AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Double Indemnity
Director: Billy Wilder (Dir)
Release Date:   24 Apr 1944
Production Date:   27 Sep--24 Nov 1943
Duration (in mins):   103 or 106
Duration (in feet):   9,596
Duration (in reels):   11
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Cast:   Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff)  
    Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson)  
    Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes)  
    Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson)  
    Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson)  
    Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson)  
    Byron [S.] Barr (Nino Zachette)  
    Richard Gaines (Mr. Norton)  
    Fortunio Bonanova (Sam Gorlopis)  
    John Philliber (Joe Pete)  
    Bess Flowers (Secretary)  
    Kernan Cripps (Conductor)  
    Harold Garrison (Red Cap)  
    Oscar Smith (Pullman porter)  
    Frank Billy Mitchell (Pullman porter)  
    Floyd Shackelford (Pullman porter)  
    James Adamson (Pullman porter)  
    Betty Farrington (Mattie, maid)  
    Dick Rush (Pullman conductor)  
    Edmund Cobb (Train conductor)  
    Sam McDaniel (Garage attendant)  
    Judith Gibson (Pacific All-Risk telephone operator)  
    Miriam Franklin (Keyes' secretary)  
    George Magrill    
    Constance Purdy    
    Clarence Muse    

Summary: On a dark Los Angeles night in July 1938, insurance agent Walter Neff is bleeding from a gunshot wound and slips into his office at the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co. Walter records his murder confession on the dictaphone, addressing his boss and friend, Barton Keyes, a meticulous and intuitive claims agent. Walter thinks back to May when it all started: Walter visits an expensive Spanish-style house in Los Feliz to follow-up an automobile insurance renewal for Mr. Dietrichson. He is immediately attracted to Dietrichson's wife Phyllis, who first appears clad only in a towel. Walter flirts with Phyllis, whose interest is piqued, nevertheless, she rebuffs him and the next day changes his appointment to meet with her husband. When Walter arrives that day, he and Phyllis are alone and she inquires about getting an accident policy for her husband without his knowledge. Upset by her implications, Walter leaves, but his expectation that he has not seen the last of Phyllis is fulfilled when she appears at his apartment. Walter soon gives in to his longing and kisses Phyllis, after which she reveals that she has been abused and neglected by her husband. Phyllis admits to having fantasies of killing Dietrichson, but his life insurance beneficiary is his mature daughter Lola, who hates her. Walter is repulsed by, and at the same time, strangely drawn to Phyllis's fantasy, and his thoughts linger on how to accomplish an undetectable crime. Agreeing to help Phyllis kill her husband, Walter meets with Dietrichson and, in Lola's presence, tries to sell him accident insurance. Dietrichson refuses the accident insurance, but enrolls for auto insurance, and is unaware that Walter has given him an accident insurance form to sign as well. Walter secretly advises Phyllis to book a train for Dietrichson's business trip, as a double indemnity clause in the policy will award her double the stated $50,000 if Dietrichson dies from an unlikely cause, such as a train accident. Phyllis and Walter begin to meet surreptitiously every morning in a local market. Dietrichson breaks his leg just after the accident policy comes through, and the lovers are delayed in carrying out their plan. In mid-June, as Keyes offers to hire Walter as his assistant, Phyllis telephones and informs Walter that Dietrichson is leaving that night on the train. Walter turns down Keyes' offer and after leaving the office, calculates his every move to avoid future suspicion, then hides in the Dietrichsons' car. After Phyllis uses a pre-arranged signal, Walter sits up from the back seat and strangles Dietrichson to death. Dressed as Dietrichson, Walter then boards the train and heads for the observation car. Walter is dismayed to find another passenger, Jackson, sitting on the deck, but when he leaves to get Walter a cigar, Walter jumps off the back of the train. After leaving Dietrichson's body on the tracks, Phyllis and Walter leave together in her car. The police declare Dietrichson's death accidental, but Norton, the president of All Risk, is reluctant to pay out the $100,000 and meets with Phyllis. Phyllis pretends to be bereaved and is genuinely shocked at Norton's suggestion of suicide. After she leaves, Walter is delighted when Keyes assures Norton that he will have to pay out the claim. At his apartment later that night, Walter is surprised by a visit from Keyes, who has developed indigestion due to an incongruity in the case: Dietrichson never filed a claim for his broken leg, even though he had just purchased accident insurance, in addition to which, the train was going so slowly that suicide is unlikely. Keyes concludes that Dietrichson was ignorant of the policy, and he is suspicious of Phyllis. A nervous Walter rushes Keyes out, as Phyllis hides behind the door to escape notice. The next day, Lola confides in Walter that she suspects that Phyllis, who was her mother's nurse, killed her mother six years earlier and now has done the same to her father. In order to distract Lola, Walter spends the next few days with her, and learns that she has broken up with her college drop-out boyfriend, Nino Zachette. During this time, Keyes becomes convinced that Dietrichson was murdered, and sends for Jackson. Jackson confirms that the man on the train does not match photographs of Dietrichson, and Keyes subsequently has Phyllis followed by detectives. Walter urges Phyllis not to sue for the claim, which is now being withheld, as Keyes will oppose it, but she is determined to get the money, and insists that the murder was all his doing. Walter is now suspicious of Phyllis, as Lola has told him that Nino is seeing her stepmother, and Walter thinks about killing her. Phyllis files suit for the insurance money, and Keyes tells Walter that her partner-in-crime has shown himself. Worried that Keyes is on to him, Walter listens to Keyes's dictaphone and hears that Keyes suspects that Nino is Phyllis' partner-in-crime, after which he arranges to meet with Phyllis late that night. Unknown to Walter, Phyllis has prepared for his visit by hiding a gun under a seat cushion. Walter confronts Phyllis and tells her that he knows she has used him and that he intends to frame Nino for the murder. Phyllis then shoots Walter, but is unable to kill him. Admitting that she has never loved him, Phyllis now embraces him, and Walter shoots her twice, killing her. As he leaves the house, Nino walks up, and Walter urges him to go to Lola, who truly loves him. By 4:30 a.m., Walter finishes his confession as Keyes makes his presence known, having been called by the janitor who noticed Walter trailing blood. Walter walks out, intending to escape to the border, but collapses before he gets to the elevator. Keyes, disappointed, nevertheless reveals his affection for Walter, and Walter reciprocates, as Keyes lights Walter's final cigarette. 

Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Billy Wilder (Dir)
  Jack Gage (Dial dir)
  C. C. Coleman Jr. (Asst dir)
  Bill Sheehan (2d asst dir)
Producer: B. G. DeSylva (Exec prod)
  Joseph Sistrom (Prod)
Writer: Billy Wilder (Scr)
  Raymond Chandler (Scr)
Photography: John Seitz (Dir of photog)
  Otto Pierce (2d cam)
  Harlow Stengel (2d cam)
  Ed Henderson (Stills)
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (Art dir)
  Hal Pereira (Art dir)
Film Editor: Doane Harrison (Ed supv)
  Lee Hall (Asst cutter)
Set Decoration: Bertram Granger (Set dec)
  Jack DeGolconda (Props)
  James Cottrell (Props)
Costumes: Edith Head (Cost)
  Neva Bourne (Ward)
  Bill Rabb (Ward)
Music: Miklos Rozsa (Mus score)
Sound: Stanley Cooley (Sd rec)
  Walter Oberst (Sd rec)
  Loren Ryder (Sd rec)
  H. O. Kinsey (Rec)
Special Effects: Farciot Edouart (Process photog)
Make Up: Wally Westmore (Makeup artist)
  Bob Ewing (Makeup)
  Hollis Barnes (Hair)
Production Misc: Hugh Brown (Prod mgr)
  Al Trosin (Asst prod mgr)
  John Woolfenden (Pub)
  Harvey Clermont (Casting)
  Nancy Lee (Scr clerk)
  Paul Tranz (Stage eng)
  Walter McLeod (Grip)
  Bill Pillar (Mike grip)
  Chet Stafford (Elec)
  Jack Duffy (Cableman)
Stand In: Dorothy Staten (Stand-in for Barbara Stanwyck)
Country: United States

Music: Symphony in D minor by César Franck.
Composer: César Franck
Source Text: Based on the novel Double Indemnity by James M. Cain in his Three of a Kind (New York, 1943).
Authors: James M. Cain

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Paramount Pictures, Inc. 21/4/1944 dd/mm/yyyy LP12748 Yes

PCA NO: 9717
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

 
Genre: Film noir
 
Subjects (Major): Confession (Law)
  Duplicity
  Femmes fatales
  Frame-ups
  Infidelity
  Insurance
  Love affairs
  Murder
 
Subjects (Minor): Fathers and daughters
  Friendship
  Gunshot wounds
  Impersonation and imposture
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Stepmothers
  Trains

Note: James M. Cain's novel Double Indemnity was serialized in Liberty magazine. Although Joseph Sistrom is listed as producer in various contemporary sources, the SAB at the AMPAS Library recorded that no producer was to be listed. Contemporary reviews suggested that author James M. Cain was inspired to write this story after the 1927 murder of Albert Snyder, who was murdered by his wife, Ruth Brown, a flapper, and her boyfriend, Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. Mrs. Snyder took out a $100,000 life insurance policy on her husband in 1926, and after several failed attempts at killing him herself, she enlisted the assistance of Gray. A jury found Mrs. Snyder and Gray guilty of murder, and they were executed for their crimes in 1928 at Sing Sing Prison.
       Information in the MPAA/PCA Files at the AMPAS Library reveals the following about the production: Although it was not published until 1943, Cain's novel was first submitted to the PCA as a basis for a film production in 1935 by L. B. Mayer. In Oct 1935, PCA director Joseph I. Breen responded that "the story is in violation of the provisions of the Production Code" and was "almost certain to result in a picture which we would be compelled to reject." Among the story violations he cited were that "the leading characters are murderers who cheat the law and die at their own hands; the story deals improperly with an illicit and adulterous sex relationship; [and] the details of the vicious and cold-blooded murder are clearly shown." A copy of this letter was subsequently sent to Jack L. Warner at Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures Corp. in 1935, and Paramount in Mar 1943. In Sep 1943, Breen wrote to Paramount that he had "read the part script, part outline treatment" and that it appeared to be acceptable. Among other things, Breen noted that in the opening sequences, the "bath towel must properly cover Phyllis, and should certainly go below her knees. There must be no unacceptable exposure," and that the "whole sequence of the detailed disposition of the corpse is unacceptable...as a too detailed exposition of crime...We strongly urge, therefore, that you fade out after they take the body from the car...."
       Scripts in the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library show that in Sep 1943, director Billy Wilder was considering using either the ending that is now seen in the final released print, or an ending in which "Walter Neff" is arrested and executed in a gas chamber. In a Dec 1943 letter to Paramount, Breen noted the following: "We have read the balance of the script...As we advised you before, this whole sequence in the death chamber seems very questionable in its present form. Specifically, the details of the execution...seem unduly gruesome from the standpoint of the Code, and also will certainly be deleted by censor boards...." Although the execution sequence was shot, it was cut after previews. According to modern sources, Billy Wilder chose to cut the execution scene over Raymond Chandler's protests as it did not conform with his vision of the film. The CBCS lists the following seven actors who appeared in the execution scene: Alan Bridge ( Execution chamber guard ), Edward Hearn ( Warden's secretary ), George Anderson ( Warden ), Boyd Irwin ( 1st doctor ), Lee Shumway ( Door guard ), George Melford ( 2d doctor ), William O'Leary ( Chaplain ).
       According to HR news items, Brian Donlevy was considered for the cast, and Susan Hayward and Mona Freeman were initially cast as "Lola." This film marked Byron Barr's feature film debut. (Barr should not be confused with actor Gig Young, who performed under his given name, Byron Barr, until 1942.) According to information in the Paramount Collection, this film was shot at the following locations in Los Angeles: 1825 North Kingsley Dr. for the exterior of "Walter Neff's" apartment; La Golondrina Café on Olvera Street; the basement garage of the El Royale apartment building on Rossmore Avenue; Jerry's Market at 5330 Melrose Ave., the intersections of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue, and Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. A Sep 1943 HR news item noted that some night scenes were shot on location in Phoenix, AZ due to dim-out regulations in Los Angeles. The film received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (black & white), Best Sound Recording and Best Music (scoring of a dramatic picture).
       Modern sources add the following about the production: Billy Wilder's longtime writing partner Charles Brackett refused to work on the screenplay for Double Indemnity due to the story's amoral content. Raymond Chandler was selected because his writing style had similarities to James M. Cain's writing. Wilder and Chandler's six-month partnership while working on the screenplay was turbulent. A Cain biography questions the extent of Wilder's contribution to the screenplay, and in a 1950 letter, Chandler acknowledged that "working with Billy Wilder...was an agonizing experience and has probably shortened my life, but I learned from it about as much about screen writing as I am capable of learning, which is not very much." A biography on Wilder quoted his response to Chandler's statement, in which he noted that "[Chandler] gave me more aggravation than any writer I ever worked with."
       Wilder also had difficulty getting an actor to play "Neff," as even Alan Ladd and George Raft, who regularly portrayed criminals, found the role too unsavory. Fred MacMurray initially resisted Wilder's attempts at casting him as "Neff," as his previous roles focused on romantic and comedic characters. MacMurray stated in later interviews that Wilder personally convinced him to play "Neff," just as he convinced him to play the adulterous cad "Sheldrake" in Wilder's 1960 film The Apartment .
       Stanwyck and MacMurray reprised their roles in the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of Double Indemnity on 30 Oct 1950. Other films based on the same source are a 1954 NBC teleplay of the same title, and ABC-TV's 1973's made-for-television film. Although not based on the same source, the 1981 film Body Heat , directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt, loosely resembles the storyline of Double Indemnity . A parody of Double Indemnity titled Big Trouble was released in 1985, and was directed by John Cassavetes and starred Peter Falk. Double Indemnity was ranked 29th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 38th position it held on AFI's 1997 list. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   29 Apr 1944.   
Daily Variety   14 Sep 43   p. 1.
Daily Variety   24 Apr 44   p. 3, 6
Film Daily   24 Apr 44   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Mar 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   28 May 43   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jun 43   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jul 43   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Aug 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Sep 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Sep 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Apr 44   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Sep 44   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   27 Nov 43   p. 1646.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   29 Apr 44   p. 1866.
New York Times   27 Apr 27   p. 1, 16
New York Times   7 Sep 44   p. 21.
Variety   26 Apr 44   p. 12.

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