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Year: 1944
UK: BFI Distribution
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, John Philliber, Bess Flowers, Kernan Cripps, Harold Garrison, Oscar Smith, Frank Billy Mitchell, Floyd Shackleford, James Adamson, Betty Farrington, Dick Rush, Edmund Cobb, Sam McDaniel, Judith Gibson, Miriam Franklin, George Macgrill, Constance Purdy, Clarence Muse
Director: Billy Wilder
Country: USA
UK: 107 mins
UK Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 11 November 2005 (Limited Release - London, National Film Theatre)
UK Distributor


DOUBLE INDEMNITY, released by bfi Distribution, is one of director Billy Wilder's greatest career achievements, a film noir masterpiece. Cynical and witty, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a thriller set in a scrupulously observed 1940s Los Angeles about adultery, greed, corruption and homicide. It traces an almost perfect crime, from its inception to the point where it falls apart because of the two protagonists' mistrust of each other.

Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), the scheming and perfidious wife of a wealthy oilman, persuades gullible and lustful insurance salesman Walter Neff, (Fred MacMurray) to set up an accident policy for her husband and then murder him so that they can collect $100,000 on its double indemnity clause. The tale unfolds in flashback, with Neff confessing the crime over the office dictaphone to his boss and conscience-keeper Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson).

DOUBLE INDEMNITY was based on a hard-boiled novella by James M Cain which the studios had previously rejected because it was deemed unfilmable within the constraints of the newly established Production Code. Wilder teamed up with Raymond Chandler, a newcomer to cinema, and formed a tempestuous relationship which produced one of cinema's finest and most morally complex scripts, successfully persuading the audience to empathise with the killers.

The grim plotline proved an additional challenge for Wilder in terms of casting: Barbara Stanwyck, Wilder's first choice to play femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, was unnerved by a script which has her ruthlessly plotting the murder of her husband - one of the most thoroughly evil women in Hollywood's history to date. But Stanwyck was persuaded to take the role when Wilder bluntly asked, "Are you a mouse or an actress?".

In casting Walter Neff, Wilder had more difficulty. Fred MacMurray, better known then as a light comedian, was not Wilder's first choice (he had previously approached both George Raft and Dick Powell). Like Stanwyck, MacMurray expressed reservations - not only was the part out of keeping with his usual clean image but it actually "required acting". He was persuaded nonetheless.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is thoroughly dark, sinister and erotically-charged, distinguished not only by its outstanding performances and masterful script, but also by the atmospheric lighting and sets which perfectly evoke sleazy, late-night Los Angeles.

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