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Double Indemnity 70th Anniversary Blu-ray Review - Highly RecommendedBlu-ray Paramount Universal
- Studio: Universal
- Distributed By: N/A
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Other
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 1 Hr. 48 Min.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
- Case Type:
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: ABC
- Release Date: 04/15/2014
- MSRP: $29.98
The Production Rating: 5/5Before I begin the review proper, I need to thank Joe Kane, for allowing me to bring this Blu-ray to his professional grade system for evaluation, and I also must thank Robert A. Harris for accompanying me on this task. I’m grateful to both men for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank them for their generosity, graciousness, good counsel and most of all for their patience. For the record, Joe’s system is the Samsung SP-A 900, an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is a Daylight Affinity .9 Gamma that is 90” (7 ½ feet wide), also of his design. Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal. Sitting comfortably at a distance of 8 feet from the 90” screen, we were were able to evaluate all 3 versions of the movie as projected. I should note that Joe’s projector has a special “carbon arc” setting, that allows the viewer to watch a black and white movie with the proper warmth.
Double Indemnity is one of those movies that feels timeless, even though it’s just arrived at its 70th anniversary of its original theatrical release. Based on James M. Cain’s novel about infidelity, insurance and murder (although not necessarily in that order), the film is a marvel of unexpected moments of creativity and subtlety. The story itself is simple. Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls for possibly the very first femme fatale in movie history (Barbara Stanwyck), volunteering to do in her husband so she can collect a lucrative insurance policy and they can go off together. As one might imagine, it’s not the initial crime that makes up the story – it’s the inevitable unraveling of the whole situation as Neff’s boss Barton Keys (Edward G. Robinson) slowly puts the jigsaw puzzle together. Normally, I’d put a spoiler warning on such materials, but the brilliance of this movie is that it STARTS with this information as Neff narrates the story for both Keys and the viewer. The key here isn’t the complexity of the story – it’s really all about the execution. We can start with the script, cooked to a boil by detective novelist Raymond Chandler alongside Billy Wilder in what all accounts have agreed was a truly unhappy writers’ office for over two months. The dialogue that came out of that room is almost impossibly good – loaded with more double entendres than one could shake a stick at, and full of moments of both inspired sinister invention and a palpable sense of dread in the second half of the film. (This is the same notion I experienced in the much more recent film The Bank Job. There’s an exhilarating rush to the crime in the first half of the movie, and then the cold sweat of realization that hits in the second half.)
Adding to the stew of the movie is the trio of primary roles and the performances that make them indelible. First, there’s Fred MacMurray, an actor known for using his easy charm on comic roles such as the widower father on My Three Sons. Here, he’s tasked with bringing that charm to a man who’s openly and willingly choosing to do the bad thing, the wrong thing. MacMurray keeps the man sympathetic, even as he takes himself and the audience right over the cliff into his own destruction. Then there’s Edward G. Robinson, known up to that time for his tough guy roles. Here he takes a supporting position as the plodding, methodical Keys, who slowly but surely unravels this crime while retaining a strong sense of affection for Neff. It can be said that the relationship between MacMurray and Robinson is actually the heart of the movie, throwing friendly jibes back and forth at each other throughout, even in the final moments. Most memorable in this film is Barbara Stanwyck, whose calculating wife is immediately attractive to us as we first see her wrapped only in a towel (How in the heck did this movie get past Standards and Practices in 1944???) and who slowly reveals more and more disturbing layers. (Her look of grim satisfaction at the moment of her husband’s departure is one of the more unsettling performances I’ve ever seen.) It’s important to remember, again, that all three of these actors are working outside their comfort zones, using creative muscles they would not normally employ, and finding some really interesting gold in the process.
Taking the material over the top is Billy Wilder’s direction, buttressed by the almost expressionist cinematography of John Seitz. Wilder stages his scenes with a great economy of action, but frames them in ways that emphasize the deep shadows of this story’s dark world. Wilder and Seitz give us rooms filled with choking dust, surrounded by stifling heat or pouring rain outside, and bordered from within by the grim shadows of window blinds that look more like horizontal bars than anything else. This is a movie about suggestion, and Wilder makes the most of each opportunity to play with a silhouette, a shadow, a reflection. And even while he does so, there’s a casual nature to the whole enterprise that keeps each scene quite approachable. It’s a marvel of economic storytelling, framing the three major performances in a tone of world-weariness and cynicism that’s almost shocking at times. It’s no wonder this movie was nominated for multiple Academy Awards in its time, and probably a crime that it didn’t win any. (Of course, Wilder’s behavior at the Oscars has to make one think he must have been channeling his characters from this movie. After all, tripping the Best Picture Winner and sending him tumbling down the aisle is not exactly out of Emily Post…)
The new Blu-ray edition includes a lovely high definition transfer of the picture. Grain is clearly present, sometimes a bit heavier than others. Some darker shots early on show a bit more, but overall, there is simply a strong sense of the grain structure and the detail we can see within it. The Blu-ray also carries over all the bonus features from the 2006 Legacy Edition DVD, including two scene-specific commentaries, a pretty thorough featurette on the movie, a quick introduction by TCM’s Robert Osborne, the movie’s trailer, and even a 1973 TV movie adaptation that pales into transparency by comparison to the original. This Blu-ray is the very definition of a Must-Own title and it is Highly Recommended for purchase.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Double Indemnity is presented in a 1.33:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 34 mbps) that provides a lovely high definition picture. Grain structure is visible along with plenty of detail. As with the Touch of Evil Blu-ray, watching this edition offers an experience as close as one can imagine to sitting in a movie theater watching the film being projected. In addition to really being able to see the beauty of Seitz’s compositions, the transfer reveals fine details in the various costumes and sets along the way. This is really a pleasure to see.
Audio Rating: 5/5Double Indemnity has an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix (@ an average 1.8 mbps), which presents the dialogue and Miklos Rozsa’s iconic score with great clarity. A Spanish DTS mono mix is also included on the disc.
Special Features: 5/5As with the 2006 Legacy Edition DVD, the Blu-ray of Double Indemnity comes with two scene-specific commentaries, along a thorough featurette, the original trailer and the 1973 TV movie version. Any fan of this movie, or of film noir in general should enjoy these bonuses as a fine group of supplements to the film.
Commentary with Richard Schickel – Film Historian Richard Schickel provides one of his trademark thorough scene-specific commentaries, going through each scene sometimes on a shot-by-shot basis. This commentary is a textbook example of a “Film School in a Commentary”.
Commentary with Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman – The second commentary track features Lem Dobbs and Twilight Time’s Nick Redman in a fairly engaged dialogue about the filmmakers and all the various tricks they’re getting away with along the way.
Shadows of Suspense (37:56, 4x3, 480p) – This featurette covers the reactions by multiple filmmakers to Double Indemnity while also recounting many stories about its production. There’s a lot of ground covered here, and the featurette does so quickly and cheerfully.
Introduction by Robert Osborne – (2:30, 4x3, 480p) – This is TCM’s Robert Osborne providing a really fast introduction to the movie, pretty much going through two or three of the points discussed at much greater length in the featurette and the commentaries.
Theatrical Trailer – (2:16, 4x3, 480p) – This is not listed on the packaging, but the original trailer is available here. This is the same copy available on the prior DVD release.
Double Indemnity (1973 TV Movie) (1:13:53, 4x3, 480p) – This is one of those presentations that leaves the viewer wondering aloud “What were they THINKING?” The sad part of this pitifully ordinary remake is that so many talented people were involved in making it. In the primary three roles, we are now given Richard Crenna, Samantha Eggar and Lee J. Cobb, all of whom are capable of much better performances than we see here. The adapted script is from Steven Bochco, of all people. The plot elements are the same, the sequence of events is the same. And yet, the whole enterprise just doesn’t add up. Maybe it’s the shock of seeing this story presented in 1973 fashions, in garish color, bereft of the beautifully shadowy imagery and simplicity of Wilder’s original film. Maybe it’s the disappointment in seeing iconic scenes falling completely flat in their delivery. Maybe it’s just the overwhelming sense of Wrongness of the whole idea. But this exercise is at least useful – it’s a textbook example that movies are much more than the sum of their parts. There’s a certain alchemy to any great movie, and it isn’t something that can be achieved with a paint-by-the-numbers approach. It’s an object lesson not to remake a great movie just because you think you can – and this is a lesson that many filmmakers today could do well to heed, particularly as we now see almost every movie of the 1980s being dusted off and remade with a new cast. (That is not to say that every movie of the 80s was great – we’re getting remakes of even the mediocre ones…) Perhaps most importantly, this TV movie acts as a negative proof of how good the original movie actually is. I wouldn’t recommend sitting through more than five minutes of this, but within that time, you’ll come to appreciate Wilder’s film all the more.
Archive Packet – The Blu-ray includes in the packaging a little envelope containing a miniature reproduction of the US theatrical poster, three lobby cards from the US theatrical release, and a still photo from an alternate ending to the movie. (The alternate ending really doesn’t deviate from how the movie actually does end – it’s just that the completed movie wisely chooses to call it a day before getting to the deleted scene.)
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.