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the Complete Review
the complete review - film


Double Indemnity

Richard Schickel

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To purchase Double Indemnity

Title: Double Indemnity
Author: Richard Schickel
Genre: Film
Written: 1992
Length: 69 pages
Availability: Double Indemnity - US
Double Indemnity - UK
- Canada
Double Indemnity - India

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Our Assessment:

B : decent background and overview of the film

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Richard Schickel's book is an introduction to Billy Wilder's classic 1944 film, based on James Cain's novella, Double Indemnity.
       Schickel explains the Wilder film's significant place in cinematic history, as model of a new cinematic form (film noir, as it came to be called) and signalling the emergence of Billy Wilder as a director. Schickel considers it to be a film with singular authority -- a good term for it.
       Based on tempting but difficult material (hard to get by the Breen office (the movie censors of the time)), it took almost a decade just to get any studio to commit to filming Cain's story. Schickel does a good job of explaining the difficulties with then transforming the book into a screenplay, from the problems with Cain's dialogue (which looked good on the page but didn't sound right) to the story itself (especially Cain's somewhat convoluted ending). Wilder worked together with Raymond Chandler on the screenplay, and they did manage to produce a classic. Schickel explains many of the changes (and the reasons for them) -- from the names to the ending.
       There's good background on all the major players involved, from Cain through Wilder, Chandler, and the actors -- small but adequate summaries focussed on their contributions to the film (and how their backgrounds may have coloured these).
       There's surprisingly little about the filming itself -- a few titbits about clever or spur-of-the-moment ideas, but little more. Most significantly, there's not enough about the expensive ending that was cut from the film, the death-house sequence. While one can agree with Schickel, that the correctness of this decision is "indisputable" (leading as it did to the fine ending chosen in its stead), it is certainly an episode one would want to learn more about.

       Schickel offers a good, broad introduction to the film, with interesting background information, some decent analysis, and a few good bits of gossip (on Chandler and Wilder, in particular). With numerous stills from the movie (and a few other pictures -- including an excellent Chandler-Wilder double portrait), it makes for a nice and modestly informative volume -- but there's a lot more that could be said, and it's too bad Schickel didn't go into greater depth on many of the aspects of the film.
       All in all: a bit less than what the fine BFI Film Classics (and related series) usually deliver.

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Double Indemnity:
  • BFI publicity page
Double Indemnity - the films: James M. Cain: Books by James Cain under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Richard Schickel is a film critic for Time.

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© 2003-2017 the complete review

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