Chapter two of More Than Night is “Modernism and Blood Melodrama: Three Case Studies.” It analyzes The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. The end of the chapter has two publicity stills from the alternate ending to Double Indemnity. Naremore says the gas chamber scene would have been too dark – “would have thrown a shadow over everything that preceded it” (p. 93). Wilder says he decided it was too anticlimactic (YouTube – Love the 70s audience). Even Cain preferred Wilder’s filmed ending to his own.
The script for Double Indemnity actually has two alternate endings. The first has Neff saying “At the end of that…trolley line… just as I get off…you be there… to say goodbye…will you, Keyes?” after the “I love you too” line that closes the film. I can see how that would be superfluous. The second ending follows that with the largely dialogue-free gas chamber sequence. I haven’t read Cain’s story all the way through, but I did look at the last two chapters for his ending. He has Walter and Phyllis committing suicide together rather than face arrest. I think I agree that Wilder’s ending is superior, but I’ll have to read the whole story before I’m sure.
The creepy reality about the gas chamber scene that was cut from the end of Double Indemnity is that Wilder was a German Jew who left in the early 30s to escape fascism. The class has become compelled by the idea of the historical context for the moment of any given work, WWI in Hemingway, Prohibition and the rise of the gangster in Hammett, Depression with Fante, and now WWII and the holocause with Double Indemnity. Fact is, by September of 1944 when the film was released there was widespread knowledge of the Final Solution and the gas chambers in and around Germany—it makes the psychological play on Neff’s murder and the whole horror of the noir that inspired much of the thinking in France that much more palpable. What I am loving about this class right now is it has gone philosphical quick with Naremore and Double Indemnity—I am loving it.
We didn’t record Thursday because Peter Catlin came in for the talk and Tuesday we watched the film, but next week is on, and let me know if you want to be brought inot the discussions of Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce more directly. Your blogging is awesome.
I didn’t think of the Holocaust connection. I had never looked into Wilder’s background before either. What I knew of his movies seemed so American to me that I was surprised by his accent in the interview clip. In that light, I can see why the gas chamber ending was considered too heavy. The Spanish title on the poster, Perdición – Hell – seemed a bit much as well, like it’s out of proportion with what goes on in the film. But the gas chamber, coupled with Holocaust overtones, would change the story from misbegotten murder to descent into damnation.