Saturday, April 23, 2011

DOUBLE INDEMNITY -- The Noirest of the Noir?



by Libby Hellmann

It’s spring. Chicago is about to swear in a new mayor, the tulips are almost up, and the lake has lost all of its ice. Hopefully, the Outfit is coming out of hibernation too… except for Jamie, who, I’m convinced, never sleeps.

So, armed with great intentions and energy, I’d like to ask those of you who are still reading us (bless you) some questions about a classic noir novel. (So much for the beauty of spring…☺)

Last year I conducted workshops on THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by the father of noir, James Cain. I adored getting into the story, the amoral characters, and the capricious nature of evil… and fate. The workshops must have gone well, because I was asked to do another one this summer… this time on DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

So I’m re-reading the novel, and I watched the film again (what would we do without Netflix?). The film was better than I remembered -- casting Fred MacMurray as the good/bad guy was a stroke of genius – but the novel is troubling me a lot more than I recalled.

I have a pretty high tolerance for noir. And despair. And the evils that men and woman are capable of. But -Jeez – every time I put the book down, I want to take a shower. What is it about DOUBLE INDEMNITY that makes it even blacker than POSTMAN? Is it that Huff (the Fred MacMurray character) is really a nice guy – unlike Frank in POSTMAN -- who’s just fallen in lust? Is it because he shows some kind of remorse, again, unlike Frank in POSTMAN? Is it because he’s willing to kill the object of his lust in order to make it with another woman?

I’m not sure, which is why I’m asking you. Do you think DOUBLE INDEMNITY is more noir than POSTMAN? If so, why? If not, why?

Would love to hear your comments…

20 comments:

Dana King said...

Absolutely. DOUBLE INDEMNITY has long been one of my favorite movies; about fifteen years ago I read the book. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but on the last page I had to stop reading for a few seconds as it dawned on me what was about to happen, then I sat there for several minutes. Re-read the last page or so, and sat there again, thinking, "Holy shit, they sure couldn't put that in a movie in the Forties."

Not just noir, but a tragedy. Brilliant book.

Torque Wrench said...

the book has bring back many memories from the 90s , the movie was one of the best..and now the book has become a sensation

Libby Hellmann said...

Hmm... a traveling troll?

Mike Dennis said...

DOUBLE INDEMNITY is, in my opinion, more noir than POSTMAN, but only slightly more so. The noir-ness of it rests entirely on the average guy, Walter Huff (Neff in the movie), being bowled over by the schemin', smokin' hot babe, which of course leads to his eventual destruction.

A somewhat similar story ran through POSTMAN, but Huff was, again in my opinion, just a little more average than Frank Chambers. More likeable, too. He had a job, he was good at it, and he hesitated before getting involved with a married woman. Chambers was a drifter, not good for much, and jumped on Cora the minute he had the chance.

As I recall, in the novel, it was Chambers' idea to do in the husband, whereas in DI, it was sweet Phyllis who suggested it, or should I say, orchestrated it.

It was Phyllis' plan all along. First, she does away with her husband's first wife, then him, with the intent of cashing in every step of the way. In POSTMAN, however, Cora and Frank kind of fall into the murder plot while they're falling into bed. Cora wasn't on any long-range mission to kill Nick. It just happened.

But any way you cut it, one thing can't be denied: nobody can tell a story like James M Cain.

Libby Hellmann said...

You are so right, Mike. He is a master story-teller. My only quibble is the end of the book. I'd forgotten how different it is from the film. Not sure I like it better. It seemed contrived.

I think you're right about Huff.. except for one thing. He's an insurance salesman, and even then, insurance was kinda sorta a scam. So he knew the corners that could be cut, and the benefits of doing so.

Kathy Holmes said...

Oooo, that's a good question and one I never thought about. But Double Indemnity is more of a favorite of mine than Postman - I think it's the setting and style of the movie - love it! Postman just feels like a suspense and not necessarily Noir.

nike free run cheap said...

a traveling troll?

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