Double Indemnity (1944) - Legacy Series Edition

Genre(s): Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Universal || NR - 107 minutes - $26.98 || August 22, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-08-30


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Billy Wilder, Jack Smight (TV)
Writer(s): James M. Cain (novel), Billy Wilder (screenplay) and Raymond Chandler (screenplay), Steven Bochco (screenplay)(TV)
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Richard Crenna (TV), Lee J. Cobb (TV), Samantha Eggar (TV)


Theatrical Release Date: September 6, 1944


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Audio Commentary from Film Historian Richard Schickel
  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian / Screenwriter Lem Dobbs and Film Historian Nick Redman
  • "Shadows of Suspense" Documentary
  • Introduction
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Double Indemnity 1973 TV Movie


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Full Screen (1.33)
  • English (Dolby Digital 2.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Plot synopsis (from DVD back cover): A calculating wife encourages her wealthy husband to a double indemnity policy proposed by smitten insurance agent Walter Neff. As the would-be lovers plot the unsuspecting husbandís murder, they are pursued by a suspicious claims manager.

ďI couldnít hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.Ē

Double Indemnity isnít just a film noir... it is considered to be THE movie that crowned the term ďfilm noirĒ, a permanent staple for what was to come and a model of so many other classics from yesteryear like Sunset Boulevard to the modern noir such as Sin City, Brick and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

It is Indemnity that introduced the classic femme fatale (big screen, that is) played brilliantly by Barbara Stanwyck, the amazing voice-over and dialogue and the amazing black and white visuals with the use of shadows. Admittedly, I am not so well versed in the classics but over time Iíve made it a point to rent some of them like The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Notorious, The Big Sleep and many others. While I have to say, some of those are technically better in terms of story, Double Indemnity is rated higher for not just story but all the items listed earlier.

The performances from the three primary players were also masterfully cast as during its time, Double Indemnity was a controversial film that director Billy Wilder had a hard time getting actors to accept these roles. Fred MacMurray was known at the time for romantic comedies but easily manages. Even after an effective performance, MacMurray stuck with the comedy genre appearing in movies such as The Shaggy Dog and Son of Flubber.

Meanwhile actress Barbara Stanwyck delivers a sultry performance solidifying the part as probably the standard for femme fatales to come. From her first appearance standing on the interior balcony wrapped only in a towel to her skillful manipulation, Stanwyck makes the initial plot work.

While Stanwyck kept things rolling smoothly, I think the filmís best performance actually comes from the sole supporting member, Edward G. Robinson. Like MacMurray and Stanwyck, Robinson was initially hesitant in taking the part because it was a supporting role rather than starring as he had become accustomed to after memorable films like Little Caesar and many other gangster roles. Here, as MacMurrayís friend, Robinson is charismatic, funny but not to the extent of goofy or silliness that can befall this kind of character.

Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Picture, and Director for Wilder. Eventually a film called Going My Way won out, but in the grand scheme of things, Indemnity will always be remembered for its contribution that only a select few have achieved before and since.

Also included in this set is the Double Indemnity TV movie that aired on ABC in 1973. Richard Crenna (First Blood) stars as Neff while Lee J. Cobb (The Exorcist) and Samantha Eggar (The Astronautís Wife) fill the other two parts. Technically speaking, this TV movie isnít terrible, but I had a tough time watching it because all they did was take 98% of the originalís dialogue, change some locale and wa-la... I donít mind remakes all too much so long as they offer something new, something original but this one had nothing of the sort. Add in the lack of charisma from any of the players and lack of style, I canít figure out what the point of this was.

Iím not including this in my rating, but for those wondering, I give this a 1 out of 5.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

Film Historian Commentary - The first of two commentaries has historian Richard Schickel spend the time giving some insights into the film, why it was important and such. Most of this information can be found in the documentary and for me, it wasnít a great commentary...

Film Historiansí Commentary - The second track finds two historians, Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, providing some more tid bits but, like the first track, I found it to be at least semi-dry at times. Dobbs does most of the talking as he recounts his meetings with Billy Wilder back in the day and the two chat about their experiences in coming to L.A., old Hollywood and screenwriting in general. I prefer this track over Schickelís for the wide spanning of topics they expand from the movie.

For those looking for historical information, either of these tracks probably would be fine, I just wouldíve preferred it be more lively at some points, heck maybe put all three of these guys together wouldíve done the trick (or get Roger Ebert who consistently gives insightful tracks).

Shadows of Suspense (37:44) - This retrospective look at the making of Double Indemnity features interviews with film historians examining the importance the film has had on the film industry at large. They also talk about stories (true and rumors alike) on the set from the bitterness between Billy Wilder and writer Raymond Chandler to the difficulty getting a film like this on the big screen. This is a good documentary but relatively short. I wouldíve like to have heard from other mainstream critics like Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin to hear their thoughts. As it stands, itís still a good history lesson. Also, this documentary includes production stills of the infamous gas chamber alternate ending.

Introduction by Robert Osborne (2:28) - The host on Turner Classic Movies and a film historian, Osborne gives a quick intro and explains the historical value of Indemnity. Not really sure why this was included not to mention why it automatically plays before the movie (it is skip able).

There is also the original theatrical trailer included.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

The movie is presented in its original full screen format and given the film was released more than 60 years ago, Universal did a tremendous job re-mastering the picture with some dust in spots. Double Indemnity is a film that relies on shadows and contrast to tell the story, so it is a big plus to make this look as good as it does.

The only option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and even though it sounds fine through the surround system, you can use your television speakers, just remember you cranked it up some before switching back.



.::OVERALL::.

If you are at all a fan of film, Double Indemnity is one that is a must-see. In terms of Universalís Legacy Series, this seems to be the best of the bunch as it offers some insightful material worth watching.