The Book & the Movie: Double Indemnity (1943) | James M. Cain / Billy Wilder (1944)

James M. Cain, Double Indemnity, 1945, cover by Paul Stahr                                           Double Indemnity (1943), first published in Liberty magazine, 1936

Cain based the novella on a 1927 murder perpetrated by a married woman in Queens, New York, and her lover, whose
trial he attended while working as a journalist in New York. In that crime, Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to
kill her husband, Albert, after having him take out a big insurance policy with a double indemnity clause. The murderers
were quickly identified, arrested and convicted. The front page photo of Snyder's execution in the electric chair
at Sing Sing has been called the most famous news photo of the 1920.





"I loved her like a rabbit loves a rattlesnake. "

"I think of myself as Death, sometimes. In a scarlet shroud, floating through the night. I’m so beautiful, then. And sad.
And hungry to make the whole world happy, by taking them out where I am, into the night, away from all trouble, all unhappiness."

"I knew where I was at, of course. I was standing right on the deep end, looking over the edge, and I kept telling myself to get out of there,
and get quick, and never come back. But that was what I kept telling myself. What I was doing was peeping over that edge, and all the time
I was trying to pull away from it, there was something in me that kept edging a little closer, trying to get a better look."

“I knew then what I had done. I had killed a man. I had killed a man to get a woman. I had put myself in her power, 
so there was one person in the world that could point a a finger at me, and I would have to die. I had done all that 
for her, and I never want to see her again as long as I lived.

That’s all it takes, one drop of fear, to curdle love into hate.”


James M. Cain, Double Indemnity, 1943


“I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn't have the money and I didn't have the woman.”

James M. Cain, Double Indemnity, 1943

“How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”




"We went into this together and we’re coming out at the end together. 
It’s straight down the line for both of us."
Walter Neff: Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, 
but it’s true, so help me. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.
“No, I never loved you Walter – not you or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart. I used you, just as you said. 
That’s all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot.”
Know why you couldn’t figure this one out, Keyes?  I’ll tell ya. ‘Cause the guy 
you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.

Closer than that, Walt.

I love you too.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) in his brief cameo in Double Indemnity (1944), which 
Chandler co-wrote with director Billy Wilder, based on the 1943 novella by James M. Cain.


Chandler is responsible for most of the dialogue in the film, after arguing with Wilder that Cain’s written dialogue would 
not translate to film. The two argued during most of their 4-month collaboration, which sent the recovering alcoholic 
Chandler back to the bottle and gave Wilder the idea for his next project, The Lost Weekend (1945).

In 1942 Raymond Chandler said that Cain was "a [Marcel Proust] in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of 
chalk and a board fence and nobody looking . . . everything he touches smells like a billygoat".



Film still of the alternate ending to Double Indemnity 
On the set of Double Indemnity, 1944

I said, “I love the script and I love you, but I am a little afraid after all these years of playing heroines to go into an out-and-out killer.” 
And Mr. Wilder – and rightly so – looked at me and he said, “Well, are you a mouse or an actress?” And I said, “Well, I hope I’m an actress.” 
He said, “Then do the part”. And I did and I’m very grateful to him.

Barbara Stanwyck on being cast in Double Indemnity


Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder (1944)
Screenplay - Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler from the novel by James M. Cain
Cinematography by John F. Seitz 
Music by Miklós Rózsa 
Stars: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson 



"Since Double Indemnity, the two most important words in motion pictures are 'Billy' and 'Wilder'"
Alfred Hitchcock



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