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Double Indemnity: The Implicit Cut

The Scribbling Man

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For my next act of film blasphemy, noir classic Double Indemnity is stripped of its iconic narration and given a linear chronology. This is not intended as a fan-fix per se, but as an experiment in seeing how the film functions when its main storytelling device is removed and limited to an implicit visual narrative, rather than an explicit voice-over. In addition, moving the opening scene to the end allows for a little more mystery as to exactly how things play out.

Special thanks to @SeaCom for early preview and feedback.


The Gist:
  • Trimmed opening of film and moved to end for a chronological telling.
  • Removed all narration and cut all interludes with Neff confessing
  • Tweaks to score here and there, to avoid repetition of the main theme and sometimes to aid transitions
  • A handful of tweaks for personal preference.

Detailed cutlist:

  • 0:00 - added source warning
  • 0:13 - Added FE and scribbling man titles
  • 0:22 - Paramount logo is now unscored (for consistency and in order to aid new opening)
  • 0:24 - minor trim to first shot of opening credits. Ending cue is changed for the sake of providing a more appropriate lead in to the new opening scene.
  • 1:22 - original traffic opening cut. Office scene moved to end of film. We now go straight to the past/start of story. Narration has been scrubbed from walk to house and foley added. Shot trimmed.
  • 2:50 - narration scrubbed
  • 3:07 - cut shot of Neff walking around while he narrates. instead we cut straight to Phyliss walking down the steps.
  • 3:11 - added shot of Neff watching her. This normally comes at the end of the narration followed by her walking down the stairs, but this intercutting allowed for better pacing and visual continuity after cuts
  • 6:06 - cut shot of Neff driving while he narrates. Foley for office establishing shot
  • 9:16 - main theme swapped for love theme so as to lead better into next scene. This also works nicely for Neff and Keyes' friendship (especially as Neff says "I love you too"). Foley to accommodate.
  • 9:23 - cut Neff walking to his office and subsequent scene where he receives the note to come in the afternoon instead of the evening. Without the narration this scene doesn't give the viewer any new information, and Phyliss immediately repeats this info to the audience in the following scene.
  • 14:22 - Different musical cue and it starts earlier to aid transition and cover narration. Foley to accommodate.
  • 14:28 - cut Neff walking to his car and subsequent narration montage (drinking, bowling etc.). We fade straight to him driving home in the evening. Foley.
  • 14:34 - shot slowed for a better paced transition.
  • 14:36 - trimmed Neff pacing while he narrates. Narration scrubbed. Foley.
  • 16:42 - cut "I'm crazy about you, baby" and "I'm crazy about you too, Walter". There's no getting around the melodrama, but this was an easy moment to tone down and I think the scene comes across better without it.
  • 17:57 - Neff says "woman" instead of "coloured woman" when referring to his housekeeper
  • 20:20 - different musical cue and it comes in sooner to aid scrubbing of narration.
  • 20:32 - cut scene of Neff recording his confession
  • 21:17 - cut "you're hurting me, Walter"
  • 22:22 - cut scene of Neff recording his confession
  • 28:42 - different musical cue. narration scrubbed
  • 28:44 - shorter shot of Neff driving
  • 28:50 - narration scrubbed. Foley
  • 28:54 - trimmed walking around supermarket. narration scrubbed
  • 30:52 - tweaked musical cue. Comes in sooner. Narration scrubbed.
  • 30:58 - trimmed Neff looking at notes. Narration scrubbed.
  • 35:21 - narration scrubbed. Music tweaked. Added foley. This sequence is normally quite long, with Neff wondering around his office. Crossfades added to imply a passage of time as he thinks and preps his alibi
  • 35:34 - narration scrubbed as car pulls up. Foley.
  • 35:48 - this transition is exactly as it is in the original but the narration doesn't come in. The montage is trimmed to elements that are visually informative.
  • 36:06 - lowered music volume and added foley. Narration is scrubbed. Shots trimmed.
  • 36:21 - we now intercut between Phyliss and her husband walking to the car and Neff hiding. This allowed me to have less dawdling from Neff (since it normally has narration over the top) and also provide a little extra tension. These events normally follow one after the other instead of happening simultaneously.
  • 36:26 - foley
  • 38:38 - shot trimmed
  • 42:43 - Neff is quicker to run to the car
  • 42:44 - Phyliss is quicker to get out of the car
  • 43:07 - trimmed Phyliss faffing around on the tracks.
  • 43:21 - one shot of them running to the car instead of two
  • 43:25 - the car doesn't stall. Foley to accommodate
  • 43:36 - cut driving montage and overdub narration. Foley to accommodate transition
  • 44:04 - trimmed end of prior shot
  • 44:09 - cut montage of Neff returning home and checking phones as well as narration overdub
  • 44:21 - trimmed Neff walking and removed narration.
  • 44:30 - cut scene of Neff recording his confession. Fade in from black to next scene instead of crossfade
  • 52:14 - Different musical cue. Cut walking between offices and accompanying narration. Crossfade to Neff at his apartment. All new foley until 52:28.
  • 52:44 - trimmed pause in conversation
  • 1:01:01 - cut narration and montage of Neff taking Lola out. Fade to black instead. This is the biggest narrative sacrifice in the edit IMO. It's a shame to lose it but the information is given to us again later and we are also shown him taking her out again later. The sequence comes across a bit awkward without the accompanying narration, I felt.
  • 1:01:03 - trimmed Neff walking from his office, removed narration. Fade in from black.
  • 1:06:32 - small trim to dialling phone
  • 1:09:30 - different musical cue
  • 1:09:37 - added fade in and out from Lola's face to better establish context for following scene. It's a while before she turns her head so, without the narration, it's not clear who Neff is with. Many thanks to Seacom for this suggestion. A scene with Neff confessing is also cut, and the walk up the hill trimmed (narration removed).
  • 1:11:19 - cut narration. Fade into Keyes early.
  • 1:12:18 - cut Neff riding the elevator and accompanying narration
  • 1:15:17 - Narration scrubbed.
  • 1:15:20 - Crossfade to Phyllis sooner
  • 1:20:21 - fixed hiccup in original audio
  • 1:23:43 - Neff confessing moved to later. Fade to car pulling up to office from start of film. Foley and score tweak to aid transition. The original beginning sequence of the film plays out untouched for a while.
  • 1:27:40 - Score cue added to help ease into next scene
  • 1:27:46 - Trimmed Neff's dialogue so that we don't hear too much of what we already know. Crossfade into ending sequence of Neff finishing his confession. Rest of film plays out untouched.
 

kinnikuman

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Just bought this on 4k - great movie! I can’t imagine it with narration. I’m excited to see this one 👍
 

The Scribbling Man

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This is now on IFDB :) would love to hear what you both think ^^
 

The Scribbling Man

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@Dwight Fry Thank you for the detailed review! I really appreciate it. A very fair observation on the opening as well.

It's funny that you mentioned it being the "James Cain cut", as I did initially consider doing something along those lines. I read the novella the same day as rewatching the film, so the differences were apparent and I preferred it. Ultimately, I didn't feel it was really possible to do a "book cut" as such. Cain's ending is wildly different and impossible to recreate. The confession is sort of in the book. I think either the last chapter or shortly before the climax there's a line where he says that it's his confession (I can't remember if it's to Keyes specifically)... but it's true that it's not the main framing device.
 

Dwight Fry

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Any time! Yeah, a full "book cut" is impossible. If only due to the vastly different approach to the characters. Wilder/Chandler take a much more cynical road than Cain, who seemed to be kind of a romantic. One just has to compare this to Cain's own The Postman Always Rings Twice or either of its film versions, both of which retain more of Cain's character approach than Double Indemnity the film. Both stories are actually very similar, but Postman is deep down about two people sincerely in love with each other. Not the case here (in the film), of course, despite what is hinted near the end about not being able to fire that second shot... Incidentally, Chandler detested Cain's writing and considered it utter trash.
 

The Scribbling Man

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Not the case here (in the film), of course, despite what is hinted near the end about not being able to fire that second shot...

I find it to be pretty ambiguous there. Does she really realise she loves him? Or is she playing another game?

Incidentally, Chandler detested Cain's writing and considered it utter trash.

I think that's pretty harsh. Unquestionably though, Chandler was the better writer when it comes to prose. He had a much more "literary" quality than most others in the genre.
 

Dwight Fry

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I find it to be pretty ambiguous there. Does she really realise she loves him? Or is she playing another game?
Exactly, and that's why it works so well. It's puzzling us the same way it's puzzling Neff. My personal preference is interpreting it as another game, and not killing Neff because he has more value to her as the fall guy than as another corpse, but then we have to take into consideration that Wilder, despite his overall cynical world view, was no stranger to sentimentality: take Ace in the Hole, one of his darkest films that nonetheless has parts that border on Capra-corn (and it's one that I intend to subject to a "blasphemous cut" akin to this one for that very reason), or the unlikely "love conquers all" ending of The Apartment. So, we can't know for sure.

I think that's pretty harsh. Unquestionably though, Chandler was the better writer when it comes to prose. He had a much more "literary" quality than most others in the genre.
It's frequent for great writers, filmmakers, artists... to have pretty strong opinions about other great writers, filmmakers, or artists. See this article for a few amusing filmmaker examples.
 

The Scribbling Man

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take Ace in the Hole, one of his darkest films that nonetheless has parts that border on Capra-corn (and it's one that I intend to subject to a "blasphemous cut" akin to this one for that very reason)

Well now, sir. That I more or less consider a perfect movie :p I don't find it in the least bit corny, haha. Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard are my top 2 Wilder flicks.
 

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Well now, sir. That I more or less consider a perfect movie :p I don't find it in the least bit corny, haha. Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard are my top 2 Wilder flicks.
Heh! If you wish, you can consider it as me firing back for Double Indemnity, which for me is 10/10. And we will be putting a "how dare you do my boy Billy dirty like this" double feature of blasphemy. :p

If that's any relief, Sunset Boulevard is my other top one as well. But let me spoil that with a little blasphemy: I think it would work even better without the scene in which Norma puts up a show for Joe impersonating other silent film stars. As amusing as the scene is, I think Norma should be all about herself at all times. You may light the bonfire now. 😅
 

The Scribbling Man

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^^ I like the scene, but I can understand that. Btw, I plan on doing the same thing with Sunset Boulevard sometime - seeing how it works without narration and again without the ending spoiled. In the case of that film, I do think it adds a lot and is pretty much perfect as it is. Nevertheless, I'm continually fascinated by how films function without that narrative device.

And as much as it pains me, I will take the hit gracefully and watch whatever you end up doing with Ace in the Hole with an open mind 😁
 

Dwight Fry

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And as much as it pains me, I will take the hit gracefully and watch whatever you end up doing with Ace in the Hole with an open mind 😁
I wouldn't want to hijack this thread too much by talking about a different film, but I rewatched Ace in the Hole (it had been a while) and found that the "problem" I have with it is that Leo and his parents are way too exaggeratedly nice, and naively so. It's like the movie thought that we, the audience, wouldn't care about the whole situation, or that what Tatum does would come across as any less monstrous, if they weren't portrayed as literal angels. Leo growing so very fond of Tatum and calling him his best friend (Leo is the same kind of extremely pure character than Boom Boom Jackson in The Fortune Cookie, only I think it works better there because it's a comedy) and portrayed as someone who'd resist pain and illness just to keep his wife happy; Papa refusing to charge for the gas and giving Tatum his own bedroom out of gratitude; Mama's endless praying that seems to eventually start Tatum's conscience growth... Ideally I'd like them to still be good people but more average Joe types, not plaster saints. And I'd like to keep Tatum a bastard for a bit longer, making us guess whether he's starting to change or it's just that the ultimate tragedy is bad for the article.
 

The Scribbling Man

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Interesting. Honestly, there's only one small thing that's always bothered me, and that's that it's not very clear when he gets stabbed at the end. I remember on my first viewing being a little confused as to whether he'd been stabbed or not, and two other people also finding it unclear on their first viewing. But it's not really something I would do an edit for, being one thing and probably a hard thing to fix. Of course, it's pretty unambiguous eventually, but it's one of those things that should be clear in the moment and initiate shock rather than confusion.
 

Dwight Fry

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Interesting. Honestly, there's only one small thing that's always bothered me, and that's that it's not very clear when he gets stabbed at the end. I remember on my first viewing being a little confused as to whether he'd been stabbed or not, and two other people also finding it unclear on their first viewing. But it's not really something I would do an edit for, being one thing and probably a hard thing to fix. Of course, it's pretty unambiguous eventually, but it's one of those things that should be clear in the moment and initiate shock rather than confusion.
That's curious because it was always pretty obvious to me, or maybe it is retroactively because the ending shot is so memorable and in repeated viewings you know it's coming. Of course, it's all probably due to being the 1950s and having a tough guy actor as the lead (even though this particular role didn't necessarily demand someone physically tough): he wouldn't be allowed as much as an "ouch" or dropping dead fast, so he remains the stoic all to the end and in fact the last half hour or so is him slowly dying. It was the era in which John Wayne called Douglas names for starring in Lust for Life and portraying a "wimpy" artist (Vincent van Gogh, of course). So for modern viewers it might seem like Tatum has invulnerability powers or something.

I might look into that when I get to edit it, to see if anything can be done, short of inserting that bit from Dial M for Murder, that is. Maybe a change in the music cue?
 

The Scribbling Man

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I might look into that when I get to edit it, to see if anything can be done, short of inserting that bit from Dial M for Murder, that is. Maybe a change in the music cue?

That could be too iconic to use, but hard to say. But yeah, I think you just need a close insert of a blade entering. Black and white would help to disguise it.
 
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