Archives for posts with tag: Double Indemnity

by Suzanne Lummis

“I was thinking about that dame upstairs
and how she’d looked at me. And I wanted
to see her again, close, without that silly
staircase between us.”
– Voice of Walter Neff in Double Indemnity

Sir, if I may be frank, even bold,
perhaps rash, I’d like to see you again
without that grand piano between us—
the silly one with its carved curlicues,
enamel inlay, its painted panel legs
displaying their affection
for the 19th Century.

And the piano player also—again, forgive
this lapse of discretion. … No, no,
I don’t mean I wish to see him as well.
I long to see you without him between us,
the grand piano player, whose “ivory hands
on the ivory keys strayed in a fitful fantasy”.
(Thank you dear Mr. Wilde). Well—

perhaps I would like to see him again,
but let’s not think on that now. Now
I desire (did I just confess desire?)
to see you again without even
the music between us. Without—sir, yes,
yes, you read my meaning, my purpose
and, I dare say, my lips—without even
that last
lithe, trembling
note of the concerto
between us.

IMAGE: Still from Double Indemnity starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (1944)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  In 2013, Suzanne Lummis won the Blue Lynx Poetry Award—her collection Open 24 Hours will be released by Lynx House Press in 2014. Her poems have appeared in noted literary journals across the country and in such anthologies as California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present, the Knopf “Everman’s Poetry Library” anthologies, Poems of the American West, Poems of Murder and Mayhem. Her definitive essay on the poem noir appeared in New Mexico’s Malpais Review, for which she is California Correspondent, and in 2011 her organization, The Los Angeles Poetry Festival, produced a 25-event citywide series, Night and the City: L.A. Noir in Poetry, Fiction and Film. She is co-editor of Beyond Baroque’s new imprint, The Pacific Coast Poetry Series, which will publish an important new anthology of Los Angeles area poets in 2014. She performs with the serio-comic performance troupe Nearly Fatal Women and teaches for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and for other colleges and arts organizations. Visit her at

Author photo by Penelope Torribio. Visit the photographer at

by Hilary Barta

In darkness this duo’s defined
by light through the slats of a blind
The pair was condemned,
by shadows were hemmed,
the moment insurance was signed.

In blackness the couple’s confined
Like bars in a cell they are lined
They’re not playing straight,
each eying their mate,
awaiting a fate that’s unkind.

Credit: “Venetian Binds”  © 2013 Hilary Barta

Photo: Still from Double Indemnity (1944) directed by Billy Wilder, starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwick.

Editor’s note: You’d have to know the plot of Double Indemnity for this limerick to make sense. Read a synopsis of the film at


In this interview, conducted by James Linville, Billy Wilder discusses collaborating with Raymond Chandler on the script for DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

(Spring 1996, No. 138)

WILDER: Chandler had never been inside a studio. He was writing for one of the hard-boiled serial magazines, The Black Mask—the original pulp fiction—and he’d been stringing tennis rackets to make ends meet. Just before then, James M. Cain had written The Postman Always Rings Twice, and then a similar story, Double Indemnity, which was serialized in three or four installments in the late Liberty magazine.

Paramount bought Double Indemnity, and I was eager to work with Cain, but he was tied up working on a picture at Fox called Western Union. A producer-friend brought me some Chandler stories from The Black Mask. You could see the man had a wonderful eye. I remember two lines from those stories especially: “Nothing is emptier than an empty swimming pool.” The other is when Marlowe goes to Pasadena in the middle of the summer and drops in on a very old man who is sitting in a greenhouse covered in three blankets. He says, “Out of his ears grew hair long enough to catch a moth.” A great eye…but then you don’t know if that will work in pictures because the details in writing have to be photographable.

I said to Joe Sistrom, Let’s give him a try. Chandler came into the studio, and we gave him the Cain story Double Indemnity to read. He came back the next day: I read that story. It’s absolute sh**! He hated Cain because of Cain’s big success with The Postman Always Rings Twice.

He said, Well, I’ll do it anyway. Give me a screenplay so I can familiarize myself with the format. This is Friday. Do you want it a week from Monday?

Holy sh**, we said. We usually took five to six months on a script.

Don’t worry, he said. He had no idea that I was not only the director but was supposed to write it with him.

He came back in ten days with eighty pages of absolute bullsh**. He had some good phrases of dialogue, but they must have given him a script written by someone who wanted to be a director. He’d put in directions for fade-ins, dissolves, all kinds of camera moves to show he’d grasped the technique.

I sat him down and explained we’d have to work together. We always met at nine o’clock, and would quit at about four-thirty. I had to explain a lot to him as we went along, but he was very helpful to me. What we were doing together had real electricity. He was a very, very good writer—but not of scripts.

…Read more of Billy Wilder’s musings on “The Art of Screenwriting” at the PARIS REVIEW.

Photo: Billy Wilder (right) and Raymond Chandler in Wilder’s office at Paramount while writing the screenplay for DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).