake Double Indemnity (1944) with Robert Redford in the Fred MacMurray role. The project never got off the ground.
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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.
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An article, "The Making of 'Double Indemnity'" by Jay Rozgonyi, appeared in the June-July 1990 issue of "Films in Review."
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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.
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Dick Powell wanted the role of Walter Neff, but he was under contract to another studio and they wouldn't allow it. He was enraged and tore up his contract. The role went to Fred MacMurray.
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Silver dust was mixed with some subtle smoke effects to create the illusion of waning sunlight in Phyllis Dietrichson's house.
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Alan Ladd, George Raft, and Brian Donlevy were all up for the leading role of Walter Neff but evidently turned down the role.
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Raymond Chandler's cameo at 16:12 in the film is the only known film footage that exists of the writer.
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It was quite ironic that Raymond Chandler should agree to work on an adaptation of a James M. Cain novel as he felt that Cain's work was gutter trash.
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Billy Wilder had a tough time getting a leading man for this film; many actors, including George Raft turned the project down. He had to persuade Fred MacMurray to accept the part.
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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.
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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.
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Billy Wilder's first thriller.
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James M. Cain was thrilled with this adaptation of his novella and saw it repeatedly.
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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.)
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"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on October 30, 1950 with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray reprising their film roles.
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"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on February 16, 1950 with Barbara Stanwyck again reprising her film role.
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One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since.
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"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on March 5, 1945 with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck reprising their film roles.
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According to an April 1975 career article on Brian Donlevy in "Films in Review," the actor turned down the lead role because it was "Too shady."
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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).
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Billy Wilder's usual collaborator Charles Brackett didn't want to work on the screenplay as he was uncomfortable with the material.
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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.
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As well as George Raft, Brian Donlevy and Alan Ladd, other actors to pass on playing Walter Neff included James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck and Fredric March.
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Fred MacMurray's reputation at the time was for playing nice guys so he didn't feel he was up to the challenge. Dogged persistence on Billy Wilder's part eventually wore him down.
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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.
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Cameo 

Raymond Chandler:  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.

Spoilers 

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.
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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.
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Director Billy Wilder originally filmed an ending where Keyes watches Walter Neff go to the gas chamber. It was seen only by preview audiences and was cut before the general release. The scenes contained the following actors (with their character names): George Anderson (Warden), Al Bridge (Execution Chamber Guard), Edward Hearn (Warden's Secretary), Boyd Irwin (First Doctor), George Melford (Second Doctor), William O'Leary (Chaplain) and Lee Shumway (Door Guard).
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