Double Indemnity: My First Classic Movie on the Big Screen

As silly as it may sound now, when I first became a classic movie fan many years ago, I had a dream of one day owning a theater that showed nothing but old movies. Not understanding at the time what a difficult if not impossible undertaking that would be, I actually thought that dream would come true.

In the excitement of planning the kind of movies I’d show at my theater, I started to keep a list of all the movies that I watched and put them in either a “show in theater” or “don’t show in theater” column based on whether or not I liked them or thought they would draw a crowd. Although I know now that I’ll never be using it, I still keep that list today to remind myself of those early days when I thought anything was possible. :-)

Discovering The Rosebud Cinema and Drafthouse

When I realized owning a theater was just a pipe dream, I decided I’d settle for the next best thing; a theater near me but owned by someone else that showed classic movies, even it if was only on occasion. For the longest time, there was no such place near me or at least I didn’t think there was.

Then last fall I discovered that the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee) showed classic films on occasion and several were coming up on their schedule. Even though the theater is a good hour and a half drive from where I live, it was at least within driving distance so I was totally thrilled!

Watching Double Indemnity on the Big Screen!

Last October (yes, I know I’m *just* a little late with this post!) :-) I had the pleasure of watching the film noir classic Double Indemnity (1945) at the Rosebud Cinema. It was the first time I had ever watched an old movie on a big screen, but it was not the first time I had seen that movie.

I first watched it early in my days as a classic movie fan when I wasn’t as keen on film noir as I am now, and I have to admit I didn’t really think it was anything special. When I got home after watching it again back in October, this is what I tweeted: I sort of liked Double Indemnity when I first saw it about 10 yrs ago, but after a second viewing today I think it is close to perfection.”

I remember that after I sent that tweet, I realized I should have left out the “close to” part and just called it perfection. As I was sitting there watching the movie in the comfortable theater, I was totally enthralled by it and literally could not think of one thing to criticize. There were however, MANY things to love about the movie!

10 Great Reasons to Love the Movie Double Indemnity

But instead of telling you about all those things myself, I am going to direct you to a GREAT resource on the subject, Karen from the blog Shadows and Satin, which is devoted to both film noir and pre-code films.

In what turns out to be a very timely coincidence, she just published a list of the top 10 reasons she loves the movie Double Indemnity, and it is a great read.

I feel the same way about all the things she listed, and since she describes them in a far more interesting and clever way than I ever could, I would encourage you to visit her blog and read her list first. Then at the end of this post, I will add just a few more reasons of my own.

The Dark Pages Newsletter – All About the World of Film Noir

Before I do that though, I’d like to mention that Karen is also the editor of an awesome newsletter called The Dark Pages, which is as she describes it “the planet’s only hard copy newsletter devoted to the shadowy world of film noir.” Shortly after I saw it on the big screen, she published a special giant issue devoted entirely to Double Indemnity. If you love the movie (or even if you’ve never seen it or didn’t care for it and need some convincing), you definitely need to get this issue! It is chock full of interesting information and covers some of the finer details of the movie that I missed in my first two viewings. It has me excited to watch the movie again so I can pay more attention to those things.

You can purchase the special issue here, or you can purchase the full yearly subscription, which I highly recommend! Even though I’ve only gotten a few issues so far, I am loving it and think you will too. I’ve learned so many new things about the world of film noir and have added several new titles to my “movies to watch” list.

Four Things I Loved About Double Indemnity

Here are just a few more things in addition to those mentioned by Karen that I enjoyed in the movie:

1. The performance of Fred MacMurray – For reasons that I don’t fully understand, Fred MacMurray’s name seems to come up an awful lot in conversations I hear people having about their least favorite classic movie actor. I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of his movies, but I think his performance in this movie was brilliant and his acting ability shouldn’t be so easily dismissed!

2. The Dietrichson house – I love it just because I think it’s a cool house! When the character of Walter Neff was walking up to it for the first time in the movie, I believe he mentioned in the narration that it was probably worth about $30,000. I looked it up, and the average cost of a house in 1938 was around $4,000. If Walter was anywhere close with his assessment, that is one nice house! :-)

3. The commercial buildings – I know I’ve mentioned numerous times on my blog that I have a fascination with seeing what certain types of businesses looked like in the 1930’s-60’s, and there were plenty to see in this movie. They included a drug store (shown from the outside only), a food market, a bowling alley, a drive-in, and the Hollywood Bowl, the famous amphitheater located in Los Angeles, California.

4. The passenger train from the murder scene – I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts that I love movies set on ocean liners, and one of my other favorite movie sets is the passenger train. Even though it was only shown for a brief moment as Walter walked to the back of the train, it looked like one that I would have loved to ride in with its cozy looking chairs and lighting.




Well, I sure hope that we’ve given you some great reasons to watch Double Indemnity if you haven’t already and that you’ll be watching it soon!

Have you seen Double Indemnity yet, and if so, what did you think of it? What are some of the classic movies you’ve seen on the big screen?

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  1. Karen says:

    Ginny! Your post made my day — no, my whole darn week!!! Thank you so much for the mention, and for your kind words about the Dark Pages and my post! (Am I overdoing it with the exclamation points?) It’s funny that you mentioned Fred MacMurray — my original post had more than 15 reasons, and when I decided to pare it down to 10, poor Fred wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor. But I totally agree with you about his performance — he was simply flawless — a perfect casting choice for the hapless Walter Neff. Like you, I once had the joy of seeing Double Indemnity on the big screen, and I’ll never forget it. I really enjoyed reading about your dream of owning a movie theater, and I share your affinity for the all-too-brief shots of the train. I’d love to take a trip on it — anywhere! BTW, I’d love to know what’s on your list of “show in theater” and “don’t show in theater” films! : )

  2. John says:

    I wish there were more theaters that showed classic films. I know in NYC, Film Forum shows many 30s and 40s films. Just yesterday, they showed James Cagney’s The Public Enemy. I wish I would have gone.

    Maybe you could make a list of theaters in the country that show these type of films? Finding many classic film fans to make a theater financially feasible might be hard today. I guess we have to settle for DVDS.

    I think more people need to be exposed to classic film. Most people think Gone With The Wind, The Wizard Of Oz and Casablanca are the only classics out there. We all know better.

  3. John says:

    Edward G. Robinson is one of my favorite actors and sometimes is unfairly stigmatized as a “gangster actor.” He will always be associated with the film Little Caesar which was a very good film but far from his best in my opinion. You must dig deeper to really find out more about this great performer.

    My EGR essentials:

    Little Caesar (1931)
    Five Star Final (1931)
    Dark Hazard (1934)
    The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)
    Barbary Coast (1935)
    Bullets or Ballots (1936)
    Kid Galahad (1937)
    The Last Gangster (1937)
    A Slight Case of Murder (1938)
    The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)
    Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
    Blackmail (1939)
    Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940)
    Brother Orchid (1940)
    A Dispatch from Reuter’s (1940)
    The Sea Wolf (1941)
    Manpower (1941)
    Larceny, Inc. (1942)
    Tales of Manhattan (1942)
    Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944)
    Double Indemnity (1944)
    The Woman in the Window (1945)
    Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
    Scarlet Street (1945)
    The Stranger (1946)
    The Red House (1947)
    All My Sons (1948)
    Key Largo (1948)
    House of Strangers (1949)
    The Violent Men (1955)
    The Ten Commandments (1956)
    A Hole in the Head (1959)
    The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

  4. John says:

    Brother Orchid is one of my favorite EG Robinson films. It is one of the many great gangster spoofs (Larceny Inc., A Slight Case Of Murder, and The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse) Robinson made in his career. Humphrey Bogart, Ralph Bellamy, Donald Crisp, Allen Jenkins and Ann Southern round out a stellar cast.

    Robinson aptly portrays Johnny Sarto a gangster in search of “real class.” Early on Sarto retires from the head of his gang leaving Bogey’s character (Jack Buck)in charge. However we soon learn Sarto’s retirement is short-lived as he quickly tries to regain control of his former gang. But Jack Buck has other plans for his former boss which include the early demise of Sarto.

    Jack Buck wastes no time in trying to eliminate Johnny Sarto. After a botched murder attempt by Buck’s goons, Sarto is left for dead in a desolate swamp area. Everyone now thinks he is dead. After regaining consciousness and a long walk, Johnny Sarto winds up at a monastery run by flower growing monks who qickly nurse him back to health. Mr.Sarto is now renamed Brother Orchid by the head monk in charge, Brother Superior(Donald Crisp). Sarto figures this is the perfect place to lay low for awhile so he agrees to join the monastery. However we soon learn “once a mug always a mug.” Sarto now Brother Orchid bribes an outsider to do all of his work as he relaxes “being on the lam.”

    As time goes by, Brother Orchid begins to long for the outside world figuring it is now time to leave the monastery. He also finds out that Buck’s gang has now stopped the monks from selling their flowers in the city. On a ride back into the city with Brother Superior, Bother Orchid leaves to exact revenge on Jack Buck and set things straight so the monks can once again sell their flowers in the city.

    Brother Orchid now enlists the help of Clarence(Ralph Bellamy) and his country bumpkins who are here for Clarence and Flo’s (Ann Southern) wedding. Flo was the former girlfriend of Sarto/Brother Orchid whom she thought was dead according to a previous newspaper account. Flo faints in shock when she sees Brother Orchid return.

    After seeing Flo, Brother Orchid quickly turns his attention back to Jack Buck . A drag out fight ensues where Brother Orchid’s side naturally wins. Jack Buck and his gang members now wind up in the custody of the police. Good triumphs over evil. After this climatic ending Brother Orchid thanks Clarence and gives him his blessing on the wedding with flo. He now knows what is important in life.

    Brother Orchid quickly returns to the monastery feeling this is now the true life for him. He finally realizes what true class is all about. A touching ending commences with Brother Orchid rejoining Brother Superior and his former monks.

    Robinson was a special actor and is believable in any role he performs in. No other actor could be a gangster and a monk in the same film and never skip a beat. All the gangster spoofs EGR made are must sees for any classic film fan.

  5. […] for loving Double Indemnity, and I agree with every single one (Ginny at Old Movies Nostalgia adds some more of her own) Courtney of Big Thoughts from a Small Mind reviews Certified Copy, and pretty much thinks as […]

  6. Tom Weber says:

    As a born and raised Milwaukee resident I am pleased to read of your discovery of The Rosebud as a theatrical source for classic films – the other nearby theater in Milwaukee that also shows such things is The Times Cinema, also in Wauwatosa.

    It was recently reported here that both theaters were going to be closing, but then at the last minute,
    the bank had tapped the former owner of the properties to run the establishments.

    Now as of this week they seem to be in a state of transition… the website for these places seems to have been for the most part no longer fully functional – but no doubt before too long they’ll get everything back in order and the theaters will continue with their screenings of classic, indie, foreign and popular films.

  7. […] was when I decided that I was one day going to own a theater that showed nothing but old movies, a story I’ve told in a previous post. I also remember when I first discovered Turner Classic Movies, […]

  8. Yes, there is something about viewing a film as it was meant to be seen on the big screen that gives you a different perspective.

    I think MacMurray is underrated as a dramatic performer because his current reputation is from his later family-oriented comedy career in the 1960s – the TV show, the Disney movies, etc.

    I’d love to see Double Indemnity on the big screen, but haven’t. I enjoy it for the Venetian blinds and other noir-ish things.

    However, I must admit that when I first saw the film, I laughed whenever MacMurray says “baby” in every other sentence. I just couldn’t see the star of Father Knows Best as a creepy lecher.

    Thanks for sharing.
    – Java

  9. Ginny says:

    I agree, and I hope I get the chance to see a lot more in theaters in the future. I recently got to see Vertigo on the big screen, which was amazing! The only problem is I had to drive 5 hours round trip to see it. It was totally worth it though.

    I can certainly understand how people have a hard time reconciling Fred MacMurray’s tv persona with that of characters like Walter Neff and his character in The Apartment. It is quite the difference! I grew up watching him on My Three Sons so it was also funny for me to see that darker, sleazy side of him.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!