Synopsis: A TV remake of Billy Wilder’s film classic (1944) about a scheming wife who inveigles an insurance agent into helping her bump off her husband and of the dogged investigator, the agent’s boss, who stalks them after deciding that the man’s death was not accidental.
Sigh… I have a horrible feeling in my stomach at having to write up this piece of crap. 1973’s ‘Double Indemnity’ is essentially a remake of the classic movie, except that it was hacked into a 73-minute TV production (why 73 minutes? Was it a 90 minutes broadcast when the commercials were factored in? ), much of the dialogue is missing, the pacing is ludicrous and the acting is beyond the pale.
By updating it to the ’70s and stripping away the film noir elements of the original, the dialogue that seemed unrealistic but sharp comes off as corny and dreadfully painful. Irritatingly stupid, even. It probably didn’t help that the actors delivered their lines like mentally-deficient bludgeons, but every time there was any dialogue I couldn’t stop myself from wincing at this unsightly telefilm.
While our lead, Richard Crenna had a few isolated moments that could be deemed passable, everyone else (even Academy Award nominee Samantha Eggar!) were ridiculous! It’s not just the way they delivered their lines, it was also in the body language, the timing, everything. I just couldn’t believe how bad this was; it was like watching a low-grade afternoon soap opera but with A-list stars!
Lee J. Cobb, in particular, is so inept at playing Keyes that it’s utterly mind-boggling. He rambles on like he’s having a difficult time remembering his lines, punctuating his dialogue at the wrong places and gesticulating like someone who’s lost control of his motor skills – you’d think he had never been a human being before or even seen one! This is rank amateur hour – and from a two-time Academy Award nominee!
I don’t know… perhaps all the actors (and the director) were under the influence – it was the wild ’70s, after all. I mean, the show itself is an alcoholic’s wet dream: every other frame has someone either drinking or pouring a drink. Or they’re pretty much obsessively asking for a drink. Jiminy cricket! You’d think that the characters in this film didn’t know about water! If it hadn’t been a TV production, I’d also have expected a few casual lines of coke along the way…
This version of ‘Double Indemnity’ also does a few things incredibly wrong along the way:
-For starters, the narration that was so instrumental in creating the tone of the piece and in providing some understanding of our protagonist’s motivation, is virtually gone from the first half or so. By killing off the lead’s inner life and thoughts, this means that his obsession with the woman is unclear, inexplicable (even if she is prettier, and more alluring than in the original). As for the reasoning for getting in on this scam? Well, that’s completely lost.
-In its brevity, the film races from scene to scene like a bullet-train, giving us a slightly schizophrenic vibe: one moment you’re in an office, the next moment you’re in someone’s house – there’s very little transition between scenes. It also cuts out some character-developing dialogue, including almost everything relating to the victim’s daughter (who, in a weird casting choice, looks virtually the same age as her step mother!). Her revelations in the original are buried and muddied here.
-And then there are moronic directorial choices, like the murder itself: in the original film, the murderer’s identity is concealed by a large raincoat and a wide-brimmed hat. Since hats were no longer in vogue in the ’70s, our killer only wore a trench coat. Except that he is supposed to be impersonating his victim and he looks nothing like him: his long, auburn hair (versus the other’s shorter, grey hair) would fool anyone but the most myopic. How this major error escaped everyone on this production is absolutely astounding!
Lastly, as a television production, especially one from the ’70s, one can expect very little bang for one’s buck. But, even in an era when everything on television looked fake (the transition from black and white to colour was obviously an imperfect one), this telefilm looks extremely cheap and unrealistic. After watching a few actors slip in and out of rooms (presumably to prevent us from seeing that there was nothing on the other side of the door! ), I half-expected wall to collapse or fall over. I was THAT crummy-looking!
Which is actually fitting because that’s how most of the film felt. It gave the impression of having been cobbled together without much thought or care and that everything was on the verge of crumbling apart. It doesn’t, exactly, but the cracks are constantly in show, and it’s agonizing to see something so good turned into such miserable crap. You’d do better by having this staged at your local high school than watching this drivel.
Nota bene: This TV movie is only available on the now out-of-print special edition DVD of the original film.