DOUBLE INDEMNITY: DOUBLE TAKE

Surely one of the most sought after pieces of celluloid must be the alternate ending of DOUBLE INDEMNITY which director Billy Wilder filmed then deleted.
In the scene, Fred MacMurray’s character,Walter Neff is seen in the gas chamber and is about to pay with his life for killing Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson.
There are two stills   which show the scene,with Edward G.Robinson’s Barton Keyes looking on.

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I imagine Paramount have searched their vaults without success. What an extra that would be on a dvd release.

I’ve read the scene was cut only after previews.
Billy Wilder has been quoted: “…the gas chamber was an exact duplicate – we took out that scene – cost us $5000 to build.”
(“Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe.)
I must admit to surprise that Wilder and co-writer Raymond Chandler didn’t know they had a perfect ending without the gas chamber scene. Maybe that’s hindsight.
It’s obvious from the ending we have that Neff was going to pay for the killing. And even Joseph Breen of the Production Code Office said, …”the whole sequence in the death chamber…seems unduly gruesome from the standpoint of the Code and will certainly be deleted by censor boards.”

Of course, the ending we know is perfect.
The injured Neff tells Keyes:
You know why you couldn’t figure this one,Keyes.I’ll tell you – cause the guy you were looking for was too close,right across the desk from you.”
Keyes:” CLOSER THAN THAT,WALTER.”
Neff: “I love you too.”

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A nice touch –  Neff has always been lighting Keyes’ cigars for him. Finally Keyes finds a light for the wounded Walter.

Those four words, “Closer than that,Walter” are iconic. I wonder who wrote them – Wilder or Chandler.

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Double Indemnity has quite a history. Paramount stars Alan Ladd and Brian Donlevy were considered for the part of Neff. Of course George Raft turned it down.
Dick Powell was very keen to do it ( and no doubt would have been a good Neff). Powell would soon have his own classic noir, MURDER MY SWEET.
It was quite a gamble,choosing Fred MacMurray who was known to the public for romantic comedies and musicals. MacMurray had to be persuaded – as did Barbara Stanwyck (who was the only choice for Phyllis Dietrichson).
It turned out to be perfect casting.And when you add Edward G.Robinson, you have a trio meant for this film.

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Near the beginning of the film, there’s a shot of Raymond Chandler sitting on stairs as Fred MacMurray passes him. A nice touch.

Fred.  MacMurray,Raymond Chandler

Fred. MacMurray,Raymond Chandler

I love how the American Film Institute describe the subject matter of the film:
Major:  Confession – Duplicity – Femme Fatale – Frame-up – Infidelity – insurance – Murder

Minor:  Friendship – Stepmothers – Trains.

It’s probably Fred MacMurray’s best role. He went back to his usual type of part in his next film – AND THE ANGELS SING ( he played a band leader).
Barbara Stanwyck’s next was CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT.
Billy Wilder’s next film was the Oscar winning THE LOST WEEKEND.

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The start of Double Indemnity –  a shadowy mysterious man on crutches comes slowly but inevitably towards the camera till his figure fills the screen. Powerful stuff that draws you in right away.

6 responses »

  1. Good stuff. I’m glad the gas chamber scene was cut; the ending is just perfect as it stands.

    The relationship between Wilder and Chandler was apparently an explosive one with the director at one point telling the writer with one very frank four letter word exactly what he thought of his script! Regardless, the end product can’t be faulted.

  2. As you probably know,Wilder’s usual writing partner,Charles Brackett wasn’t interested in Cain’s novel. Sounds like Wilder and Chandler were totally different types .Wilder was part of Hollywood,Chandler looked down on it.
    But between them, over a 6 month period, they wrote a terrific script.
    Guess we’ll never know who wrote what.

  3. I love it when Edward G. says, “Closer than that, Walter.” Four simple words that speak volumes.

    I’d heard about the alternate ending, but have never seen stills from it. I’m glad you posted them.

    Great post on one of the all-time best film noirs.

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