The world of insurance sales will never be as sexy and suspenseful as it is in Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). The renewal of auto insurance, a transaction that nowadays can be completed in minutes from the relative safety of a smart phone, sets off a series of events punctuated by murder and dripping with deceit, seduction, and betrayal in this Hollywood classic. Co-written by Wilder and mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is viewed by many as the first and best American film noir. Studio stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson each took the dual professional risks of playing against type in the film adaptation of a story long viewed as “too taboo” for the screen. Their performances bring life to a razor-sharp script that set the gold standard for film noir, artfully introducing now-clichéd narrative devices like subjective voiceover narration, uncannily accurate detective speculation, and (perhaps most memorably) flirtatious, rapid-fire double entendre. Wilder and Chandler’s script, and particularly Stanwyck’s smoldering performance, keep the audience riveted in suspense for 100-plus minutes, despite the presence of a framing device “spoiling” MacMurray’s fate in the opening scene of the film.
Tag: Raymond Chandler
If gruff, anti-social private eye Philip Marlowe had come of age a few decades later, he’d have been Lew Harper. Sarcastic, flippant, and completely unconcerned with others’ opinions of him, Harper might have responded as Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe did when Lauren Bacall complained about his manners in the 1946 film THE BIG SLEEP. “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.” Paul Newman’s Harper could get away with that.
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – Dir. Robert Altman
The late, great Robert Altman once again lends his distinctive, experimental style to what has come to be regarded as this definitive interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s a winner! Thirty-six this year, the film still plays as fresh and as contemporary as it did the year it was made. The tale of a double murder and the unfortunate detective who gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into the thick of it is filled with a permeating cynicism, underhanded absurdities and shattering acts of violence. Crime author Raymond Chandler, like his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald, created glamorous worlds of danger and intrigue where a usually hapless, albeit decent guy, finds himself way over his head in the soup. Here, Chandler’s anti-hero, Phillip Marlowe, is helmed by the underrated Elliott Gould. A huge star in the 60s and 70s (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, M.A.S.H.), Gould brings a bizarrely effortless spin to a role played in more traditional ways by everyone from Bogart to James Garner. His dopey, befuddled schmuck look assists him ably in Altman’s clever conceit of placing a 1950s-style detective into a 1970s-style world. It is as if this “Rip van Marlowe”, waking from a long slumber, has been transported via some private eye time tunnel twenty years into the future — a future he does not understand and is more than a little bit lost in.