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This 1973 remake of the classic 1944 Billy Wilder film, "Double
Indemnity," is a textbook example of how to destroy a great script.
This grade-B TV fodder also illustrates the folly of remakes in
general. While Hollywood has gone after greedy executives that colorize
black-and-white films and sought disclaimers on wide-screen movies that
are shown in pan-and-scan versions, the industry has ignored the hacks
that insist on taking a classic film and diminishing it with a shoddy
The first step in producing a bowdlerized version of a classic is to edit the script. The Billy-Wilder-Raymond-Chandler work was cut by a half hour to fit the finished film into a specified time-slot with room for commercials. Then update the production with bland, color photography, smart, upscale sets, and TV-familiar actors. Thus, the brand-new "Double Indemnity" eliminates the atmospheric black-and-white film-noir cinematography that enhanced the mood and characterizations of the original. Gone are the dusty, shadowy, claustrophobic sets that explained the protagonists' desires to escape their situations at whatever cost. Gone are the close bond between Keyes and Neff and the erotic attraction between Neff and Phyllis.
The look of Jack Smight's take on "Double Indemnity" is more "Dynasty" than film noir. Phyllis Dietrickson has a designer home to die for, and Neff's comfy pad would be hard to afford on an insurance salesman's salary, not to mention the sporty Mercedes convertible that he drives. Neither character has any apparent motive to murder for a paltry $200,000. If not money, then perhaps murder for love or lust? Not in this version. Richard Crenna shows little interest in Samantha Eggar, and their kisses are about as lusty as those between a brother and a sister. Crenna fails to capture the cynicism of Neff, and his attempts at double-entendre and sexual suggestiveness fall horribly flat. Eggar is little better and lacks sensuality and the depth to suggest the inner workings of a supposedly devious and manipulative mind. Only Lee J. Cobb manages a creditable performance as Keyes. Director Jack Smight and his three principals have all done much better work.
There was no conceivable reason to produce this wretched remake except to fill time in a broadcast schedule. There was no conceivable reason to resurrect this dud on DVD and package it with the original film except to fill out a double-disc package. The only lesson that can be learned from this misfire is that even a great script and great dialog can be ruined with poor casting, lackluster direction, and TV grade production values. The 1973 "Double Indemnity" should be titled "10% Indemnity," because viewing it only underscores the 100% perfection of the original movie.
When Samantha Eggar (as Phyllis Dietrickson) answers the door of her
house swathed in a towel, you realize that as competent an actress as
Eggar may be, she doesn't have the hypnotic allure of Barbara Stanwyck.
And it is not entirely Eggar's fault. In the original film, Wilder had
Stanwyck not only appear in a towel, but she enters the scene on the
second floor balcony of the house. And she doesn't "come out"; she
appears, almost as if by magic. Walter Neff is staring up at her from
below on the first floor. There is a reason for this. Stanwyck is much
higher than Neff (Fred MacMurray) when they are first introduced. It is
not just the towel. The towel adds to the seductive allure. Her pose is
like a Greek Goddess overlooking her domain, and, in a strange way, you
feel as if, from the start, she is actually controlling the entire
situation. She has sexual, even magic, power. This person is no
ordinary housewife. This person is a mystery with secrets hidden
Back to 1973. The remake has Crenna knock on the front door. Stanwyck's stand-in, Eggar, answers the door with a towel around her. There is no "appearance". She simply opens the door. The alluring superiority that grabs the audience at the first appearance of Stanwyck in 1944 is entirely absent in 1973. She opens the door with a towel around her. It may be sexy in a Charlie's Angels sort of way, but it's not nearly as mysterious. The filmmakers of the remake seem to misunderstand Wilder's point. The script may have said "Phyllis appears in towel" so the filmmakers of the remake simply follow the instructions and include the required towel. The point is not the towel. The point is the enigmatic quality of Phyllis, and the potential power she wields. Wilder gave her a towel to add to her mystique. The filmmakers of the remake gave her a towel because that's what Wilder did. And in the choice of shot, lost all of Phyllis' mystique.
Richard Crenna also seems miscast. He seems like he's "acting" and not really in the midst of the dilemma. Part of the problem is Crenna appears so much like a 70's actor. He can't get into the 1940's. When MacMurray first speaks into the microphone, sweat begins to drip from his face. No sweat on Crenna. And they also changed one of the crucial lines at the beginning. In the original, Neff says, "I didn't get the money, and I didn't get the woman." In the 1973 version, Crenna says, "I didn't get the money, and I didn't want the woman." Did the filmmakers completely misunderstand the entire point of the story? Or were they dumbing it down for a "television" audience?
This made-for-TV movie is a by-the-numbers rendition. All the sharp edge of the original is lost. The only stand-out, maybe, is Lee J. Cobb in the role made famous by Edward G. Robinson. But he cannot save the loss of intensity of the original. This 1973 boring remake is a forgettable TV-movie made probably by the same people who did "Gilligan's Island". They might as well have tried to remake "Citizen Kane" or "Gone with the Wind". If mediocrity is the best one can hope for, what's the point? The 1944 classic is a Film with a capital "F". This made-for-TV remake deserves an "F" grade, or, maybe a "D" for dumb.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The second of the 2 discs in the splendid new DOUBLE INDEMNITY (DI) DVD
set contains Universal's updated 1973 TV-movie version (let's call it
DI v2). The original 1944 film noir rocks, but the remake sinks like a
stone. Still, both versions are worth a look for anyone who wants to
learn how make a spellbinding film noir, because you learn important
lessons when you watch them back-to-back:
1. *Just because your leading lady is pretty, it doesn't automatically mean she's irresistible enough to lead men to their doom.* As the 1973 edition of femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, Samantha Eggar is very pretty. I'll admit I liked Eggar's long, lovely red hair (and the black turban she wears in the murder scene -- very Lana Turner!) better than Barbara Stanwyck's trashy blonde wig (as a studio boss reportedly griped during the filming of the original DI, "I hire Barbara Stanwyck, and I get George Washington!"). However, Stanwyck exudes such sensual magnetism and charisma, even that wig doesn't keep Fred MacMurray from becoming putty in her hands. While Eggar has been appealing in other roles, in DI v2, she's undeniably pleasant to look at, but alas, she has all the carnal allure of an impatient English nanny. Watching Eggar try to be a sinful siren reminded me of the scenes in 1968's STAR! in which Julie Andrews tries to use her prim-and-proper, nigh-operatic tones to belt out torch songs and splashy Broadway production numbers: it's not her style, and her discomfort shows. As a rule, discomfort isn't sexy.
2. *It don't mean a thing if the leads ain't got that zing.* That brings me to Eggar's delivery; she always sounds vaguely bored and/or annoyed with Richard Crenna's Walter Neff. In the original, even when Stanwyck was scolding or angry, somehow she seemed all the more fascinating. Her sultry voice, with just a trace of her native Brooklyn accent (but from her lips, it sounded good! :-), was just as seductive as the rest of her. DI v2 might be remembered as more than just a cinematic footnote if Eggar and Crenna had even a fraction of the chemistry that sizzles between Stanwyck and MacMurray, the latter brilliant as a cynical smart-aleck whose street-wiseness goes out the window under this devious dame's influence. It just goes to show that in a story like this, the best acting in the world won't help if the leads don't have chemistry and charisma.
3. *A little moody atmosphere goes a long way in crime movies.* Despite the attractive locations, especially the Spanish-style accents in the opulent Dietrichson home (though I'd forgotten how prevalent the colors beige, harvest gold, and avocado green were back in the 1970s, not to mention blocky impressionistic artwork! :-), DI v2's L.A. seems like a duller, less exciting place than DI's original Los Angeles. The remake's flat '70s TV lighting and uninspired camera angles can't hold a candle to the original's menacing lighting effects and the great John Seitz's photography, which looks almost like painting with shadows. Ironically, the 1973 update now feels more dated than the 1944 original -- and if you listen carefully early on, you'll realize the first film was actually set in the late 1930s! DI v2 does try for a bit of startling imagery here and there, though it's made of cruder stuff than the sleek imagery of the original. For instance, a scene in which wounded, bleeding Walter tapes a confession for Keyes opens on a close-up of Walter's blood-stained cigarettes. Billy Goldenberg's piano-and-strings music is somber enough, though it certainly won't make you forget Miklos Rozsa's brassy, powerful score for the original.
Apart from Eggar's forgettable performance, the good cast helps make DI v2 fairly watchable, though far from a must-see except for completists like me. :-) As Walter Neff, Richard Crenna makes an amiable dupe who finds himself in over his head, though he doesn't have MacMurray's balance of insouciance and intensity (maybe Crenna should've worn a fedora :-). Interesting note for vintage TV fans: when Crenna's voice is cracking from the pain of his gunshot wounds during his confession-by-dictaphone, he often sounds distractingly like he did as a young man on the 1950s TV show OUR MISS BROOKS. John Fiedler and his "Piglet" voice suit Jackson-from-Medford delightfully. Lee J. Cobb's portrayal of Barton Keyes is good, but quite different from Edward G. Robinson. Unlike the energy and fighting spirit of Robinson's performance, Cobb's Keyes seems older and wearier. When he talks about how the "little man inside" upsets his stomach when he senses a phony claim, you really do get the feeling he's about to throw up any minute! Don't get me wrong, though -- Cobb's approach is quite effective in the context of the remake, especially since the remake as a whole has a lot less snap, crackle, and pop than the original. No wonder Cobb/Keyes has indigestion; maybe he needs a nice soothing bowl of Rice Krispies... :-) With a script by Steven Bochco and direction by TV crime-show veteran Jack Smight (who also did a nice job with theatrical suspensers HARPER, KALEIDOSCOPE, and NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY), you'd think DI v2 would still be worth watching, but despite the occasional gripping moment, this '70s show is still just polyester while the original is pure silk.
This 1973 TV remake of the Billy Wilder classic is inferior to the
First, the good things. Lee J. Cobb makes a terrific Barton Keyes. He's not as good as Edward G. Robinson, of course, but he's the only reason to watch this. This remake's only improvement over the original is that it cuts down the role of Lola Dietrichson, the step-daughter of the femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson.
And that's it for the good things.
The bad things are many. The director records everything in an indifferent manner: if you watched the film with the sound muted you'd hardly get the impression that anything especially interesting was happening. Because of modern bad taste, the film must be in color instead of black and white. Because of 1970s bad taste, all the sets are distractingly ugly. Walter Neff's expensive apartment, in particular, is hideous.
The modern setting hurts in a lot of small ways. Train trips were a bit more unusual in the 70s than in the 40s, so Mr. Dietrichson's decision to take a train seems more of a contrivance. Men stopped wearing hats, which prevents Walter from covering up his brown hair while posing as the white-haired Mr. Dietrichson. Women in mourning stopped wearing veils, which robs Samantha Eggar of a prop Barbara Stanwyck made splendid use of in a key scene. (Oddly, Lola still has the line where she reveals that her stepmother was trying on a black hat and veil before she had need of them.)
Stephen Bochco keeps much of the Billy Wilder-Raymond Chandler script the same. But he makes a lot of tiny, inexplicable changes to the dialogue which leave the script slightly flabby where once it was lean and muscular. Outrageously, the famous motorcycle-cop banter is gone, but look closely and you'll see what looks like a post-production cut where those lines should have been. Bochco may not be to blame.
Richard Crenna is passable as Walter Neff. What might have made this version tolerable is a really splendid Phyllis Dietrichson. Instead we get Samantha Eggar, who comes off like a standard-issue villainess from "Barnaby Jones." But who can blame Eggar? With a director who barely seems interested in what's happening in front of the camera, how could Barbara Stanwyck herself have come off well?
Watch the Original with the same title from 1944! This made for TV
movie, is just god-awful! Although it does use (as far as I can tell)
almost the same dialog, it just doesn't work! Is it the acting, the
poor directing? OK so it's made for TV, but why watch a bad copy, when
you can get your hands on the superb original? Especially as you'll be
spoiled to the plot and won't enjoy the original as much, as if you've
watched it first!
There are a few things that are different from the original (it's shorter for once), but all are for the worse! The actors playing the parts here, just don't fit the bill! You just don't believe them and who could top Edward G. Robinsons performance from the original? If you want, only watch it after you've seen the original and even then you'll be very brave, if you watch it through! It's almost sacrilege!
Utter dreck. I got to the 16 minute/27 second point, and gave up. I'd have given it a negative number review if that were possible (although 'pissible' is a more fitting word...). Unlike the sizzle you could see and practically feel between MacMurray and Stanwyck in the original, the chemistry between dumb ol' Dicky Crenna and whats-her-face here is just non-existent. The anklet becomes an unattractive chunky bracelet? There's no ciggy-lighting-by-fingertip? And I thought I'd be SICK when they have a mortified-looking (and rightly so, believe you me) Lee J. Cobb as Keyes practically burping/upchucking his way through the explanation of his "Little Man" to Mr. Garloupis. No offence to the non-sighted, but it looks as though a posse of blind men ran amuck with the set design of both the Dietrichson and Neff houses. The same goes for those horrid plaid pants that Phyllis wears. And crikey, how much $$ does Neff make, that he lives overlooking a huge marina? This, folks, again, all takes place in the first 16 and a half minutes. If you can get through more of it, you have a much stronger constitution than me, or you are a masochist. But please, take some Alka-Seltzer first, or you WILL develop a "little man" of your own that may never go away. Proceed with caution, obviously.
It was hard to watch this film and be totally fair and objective since
I am a big fan the original 1944 movie. That, to me and many others, is
one of the greatest film noirs ever made. Realizing this is simply a
shortened made-for-TV film and that most people had trashed it, I
didn't expect much, but you can't help but compare this with the '44
film. Scene after scene, I found myself comparing what I was looking at
it, and remembering how it played out with Fred MacMurray, Barbara
Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and others. Now I was seeing these famous
actors playing their famous roles replaced by Richard Crenna, Samantha
Eggar and Lee J. Cobb.
When it was all over, I found it wasn't as bad as I had expected but it's no match for the 1944 original. The two main areas in which this made-for-TV film wasn't as good were (1) the electricity between the two leads was missing and (2) being only 90 minutes, they rushed the story with hardly time to develop the plot, characters and chemistry between those leads. Crenna and Eggar were flat, and simply no match for MacMurray and Stanwyck as "Walter Neff" and "Phyllis Dietrichson," respectively.
Where this re-make held its own was in the other characters, such as "Barton Keyes" and "Edward Norton." Cobb was terrific as Keyes and Robert Webber as Norton, head of the insurance company. It also was somewhat interesting to see the time frame changed, so the houses, cars, telephones, dictating machines, etc., were all early '70s instead of mid '40s. Otherwise, the storyline was very similar, just rushed.
However, one viewing was enough and I will happily go back to the original version for the rest of my viewings of this classic story and film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You can't help comparing this 1973 TV version to the 1940s original
directed by Billy Wilder and starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck,
and Edward G. Robinson. As expected, the original comes out light years
ahead, a classic of genuine film noir.
The story line is still here. The skull shows through the skin. An insurance salesman connives with a manipulative seductress to murder her husband and collect double indemnity on the insurance policy they've just taken out on him. The claims manager, Lee J. Cobb here, unravels the plot. The criminal couple shoot and kill one another. That much is the same.
So what's the problem? Well, there are a couple of problems, and some other changes that aren't necessarily problems but don't add anything to the experience of viewing the film.
The story belongs in the 1940s. When Wilder and Raymond Chandler (in his sober period) put the thing together it had a good, old-fashioned black-and-white pizazz in its dialog and setting that just doesn't fit well into the 1970s.
Phyllis Dietrichson belongs in a slightly cramped but very comfortable old house, a slightly dated mission-style multi-story dwelling with honeysuckle around it and windows that can be closed and shuttered. People in this film live in comparative luxury. The plush carpets are the color of rust. Phyllis (Samantha Eggar) lives in a modern house that resembles a cement box on the outside. No honeysuckle vine would dream of trying to creep up the walls because the Mexican gardener would snip it off in a jiffy. Walter Neff (Richard Crenna) lives in a pad in Marina del Ray with a view of the yacht moorings, instead of the somewhat seedy hotel flat in the original. In Crenna's apartment, you'd probably have to use coasters. Everyone here seems too -- comfortable. When Eggar complains of her husband that he has no money it's impossible to believe her.
The wardrobe too is updated, of course, or rather it WAS up to date in 1973. Never saw so many turtlenecks. And such fashionably long hair on the men.
And 1973 was part of an era -- let's call it pre-Godfather -- when you still had to watch it in using ethnic names. So Lola's no-good boyfriend (a med-school dropout in the original, a law student here) is no longer Nino Sachetti but somebody with a barbaric and WASPy name like Don Franklin. That's not a name for a resentful, misguided kid. That's the name of a TV game show host. "Chris Martin Productions presents RING MY BELL -- with your host, Don FRANKlin!" Incidents, themes almost, are elided. Not much goes on in the way of affection between Neff and his boss. In the original it's symbolized by Neff's always having to provide Keyes with a match to light his cigar and Keyes' growling thanks. The match business is simply left out of this version.
So is the witness's (John Fiedler) trying to pry some extra money out of the Insurance company to cover his overnight visit to LA from Medford, Oregon. "There's a chiropractor I need to see," Porter Hall wheedles in the original. "Just don't put her on the expense account," snarls Keyes. It's one of the few humorous moments in the story. What's gained by leaving it out? Left out too is what is surely the funniest incident in the original, when Keyes gives his boss a big speech spelling out in humiliating detail precisely how dumb his boss is, then grabs a glass of water out of his boss's hand, asks, "Mind if I have this?", and nervously gulps it down. Otherwise the dialog is almost identical to the original, except for the addition of a wisecrack near the beginning, when Neff tells Phyllis, "I gave up a Rhodes scholarship to peddle insurance door to door." Performances. Crenna is probably as good as MacMurray was in the original. And although Lee J. Cobb as Keyes isn't the human buzz saw that Edward G. Robinson was in the original, he carries the part in his own exasperated way. Samantha Eggar, alas, is no Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck was pretty in a sluttish way, with that fake blonde wig, and a better actress too. Watch Stanwyck's face when the camera focuses on it and her husband is getting his neck broken in the seat next to her. There's a slight smile curling up the edges of her lips. And that nasal Brooklyn voice helps. Eggar with her fresh modelesque beauty, deep red fluffy hair, freckled face, Brit accent, and big green eyes is all innocence. When HER husband is killed, she simply stares into the camera when the shot is duplicated.
Most shots, however, are not duplicated. Not that it matters much because the director, Jack Smight, who has done interesting work elsewhere ("No Way to Treat a Lady", eg.), seems to have approached this project the way we might approach commuting to work in the morning. Nothing much goes on. The wheels aren't turning.
Oh, well. You may appreciate this more if you've never seen the original. At that, I'm surprised that there hasn't been another remake yet. It's been thirty years and more since this copy. And there must be a nickel left in the story yet, especially if it has much more blood and explicit sex in it, and something on the sound track other than, "I'll Remember April."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When someone remakes a classic movie, the remake is always unfavorably
compared to the original. Also, there's a chance that the remake is so
radically different that it is just too unfamiliar to audiences.
Well, the 1973 TV version of "Double Indemnity" has almost identical scenes and dialogue as the 1944 original. The main difference is that the remake just seems to have no energy at all. Fred MacMurray was great as the lecherous, leering insurance agent Walter Neff in the original; Richard Crenna just seems world-weary and tired. Edward G. Robinson brought great manic energy to his role as MacMurray's boss Barton Keys; Lee J. Cobb, a fine actor, appears almost bored with the proceedings. Samantha Eggar is all wrong as the conniving, back-stabbing Phyllis Dietrichson; while Barbara Stanwyck was just superb in this wicked role, Eggar is overly polite and mannered and just seems way out of place.
Robert Webber, in the old Richard Gaines role as Robinson's boss Norton, and John Fiedler taking the Porter Hall role as the crucial witness, bring some life to the movie. In particular, Webber recreates the Norton role well in a 1970s context.
However, after the movie starts, the whole thing just sort of lies there, without any life or electricity. This is one film that never should have been remade.
As a big fan of the original film, it's hard to watch this show. The
garish set decor and harshly lighted sets rob any style from this
remake. The mood is never there. Instead, it has the look and feel of
so many television movies of the Seventies. Crenna is not a bad choice
as Walter Neff, but his snappy wardrobe and "swank" apartment don't fit
the mood of the original, or make him an interesting character.He does
his best to make it work but Samantha Egger is a really bad choice. The
English accent and California looks can't hold a candle to Barbara
Stanwick's velvet voice and sex appeal. Lee J.Cobb tries mightily to
fashion Barton Keyes,but even his performance is just gruff, without
It feels like the TV movie it was and again reminds me of what a remarkable film the original still is.
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