I’ve seen ‘Double Indemnity’ (screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler based on James M. Cain’s novel) about a thousand times over the past fifty years and never knew–or frankly cared about– the identity of a man sitting outside Barton Keyes’s (Edward G. Robinson) office. Sixteen or so minutes into the movie Fred MacMurray and Robinson have a scene which ends with one of my favorite exchanges in the film; Keyes tells MacMurray to “get out of here before I throw my desk at you.” MacMurray replies by lighting Keyes cigar and saying “I love you too”. MacMurray exits the office and passes by a man sitting on a seat and reading a book next to the office (Keyes next appointment perhaps?) Apparently it’s Raymond Chandler! The above clip squeezes all the possible juice out of the moment.

What’s especially interesting about this to me is that it sheds a slightly more nuanced light on the relationship between Wilder and Chandler. According to Maurice Zolotow’s Wilder bio ‘Billy Wilder In Hollywood’ the two men disliked each other intensely and the writing of the screenplay was torture for both of them. Over the years Wilder, not the nicest guy in the world, had many unkind things to say about Chandler. For his part Chandler seems to have been more circumspect but let it be known to friends via letters (his preferred mode of communication) that the experience wasn’t one he cherished. Yet here he is, a non-actor being given a cameo in the film he wrote. This is an act of affection on the director’s part–there’s no reason to give somebody you dislike a little moment in a movie. It means that Chandler was on the set which seems to indicate that Wilder was both gracious to him and perhaps in need of his approval as they shot the film. Which leads me to posit that Wilder’s hostility to Chandler may well have been a reaction to Chandler’s slightly above-it-all indifference to moviemaking. In other words, Billy Wilder may well have been made to feel insecure by Raymond Chandler’s attitude toward him. I saw Wilder at a Writers Guild tribute in 1991 and he discussed Chandler briefly. Though he professed to having disliked working with him he nonetheless quoted verbatim a passage from Chandler’s novel ‘The High Window’ as an example of his crackling wit and dark poetry. Clearly Wilder had been stricken by Chandler’s prose all those years ago if he committed it to memory. Chandler also wrote the screenplay for ‘Strangers On A Train’ for Alfred Hitchcock. Apparently he demanded that Hitchcock come to his house for work sessions, an unusual demand that the normally office/routine-bound Hitchcock acquiesced to. Things got off to a bad start when Hitchcock, getting out of his limo in front of the Chandler abode, heard Chandler say to his wife: ‘Look at that fat bastard getting out of his car.’ So Wilder wasn’t alone in Chandler’s scorn-heaping. I don ‘t think, however, that Hitchcock allowed Chandler a cameo in the film. He tended to reserve those for himself…


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