This 1973 remake of the classic 1944 Billy Wilder film, "Double Indemnity," is a textbook example of how to destroy a great script. This grade-B TV fodder also illustrates the folly of remakes in general. While Hollywood has gone after greedy executives that colorize black-and-white films and sought disclaimers on wide-screen movies that are shown in pan-and-scan versions, the industry has ignored the hacks that insist on taking a classic film and diminishing it with a shoddy remake.
The first step in producing a bowdlerized version of a classic is to edit the script. The Billy-Wilder-Raymond-Chandler work was cut by a half hour to fit the finished film into a specified time-slot with room for commercials. Then update the production with bland, color photography, smart, upscale sets, and TV-familiar actors. Thus, the brand-new "Double Indemnity" eliminates the atmospheric black-and-white film-noir cinematography that enhanced the mood and characterizations of the original. Gone are the dusty, shadowy, claustrophobic sets that explained the protagonists' desires to escape their situations at whatever cost. Gone are the close bond between Keyes and Neff and the erotic attraction between Neff and Phyllis.
The look of Jack Smight's take on "Double Indemnity" is more "Dynasty" than film noir. Phyllis Dietrickson has a designer home to die for, and Neff's comfy pad would be hard to afford on an insurance salesman's salary, not to mention the sporty Mercedes convertible that he drives. Neither character has any apparent motive to murder for a paltry $200,000. If not money, then perhaps murder for love or lust? Not in this version. Richard Crenna shows little interest in Samantha Eggar, and their kisses are about as lusty as those between a brother and a sister. Crenna fails to capture the cynicism of Neff, and his attempts at double-entendre and sexual suggestiveness fall horribly flat. Eggar is little better and lacks sensuality and the depth to suggest the inner workings of a supposedly devious and manipulative mind. Only Lee J. Cobb manages a creditable performance as Keyes. Director Jack Smight and his three principals have all done much better work.
There was no conceivable reason to produce this wretched remake except to fill time in a broadcast schedule. There was no conceivable reason to resurrect this dud on DVD and package it with the original film except to fill out a double-disc package. The only lesson that can be learned from this misfire is that even a great script and great dialog can be ruined with poor casting, lackluster direction, and TV grade production values. The 1973 "Double Indemnity" should be titled "10% Indemnity," because viewing it only underscores the 100% perfection of the original movie.
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