Saturday, April 26, 2014
Daveland On Location: Double Indemnity
"Double Indemnity" (1944) has just been released for the first time on Blu-ray. Watching it last weekend, I was reminded of the genius of Director Billy Wilder. He took a decently written novella by author James M. Cain and fleshed it out into a film noir classic, creating the text book example of how the genre should operate.
Cain's dialogue was spiced up by detective fiction author and screenwriter Raymond Chandler ("The Big Sleep") and Wilder. Despite the fact (or maybe because of it) that the two didn't get along, the dialogue far surpasses the original. The interplay between femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) sizzles, laden with double entendres that allowed the film to pass the strict censors while still letting the audience know exactly what was going on, even if they didn't see it.
Stanwyck steals the picture. Wearing a cheap blonde wig that Wilder picked out for her, she transforms into the scheming wife who'll stop at nothing to get what she wants. MacMurray was an excellent choice, playing against type as the poor schmuck who is lost in the haze of sexual attraction, losing any sense of morality because of it.
Many films were inspired by "Double Indemnity," most notably "Body Heat," from 1981, starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. The storyline was not much different, but definitely a lot more graphic than its predecessor.
In 1982, comedian/writer/musician Steve Martin paid homage to the Film Noir genre with the hilarious, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid." In one sequence, he dons the horrid Barbara Stanwyck wig, recreating the "Double Indemnity" scene at Jerry's Supermarket.
Here, Detective Rigby Reardon (Martin) in drag successfully attracts Walter Neff with a bewitching perfume called "Fondle Me."
Thanks to the well executed inter-cutting of current and vintage footage, a serious scene from "Double Indemnity" becomes a riot in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid."
Surprisingly enough, the imposing Spanish Colonial style Dietrichson home from "Double Indemnity," built in 1927, still exists.
Other than an unfortunate change of garage doors, you would think you'd stepped back in time looking at the Beechwood Canyon home today, which is still a private residence.
You might even find an insurance man on the steps, still waiting for his femme fatale.
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