The Making of a Classic - Double Indemnity
James M. Cain's novella Double Indemnity was based on the true story of Ruth Snyder, who got her boyfriend Henry Judd Gray to kill her husband for the insurance money. Snyder and Jud Gray were convicted. One of the most famous news photos of the 1920's was that of Ruth Snyder being executed in the electric chair.
It was believed that Double Indemnity was impossible to film since adultery was central to the plot and the two main characters were cold blooded killers.
Billy Wilder and his writing partner Charles Brackett developed a film treatment that was accepted by the Hays Code. But Brackett decided the story was too sordid for his taste and bowed out.
It is obvious that Brackett should be replaced by James M. Cain. But Cain said that he was never asked. Producer Joseph Sistrom suggested Raymond Chandler, famous for writing stories like The Big Sleep. Billy Wilder was expecting to work with a Phillip Marlowe type character and instead got an accountant type of person instead.
Wilder and Chandler did not get along at all. In fact the two men detested each other. But Wilder did have respect for Chandler's talent. But disagreed with Chandler when he said that the original dialogue from the novella would not translate well to the screen. Eager to prove Chandler wrong, Wilder hired two contract players to read passages from the novella and realized that Chandler was right. Chandler also added realism to the screenplay by visiting the locations that figured in the film, like the supermarket where Walter and Neff met to discuss their murder plot.
In the original novella, the two main characters committed double suicide. But that was forbidden by the Hays Code. So a scene where Walter Neff is executed in the gas chamber was filmed. But Wilder believed that the last scene between Neff and Barton Keyes were more meaningful. So he took out the gas chamber scene costing the studio $150,000. Chandler himself was not happy with the gas chamber scene being cut. But this time Wilder was right.