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Double Indemnity [Paperback]

Richard Schickel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 22 2008 BFI Film Classics
This book discusses Double Indemnity and its status as a key film in the definition of film noir.

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Richard Schickel is a great lover of Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, one of the earliest and best examples of film noir. In this lively book, Schickel provides an engrossing account of how the movie's screenplay was written. He compares the film to James M. Cain's novel and talks about how screenwriters Wilder and Raymond Chandler tried to improve upon it. He quotes generously from the film's dialogue and waxes admiringly upon its sleekness and style. Schickel's deep affection is infectious. His book encourages you to hear the movie through his enthusiastic ears and see it through his delighted eyes.

About the Author

Richard Schickel is film critic of Time. His most recent book is Brando: A Life in Our Times.

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It has the characteristics of the classic forties film as I respond to it. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Study of a Great Film Sept. 3 2002
Format:Paperback
Overall, Schickel's short monograph on Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a nice piece of work. The information on Wilder's collaboration with the somewhat difficult Raymond Chandler is particularly well researched and well presented. Wilder is, after all, a writer's director, the way that John Ford is a director's director or Sergei Eisenstein, an editor's director. When film critic Andrew Sarris downgraded Wilder in his book THE AMERICAN CINEMA, it is because he could not understand that a director can be an artist while lacking a distinctive visual style. If Wilder's art comes out primarily during the scripting phase of the process, the resulting film can be just as successful -- especially if you have a great veteran like John B. Seitz behind the camera.
And there is no doubt that DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a masterpiece. It is a complex work bringing together Billy Wilder's bemused street smarts, James M. Cain's corrosive venom, and Raymond Chandler's poetic noir dialogue.
My only complaint with this monograph is that Schickel spent very little time on Cain's original novel except to pan it in passing. Granted that Chandler and Wilder improved on the original, the original is still one of the classic noir novels and deserves more than a passing nod.
Secondly, Schickel just mentions in passing an article on screenwriting written by Chandler and doesn't even bother footnoting it. I finally tracked down the article in the second volume of the outstanding Library of America set of Chandler's work (which, by the by, also includes the complete film script for DOUBLE INDEMNITY). Chandler was obviously very down on screenwriting. Like many writers, he assumed that the script was THE key element of the film, and that writers should be treated with greater deference. After reading it, I still think the world of Chandler, but I feel all the more respect for Wilder for how he handled his somewhat cranky associate.
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4.0 out of 5 stars First class piece of film criticism June 25 2000
Format:Paperback
Schickel is a first class film critic and has given an excellent introduction to the Wilder classic Double Indemnity. In may opinion it is the best so far of the BFI series.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, well-researched study of noir classic Jan. 6 1999
Format:Paperback
Double Indemnity is perhaps the best film noir of all; and this is perhaps the best volume in the entire BFI series of monographs on classic (and modern classic) films. Schickel's study includes the usual (for the series) personal appreciation of the film and the way it helped create the genre (Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane set the tone and the look; Double Indemnity contributed the central iconic character of noir, the two-timing blonde, and it wasn't until she was added to the mix that the genre took off). But it's also a solid job of research, detailing the work process of Wilder and his often-frustrated collaborator Raymond Chandler, the way in which they turned Cain's prose into speakable dialogue (in the process improving almost every aspect of the original), and most intriguing of all, outlining the film's original ending, in which death in the electric chair paid off the theme of mechanized people in a mechanized society riding an assembly line to doom.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Study of a Great Film Sept. 3 2002
By James Paris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Overall, Schickel's short monograph on Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a nice piece of work. The information on Wilder's collaboration with the somewhat difficult Raymond Chandler is particularly well researched and well presented. Wilder is, after all, a writer's director, the way that John Ford is a director's director or Sergei Eisenstein, an editor's director. When film critic Andrew Sarris downgraded Wilder in his book THE AMERICAN CINEMA, it is because he could not understand that a director can be an artist while lacking a distinctive visual style. If Wilder's art comes out primarily during the scripting phase of the process, the resulting film can be just as successful -- especially if you have a great veteran like John B. Seitz behind the camera.
And there is no doubt that DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a masterpiece. It is a complex work bringing together Billy Wilder's bemused street smarts, James M. Cain's corrosive venom, and Raymond Chandler's poetic noir dialogue.
My only complaint with this monograph is that Schickel spent very little time on Cain's original novel except to pan it in passing. Granted that Chandler and Wilder improved on the original, the original is still one of the classic noir novels and deserves more than a passing nod.
Secondly, Schickel just mentions in passing an article on screenwriting written by Chandler and doesn't even bother footnoting it. I finally tracked down the article in the second volume of the outstanding Library of America set of Chandler's work (which, by the by, also includes the complete film script for DOUBLE INDEMNITY). Chandler was obviously very down on screenwriting. Like many writers, he assumed that the script was THE key element of the film, and that writers should be treated with greater deference. After reading it, I still think the world of Chandler, but I feel all the more respect for Wilder for how he handled his somewhat cranky associate.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, well-researched study of noir classic Jan. 6 1999
By Michael Gebert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Double Indemnity is perhaps the best film noir of all; and this is perhaps the best volume in the entire BFI series of monographs on classic (and modern classic) films. Schickel's study includes the usual (for the series) personal appreciation of the film and the way it helped create the genre (Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane set the tone and the look; Double Indemnity contributed the central iconic character of noir, the two-timing blonde, and it wasn't until she was added to the mix that the genre took off). But it's also a solid job of research, detailing the work process of Wilder and his often-frustrated collaborator Raymond Chandler, the way in which they turned Cain's prose into speakable dialogue (in the process improving almost every aspect of the original), and most intriguing of all, outlining the film's original ending, in which death in the electric chair paid off the theme of mechanized people in a mechanized society riding an assembly line to doom.
4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First class piece of film criticism June 24 2000
By Kevin Brianton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Schickel is not a great film writer, although he is very influential. He gives an excellent introduction to the Wilder classic Double Indemnity and gives a good background to the film.
Schickel could have done more and looked at the various interpretations of the film, but he is content to keep it focussed on its history.
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