TCM Presents Double Indemnity (or, Another Plug for Watching Films on the Big Screen)

On July 19, 2015, I screened Double Indemnity at a local theater with a couple of relatives. (If you'd like to see when other offerings from TCM Presents will show at your local cinema, click here: Classic Series.)

Double Indemnity follows Barbara Stanwyck as a housewife named Phyllis with an itch to kill her husband for his accident insurance money. The only problem is he hasn't got any. Enter Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman who gets a little too friendly with the clients, especially the female clients. Can she convince Walter to help her murder her husband for big dough, double the dough?

Mother mentioned that about 20 years later, MacMurray and Stanwyck each went on to have a popular TV show career -his in "My Three Sons" and hers in "Big Valley." Despite the murderous nature (or perhaps because of the need to bring levity into the story), there are any number of one-liners. The audience saved its biggest laughs for Edward G. Robinson's  no-nonsense, but loveable portrayal of Neff's boss, who practically smells fraud and deception.

It's a great film, often described as noir-ish with its lights and shadows, its Venetian blinds and its femme fatale who's up to no good.

On the big screen, you feel as if you can step right into Phyllis' house, especially when the characters' backs are to the camera and the camera dollies with them as they walk to the door. You feel as if you're walking with them. There is something to be said for watching an old film at the cinema. The perfectly-tailored lines of Neff's serviceable wool coat... you think you can almost smell Phyllis' perfume... and the kiss that was nothing on TV seems far too intimate when their heads are 30-feet high. You miss so much when it's not shown in the cinema.

When you watch a film at home on TV, on your computer, or on your mobile device, you're missing something crucial - envelopment in the story unlike anything else.

At home, usually the lights are on, you have many distractions, including the cat wanting you to fix its dinner, or there are family obligations, or the neighbor is at the door finally returning your power tools, or you're using the movie as background noise while you do something else, like scour the internet for Cary Grant's autobiography.

However, at most movie theaters, you sit in a darkened room in a bucket seat, facing forward. There's nothing to do but watch the screen (and mindlessly eat overpriced popcorn as you watch).

And before that, you had to put on your shoes, go out the door and travel to a building that does nothing but show movies. It's an event, an increasingly expensive event. You're going to pay attention in ways that perhaps you wouldn't somewhere else.

This is just a recommendation: if you have the chance to see an old film on the big screen and it doesn't break the budget, do it. I have seriously considered setting up a projector and having a regular movie night on the side of a barn, or something. The quality would be lousy, but I'll get to see some of the more obscure films as I wish, as they were meant to be seen - large and enveloping.

Did you see Double Indemnity on the big screen?  Did you enjoy it?


  1. I haven't seen many classic films on the big screen, but I concur with your impressions. It becomes a completely different experience. So glad you had this opportunity.

    1. There are a few more coming up this year, I think. Sitting in the cinema with fellow classic movie fans and talking about it afterwards is the closest I've ever been to a film festival. It's great for those of us in more remote areas.


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