DoubleIndemnity1944

Double Indemnity (La Fiamma del Peccato) – USA 1944

Directed by: Billy Wilder.

Starring: Fred MacMurray; Barbara Stanwyck; Edward G. Robinson.

B/W 107 min.

Walter did it for the money and a woman. And he didn’t get the money… and he didn’t get the woman.

March 10, 1927: in New York, Ruth Snyder decides she has had enough of her husband Albert and with the help of her lover Henry Judd Gray kills him. She had a plan and also persuaded her victim to subscribe a life insurance for 45000 $ (that could become 90000 thanks to the double indemnity clause), but the plan is so clumsy that the police soon unmask the two murderers. Less than two months pass before they will be sentenced to death. On January 20, 1928 when the execution takes place, while Ruth is electrocuted an unscrupulous reporter takes a picture thanks to a hidden camera. The following day that picture becomes the New York Daily Post front page, but Ruth will never know it, just like she’ll never know that her crime is will inspire literature and cinema for decades.

Double Indemnity (film)

Double Indemnity (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Double Indemnity, the 1944 movie directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the most famous films inspired by that crime story. It’s based on the novella with the same name first published in 1936 in serial form for Liberty magazine and written by James M. Cain, the American writer who was a journalist in New York when the murder happened (it also inspired him another famous novel published in 1934, The Postman Always Rings Twice, that also became a famous Hollywood film and inspired Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione, considered the first movie of the Italian Neorealism movement).

In Double Indemnity the story migrates from the East to the West Coast. July 16,1938: in Los Angeles Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman who looks a bit battered, enters at night into the office of his friend and colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), an insurance investigator, only to confess to his Dictaphone the crime he committed: he helped Phyllis Dietrichson to kill her husband for the insurance money (the victim signed, unaware, a life insurance with a double indemnity clause paying the double amount if the death happens under particular circumstances). From that point, in a long flashback Walter Neff tells his version of that story. He’s a bachelor who’s always play it straight, but one day he met a blonde temptress wearing a naughty anklet (and welcoming him from the top of a staircase only wearing a bath towel) and he could not resist her feminine charm, he allowed her (with great pleasure) to lead him astray and became an assassin (and prepared the murder plan and suggested the double indemnity…). The same old story, from the little accident occurred in the Garden of Eden on…

Cropped screenshot of Fred MacMurray from the ...

Walter confesses his crime (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story was adapted for the screen by Billy Wilder (who made a little break in his collaboration with Charles Brackett) and the novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler. A tumultuous four-month collaboration that will inspire the next Wilder’s movie The Lost Weekend (1945) telling the story of a writer and his self-destructive love for alcohol.

To learn more about this collaboration you  could read Billy Wilder, The Art of Screenwriting an interview by James Linville published in The Paris Review in 1996 clicking this link:

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1432/the-art-of-screenwriting-no-1-billy-wilder

Cropped screenshot of Barbara Stanwyck from th...

Phyllis welcomes Walter wearing a bath towel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film had to face many restrictions imposed by the censorship, who couldn’t turn a blind eye to a movie whose heroes were murderers and imposed a change in the ending because the audiences should be aware that crime not only doesn’t pay (literally) but it’s always punished. Anyway, Double Indemnity was a box office and critical success, also thanks to Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck that were the highest paid actors in Hollywood (in fact Stanwyck was the highest paid woman in the US). This great success was followed by seven Academy Awards nomination (Best Picture; Director; Leading Actress; Screenplay; black and white Cinematography; Music; Sound Recording), but to Wilder’s great disappointment Double Indemnity won none.

Today Double Indemnity, because of the story it tells, the way it is told (the voice-over, the flashback), the use of expressive black and white cinematography, is considered the archetype of a Film Noir and it’s for sure one of those movies you should have seen at least once in your life.

Who knows how different the history of cinema could have been if only Ruth and Albert Snyder had had a happy marriage…

A few free-associated movies you could also like (click on the title to watch a clip or the trailer):

The Blue Angel – GER 1930 Directed by: Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Marlene Dietrich; Emil Jannings.

A Woman’s Face – USA 1941 Directed by: George Cukor. Starring: Joan Crawford; Melvin Douglas; Conrad Veidt.

The Postman Always Rings Twice – USA 1946 Directed by: Tay Garnett. Starring: Lana Turner; John Garfield; Cecil Kellaway.

Sunset Blvd – USA 1950 Directed by: Billy Wilder. Starring: Gloria Swanson; William Holden; Eric von Stroheim; Nancy Olson.

Dial M for Murder – USA 1954 Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Grace Kelly; Ray Milland;  Robert Cummings; John Williams.

Love in the Afternoon – USA 1957 Directed by: Billy Wilder. Starring: Audrey Hepburn; Gary Cooper; Maurice Chevalier.

The Sting – USA 1973 Directed by: George Roy Hill. Starring: Paul Newman; Robert Redford; Robert Shaw.

Walter l’aveva fatto per denaro e per una donna. E non ha preso il denaro… e non ha preso la donna.

10 Marzo 1927: a New York, Ruth Snyder decide di averne abbastanza di suo marito Albert e con l’aiuto del suo amante Henry Judd Gray lo uccide. Ha un piano ed è riuscita anche a convincere la sua vittima a stipulare un’assicurazione sulla vita per 45000 $ (che potrebbero diventare 90000 grazie alla clausola di doppia indennità), ma il piano è puerile e la polizia smaschera quasi subito i due assassini. Passano meno di due mesi prima che i due vengano condannati a morte. Il 20 gennaio del 1928 quando la sentenza viene eseguita, mentre Ruth viene uccisa sulla sedia elettrica un reporter senza troppi scrupoli riesce a riprendere di nascosto la sua esecuzione. Quella foto il giorno dopo sarà la prima pagina del New York Daily Post, ma Ruth non lo saprà mai, come non saprà mai che il suo caso ispirerà per decenni la letteratura e il cinema.

Cropped screenshot of Edward G. Robinson from ...

Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

La Fiamma del Peccato, il film del 1944 diretto da Billy Wilder, è una delle più famose pellicole ispirate a quella storia criminale. È tratto dal romanzo La Morte Paga Doppio (Double Indemnity) pubblicato a puntate dalla rivista Liberty nel 1936 e scritto da James M. Cain, lo scrittore americano che lavorava come giornalista a New York all’epoca del delitto (al quale si era già ispirato per il suo romanzo del 1934 Il Postino Suona Sempre Due Volte diventato a sua volta un film Hollywoodiano e alla base della storia di Ossessione, il film di Luchino Visconti considerato il capostipite del Neorealismo italiano).

Writer Raymond Chandler (seated) in the only f...

Writer Raymond Chandler (seated) in the only film footage known to exist of him (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In La Fiamma del Peccato l’azione si sposta dalla Costa orientale a quella Occidentale degli Stati Uniti. È il 16 luglio 1938 e a Los Angeles, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), assicuratore, è un po’ malconcio e si introduce nottetempo nell’ufficio del suo collega e amico Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), investigatore assicurativo, per confessare al dittafono di avere commesso un delitto: ha aiutato Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) ad uccidere il marito per riscuotere il premio dell’assicurazione sulla vita (stipulata a sua insaputa e con la clausola della doppia indennità che in particolari circostanze permette di raddoppiare il premio). Da qui in avanti Neff racconta la sua versione della vicenda in un lungo flashback. Lui, scapolo tranquillo e lavoratore onesto, ha incontrato un giorno una bionda tentatrice armata di maliziosa cavigliera (che lo ha ricevuto mostrandosi coperta solo da un asciugamano, in cima alle scale) e non riuscendo a resistere alle sue “arti femminili” si è fatto (molto volentieri) traviare ed è diventato un assassino (e si è dato un gran daffare ad architettare il piano ed ha suggerito di sfruttare la clausola della doppia indennità…). Sempre la stessa storia, dall’incidente nel Giardino dell’Eden in poi…

La storia fu adattata per il grande schermo da Billy Wilder (che si prese una breve pausa dalla sua collaborazione con Charles Brackett) e dal romanziere e sceneggiatore Raymond Chandler. Una tumultuosa collaborazione durata quattro mesi che servirà da ispirazione anche per il film successivo di Wilder, Giorni Perduti (1945), la storia di uno scrittore e del suo smisurato e autodistruttivo amore per l’alcol. Se volete sapere di più riguardo a questa collaborazione, potete leggere  Billy Wilder, The Art of Screenwriting un’intervista (in inglese) di  James Linville apparsa su The Paris Review nel 1996, basta un click sul seguente link:

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1432/the-art-of-screenwriting-no-1-billy-wilder

Hired Stanwyck but got George Washington, grum...

Stanwyck id the femme fatale(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nonostante i molti ostacoli posti dalla censura che non poteva certo vedere di buon occhio un film in cui gli eroi erano degli assassini e che impose un cambio nel finale rispetto a quello del romanzo per ricordare agli spettatori che non solo il crimine non paga (letteralmente) ma viene anche punito, il film fu un grande successo di critica e pubblico anche grazie ai suoi interpreti, Fred MacMurray e Barbara Stanwyck che erano all’epoca gli attori più pagati Hollywood (la Stanwyck in realtà era la donna più pagata d’America). Questo successo si tradusse anche in ben sette candidature all’Oscar (Miglior Film; Regia; Attrice; Sceneggiatura; Fotografia in bianco e nero; musica, sonoro), ma con gran disappunto di Billy Wilder il film non ne vinse nessuno.

Oggi La Fiamma del Peccato è considerato, per la sua storia, per il modo in cui è narrata (la voce fuori campo, il flashback), per l’uso espressivo di luci e ombre e del bianco e nero,  l’archetipo del Film Noir, quello che è certo è il fatto che questo è uno di quei film che dovreste aver visto almeno una volta nella vita.

Chissà quanto sarebbe stata diversa la storia del cinema se solo quello tra Ruth ed Albert Snyder fosse stato un matrimonio felice…

Alcuni film liberamente-associati che potrebbero piacervi (cliccate il titolo per vedere una scena o il trailer):

L’Angelo Azzurro – GER 1930 Diretto da: Josef von Sternberg. Con: Marlene Dietrich; Emil Jannings.

Volto di Donna – USA 1941 Diretto da: George Cukor. Con: Joan Crawford; Melvin Douglas; Conrad Veidt.

Il postino suona sempre due volte – USA 1946 Diretto da: Tay Garnett. Con: Lana Turner; John Garfield; Cecil Kellaway.

Viale del Tramonto – USA 1950 Diretto da: Billy Wilder. Con: Gloria Swanson; William Holden; Eric von Stroheim; Nancy Olson.

Il Delitto Perfetto – USA 1954 Diretto da Alfred Hitchcock. Con: Grace Kelly; Ray Milland;  Robert Cummings; John Williams.

Arianna – USA 1957 Diretto da: Billy Wilder. Con: Audrey Hepburn; Gary Cooper; Maurice Chevalier.

La Stangata – USA 1973 Diretto da: George Roy Hill. Con: Paul Newman; Robert Redford; Robert Shaw.

About Ella V

I love old movies, rock music, books, art... I'm intrested in politics. I adore cats. I knit...

2 responses »

  1. Hi Ella- Great post as usual. Absolutely love ‘Double Indemnity,’ one of the all time greats! Hope you have an enjoyable weekend over there- Take care!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s