Friday, August 21, 2020

Double Indemnity at the Chateau Marmont

In my ritual of watching classic movies while eating dinner, I put “Double Indemnity” into the player. I’m one of those geeks that will watch the movie and listen to the commentary...and then obsess over the extra features on the disc. Longtime readers know I also obsess over figuring out where these vintage movies were shot. While most were shot on a soundstage, they still used actual building exteriors and outdoor locations for establishing shots. “Double Indemnity” used this home in the Hollywood Hills for the exterior shots of femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson’s (Barbara Stanwyck) residence:

How that same home looks today:

From the moment she appears at the top of the stairs clad in a towel…

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a goner.

And let's just get this over with…yes, I know Stanwyck’s wig is awful. That was a conscious decision on Billy Wilder’s part to make her look cheap. How about that curl on top?!?

It is amazing how much was conveyed at a time when censorship was at its peak. Although there was no nudity, you knew that from this shot of the two on the couch…

which then cuts back to Neff doing his narration…

and then cuts back to the two on the couch again...there was more than just hugging that went on during that cut. They have not only changed positions on the couch, but Neff is dreamily smoking the “after” cigarette and Phyllis is reapplying her lipstick. Wow.

Finally, to the point of this post. During one of the documentaries, it was mentioned that Wilder had the interior of Neff’s apartment modeled after a Chateau Marmont interior (recreated on soundstages 8 and 9 on the Paramount lot). Wilder had roomed with Peter Lorre at the Chateau Marmont in the 1930’s and it remained a favorite haunt of his. His quote about the hotel is often repeated in histories about the fabled landmark:

“I would rather sleep in a bathroom than in another hotel.”

Apparently during the 1935 holiday season the hotel was booked; he persuaded the staff to put him up in the vestibule outside the lobby ladies’ room.

“It was a small room, but it had six toilets.” 

I immediately watched the film again, fast forwarding to the scenes that occurred in Neff’s apartment. Sure enough, the layout looked familiar. Set design by Bertram Granger:

The room that seemed the closest at the actual hotel was room 25; other than the position of the entry door, it is very similar as far as the size of the living room, location of the windows, and where the dining room/kitchen are situated. Neff’s bedroom is never seen in the movie.

The view from a Chateau kitchen into the dining room:

How it looked in the movie:

Neff in the kitchen:

I would even go so far as to venture that whoever owner André Balazs hired to redecorate the guest rooms when he first bought the hotel looked closely at “Double Indemnity” for inspiration. Compare the furnishings, pillow, and lamps in this shot with the previous ones showing Neff and Phyllis making out on the couch:

Just one more reason that I like (and will miss) the Chateau Marmont hotel.

See more Chateau Marmont photos at my main website.


Fifthrider said...

That is a great job of stitching done on those shots of MacMurray walking across the room. Love how the original garage on "Barbara's house" has curved openings for the garage, accommodated by the curved car roofs of the time. Today's SUV would require large and square, as it's been modified to.

Matthew said...

Would have to agree fully with @Fithrider. You stitch nicely. Would have to also say, what a great and insight post! Finally, how could you mention "Double Indemnity" without also mentioning, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (Filmed in Detecto Vision). Oh my gosh I died laughing when Fred MacMurray's charter asks Steve Martin (AKA Barbara Stanwyck, AKA Phyllis Dietrichson), "What's that perfume you're wearing baby?" Reply, "Fondle Me."

Always your pal,
Amazon Belle

Matthew said...

Whoops... I stand corrected. "That perfume on your hair. What's the name of it? Reply, "Fondle Me."

Always your pal,

"Lou and Sue" said...

Dave, "Double Indemnity" is one of my favorite movies. On one of our trips to California, a few years back, we had a list of sites to see - from the old classic movies, and this house was one of them.

I enjoyed all the interesting background info you included - thanks for today's post!


Daveland said...

Matthew - Already covered back in 2014!

Sue - Next time we can tour together!

Fifthrider said...

Cleaning woman? CLEANING WOMAN?!?!

Daveland said...

Bryan - Don't forget to toast your stale bread!

Matthew said...

Ha! That is fantastic! Thanks Dave!!

Always your pal,