The behind-the-scenes story of the quintessential film noir and cult classic, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity—its true crime origins and crucial impact on film history—is told for the first time in this riveting narrative published for the film's 80th anniversary.
From actual murder to magazine fiction to movie, the history of Double Indemnity is as complex as anything that hit the screen during film noir’s classic period. Born of a 1927 tabloid-sensation “crime of the century” that inspired journalist and would-be mystery writer James M. Cain, Hollywood quickly bid on the film rights to Double Indemnity, but throughout the 1930s a strict code of censorship made certain that no studio could green-light a murder melodrama based on real events. Then in 1943, writer and newly minted director Billy Wilder hired hard-boiled novelist Raymond Chandler to help him write a script that would be acceptable to industry censors.
Wilder then cajoled a star cast into coming aboard: the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck in her unforgettable turn as the ultimate femme fatale; Fred MacMurray, cast against type as her partner in crime; and Edward G. Robinson as a dogged claims investigator. Besides Chandler, other key collaborators were veteran cinematographer John Seitz, costume designer Edith Head, and composer Miklós Rózsa. The final film became one of the earliest studio noirs to gain critical and commercial success, including being nominated for seven Oscars. It powerfully influenced the burgeoning noir movement, spawned many imitators, and affected the later careers of all its cast and crew. Double Indemnity’s impact on filmmakers and audiences is still felt eight decades after its release.
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