Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Double Indemnity

To return to more important matters - thanks, Frank, for this, a scene from Double Indemnity in which Raymond Chandler appears. It is fifty years since Chandler died and sixty-five years since this great film - script by Chandler from a James M.Cain novel, directed by Billy Wilder - was released. I have watched this movie dozens of time. The sheer perfection is overpowering and addictive. It has everything - the sickly evil of Stanwyck's Phyllis, the easy opportunism of MacMurray's Walter Neff and the gutsy honour of Robinson's Keyes. The passion and pace of the direction - Wilder was always good, but this was his masterpiece - make it impossible to stop watching. Seeing that clip made me want to see it again. Now. It is all about America, of course, about plucking civilisation from the wilderness and mire of fallen humanity. Keyes gets it right in the end but at the cost of his friend. The closing exchange is devastating - ironic, offhand, suffused with male inhibition and momentously sad.
'Neff: Know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes?. 'Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.
Keyes: Closer than that, Walter.
Neff: I love you too.'
With stuff like that to think about, I really don't know why I've been torturing myself with trivia these last few days.

PS I just realised those closing lines remind me of the last two lines of Dylan's Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight.
'Tomorrow is never what it's supposed to be
And I need you, yeah.'
Ironic, offhand and endlessly sad.


  1. Brilliant.

    I deny though that all you've been tortured by is trivia. One way or another it matters - some parts of politics matter a lot, at least.

    It seems certain now that we await a general election next year with two main parties led by Brown and Cameron. With a greater influx of newcomers caused by the expenses scandal the debate on the content of the two manifestos may I hope be the most interesting for a generation.

    Three non-trivial issues stand out: our relationship with Europe (both parties will surely have to respond to the strong anti-EU emphasis in the latest results); a rethink on climate change 'mitigation' as set out recently by Tory MEP Roger Helmer; and use of the Internet to transform all levels of politics, not so badly argued for by the inventor of the Web on the Beeb this morning.

    These three are I aver strongly interconnected. There's no place for faint hearts and that could make it a lot of fun. And not entirely trivial, methinks.

    (Thanks to: Paul Mason, Frank Field, Roger Helmer, Daniel Hannan, Tim Berners-Lee, Nick Cohen. In other words, the links are worth following.)

  2. Kudos, Richard, your comments have got closing credits now.

    Our last hope is a really spectacular Gordon Brown sex scandal. Fat chance.

  3. Fred McMurray. Now there was an underrated actor. He was brilliant in that other Wilder film, 'The Apartment'.

  4. RE: your Dylan PS.

    It reminds me of the penultimate line from Not Dark Yet.

    I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from

    That line is quite often in my mind, mind. I wonder if that's actually Dylan's best song.

  5. I share this enthusiasm. I first saw DI years ago as a 'Saturday Thriller' on the BBC - and have loved it ever since. How brilliant of Chandler/Wilder to call the Robinson character Keyes. I think what had the most powerful impact on a very young viewer was the fact that the narration is Neff's last testament. He staggers into the wonderful office set with his coat on his arm, covering a gun shot wound at the beginning right? Or have I misremembered?

    Why is Wilder not more admired? Ace in the Hole is a masterpiece.

    Sorry - no Dylan link springs to mind.

    If you see her say hello?

  6. Brit, thanks. Accompanying music is left to the reader but my preference would be the exultant jazz piano of The Firm - massive, life-threatening scam having just been overcome by the plucky heroes.

  7. I have to see this film, obviously. In fact, I have to start learning about film noir since it's supposedly all about America's post-war returning G.I. disenfranchisement and ennui. (And here I'd always thought we had such a great period of happiness and prosperity after WW II. But the dark movies show a different script, it seems.)

    Other recs, Bryan? Fans o' Bryan?

  8. Stephen FawcusJune 09, 2009 4:59 pm

    Wilder was great, though strangely I consider "Some Like It Hot" to be one of my least favourite of his films.
    Susan, there are too many good film noir movies to mention here but I'd recommend: "Out of the Past", "Gilda", "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Touch of Evil" as some of my favourites.