‘Double Indemnity’ plays nationwide on the big screen

Cissy and Raymond Chandler were married for 30 years.

Cissy Chandler (1870-1954) was married to Raymond Chandler for 30 years.

Just this morning, I finished reading “The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved” (Pantheon Books, 2007) by Judith Freeman. It’s a look at Chandler’s work and his 30-year marriage to a mysterious woman named Cissy Hurlburt Porcher Pascal, a sexy but refined redhead from the Midwest who was 18 years his senior. (It was her third marriage; his first and only.)  Not that she bothered to tell him her real age, natch. Details, details …

Double Indemnity July 19-20In the book, Freeman describes a turning point in Chandler’s career: When he received the offer from Paramount Studios to adapt James M. Cain’s novel “Double Indemnity” for the big screen, working in partnership with writer/director Billy Wilder.

The film, starring Fred Mac Murray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, was released in 1944. It earned seven Oscar noms, including screenplay, which was extremely rare for a film noir title.

Freeman writes:

“Ray didn’t get the idea of the whole thing at first. When Joe Sistrom, the producer, called and offered him the job, Ray said he could probably do it, but he wouldn’t be able to turn in the screenplay for a couple of weeks, and it would cost them a thousand bucks. Sistrom laughed. Was the guy being funny, or was he really that naïve about the way the movie business worked? Sistrom told him he’d be working with Wilder, in an office on the studio lot, that he’d have ten weeks to do the screenplay, and he’d be getting seven hundred and fifty bucks a week. Ray did the math. Ray liked the result. Ray saw the future … and Ray said, Yes. Sure. Why not?”

Precisely! So, why not treat yourself to a big-screen viewing of this genre-defining film? TCM, Fathom Events and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment are partnering to bring this classic to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, July 19 and Monday, July 20.

“That tears it,” as Walter Neff would say.

See you there, noiristas. Meanwhile, you can read our review as well as 14 reasons we adore this flick.

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Film noir takes center stage as Summer of Darkness returns

We are super excited that Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is going dark on Fridays in June and July with the return of Summer of Darkness, film noir screenings hosted by Eddie Muller, also known as “The Czar of Noir.”

TCM Summer of Darkness 2015The Summer of Darkness programming slate will feature more than 100 noir titles making it the most extensive catalog of noirs ever presented by the network.

Summer of Darkness titles include:

Nightmare Alley poster 150·      “Nora Prentiss” (1947, Vincent Sherman), starring Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith.

·      “Born to Kill” (1947, Robert Wise), starring Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor.

·      “Nightmare Alley” (1947, Edmund Goulding), starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker.

·      “Gun Crazy”(1950, Joseph H. Lewis), starring John Dall and Peggy Cummins.

·      “The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed), starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard.

·      “L.A. Confidential” (1997, Curtis Hanson) starring Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger.

Double Indemnity posterTCM first featured Summer of Darkness programming in the summer of 1999.

In addition to the 24-hour on-air programming, fans will also have the opportunity to experience film noir on the big screen when TCM, Fathom Events and Universal Pictures bring Billy Wilder’s 1944 noir classic “Double Indemnity,” starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, to theaters across the country on July 19 and 20.

Count us in! Reviews for most of these titles are on FNB — just hit the search bar on the right.


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Top reasons we love ‘Double Indemnity’

Double Indemnity poster

Yes, we’re still gushing about “Double Indemnity,” the film noir classic from 1944. And why not? It can still draw an audience, after all. ArcLight and the Skirball Cultural Center are showing “Double Indemnity” Monday night in Sherman Oaks.

Billy Wilder‘s great prototype film noir turns 71 this year and yet it never gets old. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, the movie boasts a screenplay that Wilder co-wrote with Raymond Chandler, based on James M. Cain‘s novel, which was inspired by actual events.

Here’s why we hold the picture dear to our hearts, dearies.

14. As film noir historian and author Foster Hirsch once put it: “It’s the quintessential film noir. This is the mother lode, primary source film noir. It’s the basis for every film noir you’ve ever loved.”

13. Someone with the name Walter Neff turns out to be a tough guy.

12. All Walter has to do to escape punishment is sit tight. Yet, his ego drives him toward a final confrontation with his lover/partner in crime. He’s so damn human.

11. Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson is a fashion victim. She’s so damn human.

10. The first time Phyllis shows up at Walter’s apartment, she says she is returning his hat (which he supposedly left at her house) but the previous scene clearly shows him taking his hat as he leaves. Still, there’s so much tension between them, who cares?!

9. The door to Walter’s apartment opens the wrong way (it shields Phyllis on one of her visits) but you’re so caught up in the story you hardly notice.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

8. You could buy Phyllis Dietrichson’s house for $30,000.

7. You could have a beer at a drive-in restaurant, served by a car-hop, no less.

6. The look of supreme satisfaction on Phyllis’s face at the moment her husband is murdered.

5. Stanwyck and MacMurray both took a risk and played against type.

4. Edward G. Robinson almost steals the show and it’s really a bromance between his character and MacMurray’s Walter Neff.

3. Raymond Chandler makes a cameo appearance, about 16 minutes into the movie, at Walter’s office building.

2. It’s perfectly paced – you can watch it over and over and it moves along lickety split every time, leaving you wanting more.

1. It truly ranks as a classic flick – it’s as fresh, sexy and funny today as it was in 1944. The writing, acting, directing cinematography, lighting, art direction are matchless.

Do you love “Double Indemnity” as much as we do? Then let us know!

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Skirball Cultural Center shows ‘The File on Thelma Jordon’ starring the grande dame of film noir

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series at the Skirball Cultural Center continues at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12, with a movie starring the grande dame of film noir: Barbara Stanwyck.

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) asks: Why evade the law when you can simply seduce a lawman?

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) asks: Why bother to evade the law when you can simply seduce a lawman? Wendell Corey plays her snoozing companion.

In “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a film-noir melodrama, Stanwyck’s Thelma is a woman with a past and an ex-boyfriend who convinced her walk on the bad side. But rather than try to evade the law, she decides instead to seduce a married district attorney (Wendell Corey). When Thelma’s aunt is murdered, the DA is definitely the dude to have on her side. Still, guilt has a way of getting the best of a person, and it even gets to the cool, clever and mightily destructive Ms. Jordon.

Siodmak’s crisp, stylish directing paired with a tight script and Stanwyck’s powerful characterization make “The File on Thelma Jordon” a delightful big-screen treat.

Six years before “Thelma Jordon,” Stanwyck made “Phantom Lady” with Siodmak. Of course, one of Stanwyck’s most famous roles was as the murderous Phyllis Dietrichson in 1944’s “Double Indemnity,” directed by Billy Wilder.  Stanwyck and co-star Fred MacMurray took a risk by playing such dark characters in that they might alienate their fan base. But the risk paid off and they proved remarkably capable of playing a range of roles.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

Stanwyck went on to star in many more film-noir titles, including “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls,” “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “No Man of Her Own,” “Clash by Night,” and “Crime of Passion.”

Admission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members. The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1. If you haven’t seen them yet, what are you waiting for?! At 11 a.m. on March 1, the center will screen the PBS documentary Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood, which explores the impact of movie icons such as Wilder, Fritz Lang, Fred Zinnemann and Marlene Dietrich.

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Film noir is the focus of WeHo Reads, starting Saturday

The Big Sleep poster 214September is National Literacy Month and the City of West Hollywood came up with a great idea to celebrate: a month’s worth of community literary events collectively called WeHo Reads. The city will screen a classic film noir at 2 p.m. every Saturday from Sept. 6 to Sept. 20. And it’s free!

The films, which will be shown at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., are “Double Indemnity,” “The Big Sleep” and “Mildred Pierce.”

In honor of  “Double Indemnity” kicking off all the darkness, you can read our 14 reasons we love this flick.

On Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film. At 7:15 p.m., there will be a free outdoor screening of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

See you in WeHo, noiristas!

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Film noir feast this weekend: ‘Sin City,’ Exile Noir and ‘Pickup’

“Double Indemnity” and “Pitfall” will open UCLA’s Exile Noir series.

“Double Indemnity” and “Pitfall” will open UCLA’s Exile Noir series.

There are several delectable film noir offerings this weekend in Los Angeles. First, a sequel worth seeing! That would be “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” by directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. It’s a follow-up to 2005’s “Sin City.” (Miller adapted both scripts from his graphic novels.)

Sin City 2“Sin City 2” stars Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie opens Friday.

Following closely behind its Hollywood Exiles in Europe series, UCLA is hosting Exile Noir, a lineup that explores the major contribution to film noir by German-speaking émigrés in Hollywood, all of whom were schooled in German expressionist cinema. Exiled from Nazi Germany, Jewish writers and directors brought a dark vision to their work, informed by staggering loss, pain, fear and betrayal.

Their arrival in Los Angeles permanently altered the city’s creative landscape. As Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, recently told Susan King of the LA Times: “[Their arrival] changed not just the film industry and the kind of films that were being made, it changed the intellectual life. You have people who are not in the film industry but came here because of the weather and perceived opportunities, like [composer] Arnold Schoenberg and [author] Thomas Mann. They changed the intellectual character of Southern California.”

Pitfall poster 214The program, which runs through Sept. 28, kicks off with an impressive double bill: the prototype of the genre, “Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) and “Pitfall” (1948, André De Toth), starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt. In honor of “Double Indemnity” turning 70 this year, on Valentine’s Day, we compiled a list of 14 reasons we love this flick.

This series is presented in anticipation of the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, running Oct. 23–March 1, 2015. More on that in the next few weeks.

Also, as I mentioned earlier this week, the Egyptian Theatre is showing Sam Fuller’s film noir masterpiece “Pickup on South Street” and “White Dog.” His daughter Samantha Fuller will introduce the movies.

There’s no doubt: Life is good for noiristas in Los Angeles!

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‘Life Itself’ Roger Ebert doc offers insight, candor, inspiration

Billy Wilder doesn’t go for the obvious arc. He isn’t interested in the same things the characters are interested in. He wants to know what happens to them after they do what they think is so important. He doesn’t want truth but consequences. Few other directors have made so many films that were so taut, savvy, cynical, and, in many ways and tones, funny. …

Double Indemnity’ was his third film as a director. That early in his career, he was cocky enough to begin a thriller with the lines ‘I killed him for money – and for a woman. I didn’t get the money. And I didn’t get the woman.’ And end it with the hero saying ‘I love you too’ to Edward G. Robinson.”

Life Itself posterSo writes Roger Ebert (1942-2013), the Pulitzer-prize-winning film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, in his book “The Great Movies.” If you knew Ebert mainly from his hugely successful and world-famous TV show “Two Thumbs Up” (co-starring Gene Siskel), it might surprise you to know quite what a prolific writer he was. He published more than 20 books as well as many collections of reviews. (He started at the Sun-Times in 1966.)

Ebert used his staggering intelligence and covert sensitivity to get under the skin of a movie, to approach a film as both a tenacious reporter and a Spartan poet –baldly pointing out flaws, rapturously praising beauty and incisively assessing the director, cast and crew. He also championed little-known filmmakers and obscure movies, including more than a few film-noir titles.

In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, though it was removed, his battles with cancer would continue over the next decade. Ebert took his health problems in stride, refusing to let his mighty passion wane.

But it wasn’t just movies that he was enthusiastic about. He was passionate about politics and social justice, sports and travel, and he was deeply devoted to his wife Chaz Ebert (a trial attorney whom he met in AA) and their family. In 2011, Ebert published “Life Itself: A Memoir,” which spurred director Steve James to make a movie about Ebert’s extraordinary life journey.

The result is a film that is engaging, entertaining, fiercely honest and truly inspiring.

“Life Itself” opens Friday in theaters, on iTunes and on Demand.

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FNB tributes to ‘Double Indemnity’ continue: Look on twitter

In honor of the 70th anniversary of “Double Indemnity,” we at FNB are hosting intermittent tributes. On Valentine’s Day, we compiled  a list of 14 reasons we adore the flick. Yesterday, we started tweeting the novel (by James M. Cain). Not sure how long that will take, but it should be fun. And here we are rerunning a review. Next, we should host a party in the Hollywood Hills. Until then …

Double Indemnity/1944/Paramount/106 min.

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck

She’s got a plan, she just needs a man. And that’s a welcome challenge for a femme fatale, especially one with an ankle bracelet.

In Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, “Double Indemnity,” from 1944 Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) wants out of her marriage to rich, grumpy oldster, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers). Poor Phyllis doesn’t get much love from Dietrichson’s adult daughter, Lola (Jean Heather) either. Fresh-faced and feisty, Lola is hung up on her temperamental boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr).

For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubby disappear is so much more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer. A smart insurance man is even better. Along comes Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) trying to sell a policy, just as Phyllis finishes a session of sunbathing, wearing an ankle bracelet and not much more. That’s about as much bait as Walter needs.

They flirt, fall for each other and eventually arrange to bump off Mr. Dietrichson, making it look like he fell from a train. It’s a one-in-a-million way to go with a huge payoff from a double-indemnity insurance policy issued by Walter’s company. After that, they play it cool and wait for the check. They’ve planned it like a military campaign, so they’re in the clear until Walter starts to suspect that he’s not the only guy who’s been drooling at Phyllis’ ankles.

Edward G. Robinson

Besides his lust for the blonde (and their chemistry truly sizzles), Walter’s real love is the platonic father/son relationship he has with his boss at the insurance company, Barton Keyes, sharp, cynical and married to his job, played brilliantly by Edward G. Robinson.

Critic Richard Schickel says “Double Indemnity” is the first true noir. I disagree – what about 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “Stranger on the Third Floor” from 1940? Or even Fritz Lang‘s “M” from Germany in 1931? But the point is “Double Indemnity” was the standard against which every subsequent noir was measured. It’s a glorious treat visually. John Seitz’s luscious lighting and captivating use of shadow bring to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s observation: “There are no less than 80 shades of black.” The score by Miklos Rozsa works perfectly with the visuals to build and sustain atmosphere.

The performances (Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson) are tremendous. Though Stanwyck was nominated for the best actress Oscar and “Double Indemnity” was also nominated in six other categories (picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, sound recording and score), MacMurray and Robinson were not in the running and the film didn’t win any Oscars. In retrospect, their work in this movie is some of the best acting of the decade. MacMurray (who might be most familiar as the father in TV’s “My Three Sons”) is such a natural as the easily tempted yet very likeable Neff, it’s surprising now to learn that the role was a major departure from his usual nice-guy parts.

As James Pallot of “The Movie Guide” writes: “Robinson … beautifully gives the film its heart. His speech about death statistics, rattled off at top speed, is one of the film’s highlights.” When Keyes realizes that Walter has betrayed him, it’s heartbreaking in a way that few other noirs are.

Wilder co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler, based on the taut little novel by James M. Cain, published in 1936. (The novel was inspired by the real-life 1927 Snyder-Gray case.) In the book “Double Indemnity,” smitten Walter says of Phyllis’ physical charms, “I wasn’t the only one that knew about that shape. She knew about it herself, plenty.”

The dark, witty script follows the book pretty closely, but Chandler’s contributions are key. For example, check out this bit of simmering dialogue:

Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.

Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?

Phyllis: I’d say around 90.

Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

Walter: Suppose it doesn’t take.

Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.

Walter: That tears it…

Chatting things over while Mr. Dietrichson is away.

Now it seems egregious that Wilder (1906-2002) and “Double Indemnity” were snubbed at the Oscars. Born in what is now Poland, Wilder escaped the Nazis, but his mother and other family members perished in a concentration camp. He knew firsthand the dark, sometimes horrific, side of life and that knowledge imbued his work with an unparalleled richness and depth. He was also hilarious. If I could have martinis with any film noir director, living or dead, it would be Billy.

I’ve seen interview footage of him where he punctuated his conversation with deep and frequent laughter. And I’ve heard stories about him playing practical jokes – apparently he when he lost the 1944 best director Oscar to Leo McCarey (who won for “Going My Way” starring Bing Crosby) Billy stuck out his foot and tripped McCarey as he walked down the aisle to pick it up. Maybe if I get that fantasy date with the spirit of Billy, I’ll bring Dick Schickel along too. He might benefit from a girly martini and tagging along with Billy and me.

So, suppose you do yourself a favor and watch “Double Indemnity” the first chance you get. You won’t be sorry.

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TCM Classic Film Fest embraces the black sheep: film noir

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

Words that we associate with family: Happy times. Togetherness. Loyalty. Fun. Laughter. Pure love. Film noir.

Film noir? Yup, film noir. This dark and cynical genre was surprisingly well represented at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which was dedicated to the theme: “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Families, at their best, give us solace and joy. At their worst, they tear us apart. Both extremes showed up at the fest, from “How Green Was My Valley” on the sunny side to “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” on the stormy, noir edge.

Other noir highlights were “Double Indemnity,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks,” “The Lady From Shanghai,” “Johnny Guitar” and “The Godfather Part II.

GWTW posterThis year marked the fifth annual edition of one of the world’s great (and certainly one of its most lovable) film festivals. During its four-day run, hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz with many special guests, this bounteous cinematic fest became a celebration of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and other blood ties.

More than 70 movies, including some real masterpieces, were presented at first-rate venues, such as the TCL Chinese Theatres, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Disney’s flagship El Capitan, plus poolside outdoor movies at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Is there any more powerful or moving portrait, for example, of a loving family facing the vicissitudes of life and surviving the relentless march of change than director John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley?”

The Quiet Man posterMaureen O’Hara, who played Angharad, appeared on the El Capitan stage, still full of Irish sass and fire. At 93 and feisty as ever, she is our living link to the beauties and treasures of the celluloid past.

How green were our valleys then…

Other classic films, all shown in pristine and sometimes newly restored prints, included: “Gone with the Wind,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “East of Eden,” “Father of the Bride,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Quiet Man,” “City Lights,” “Written on the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Granted, for movie lovers who prize a happy ending above all else, film noir could be a rebel, a tough child to love. But then just about every clan has at least one black sheep. Isn’t the outcast the one who needs love the most? Isn’t loving the hard-to-love the ultimate test of family bonds? Isn’t that the point of being a family?

Film noir is the cinematic equivalent of a prodigal son or spoiled baby – recalcitrant, yes, but also irresistible. Leave it to film noir to break the rules, steal attention and get its own way whenever it can.

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Another great time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

Thanks to everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was a great time: Movies, events, staff and fans were amazing! I’ll be writing a more detailed overview but for now, I just wanted to mention a noir factoid I recently uncovered.

“Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) was a highlight of the fest. Both Walter’s place (the Bryson Apartments) and Phyllis’ house are still in LA. In the film, Walter reckons the house cost about $30,000; it would now cost more than $1.5 million. Read more about the house here.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1944, Fred MacMurray bought the Bryson building for $600,000. Built in 1913 by real estate developer Hugh W. Bryson, the 10-story Beaux Arts stunner was where MacMurray’s character Walter Neff lived in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

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