Thursday, February 2, 2012

Double Indemnity

In June of 2011 I wrote about Tom Powers (1890 - 1955) and his role in Double Indemnity (1944), but I didn't touch on the rest of the Bit Parts in that wonderful film noir classic. The only thing I didn't like about the film is Barbara Stanwyck as a blonde, and I don't think I'm alone.

I won't discuss the stars here. Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson don't need any of my words. But who else was part of making this film so good?

Porter Hall (1888 - 1953) played the witness, Mr. Jackson, who saw Neff on the train. It is interesting that Hall was in Going My Way the same year as Double Indemnity. Going won seven Oscars and Double didn't win any. Check out my last post about Porter from October 2010, where I outlined his fabulous career.

Jean Heather (1921 - 1995) played Phyllis' step-daughter Lola, who was much more loved by her father than by Phyllis. Jean only made eight films, and her next role was in, you guessed it, Going My Way. The rest of her pictures weren't much to write about, but she did get to act with some great stars including Dorothy Gish, Beulah Bondi, Charles Ruggles, Marjorie Main, Olivia DeHaviland, Gene Autry and others, all in a five year acting career.

Byron Barr (1917 - 1966) played Nino, Lola's boy friend.  He didn't play much else, with only 19 titles listed to his credit.

Richard Gaines (1904 - 1975) played Edward Norton, Jr. He is the father of Virginia Holden, who was later adopted by William Holden. With almost 70 titles on TV and in movies, Richard always seemed to appear in less than top notch films. Again, in the era of the large production studios controlling their stars, he was able to work with some great actors and actresses. In the 1960s he frequently appeared as a judge on "Perry Mason."

Another Going and Double alumnus is Fortunio Bonanova (1895 - 1969). He has over 90 titles listed and did appear as a vocal coach to Dorothy Comingore in Citizen Kane (1941). In 1957 he appears in An Affair to Remember, but his is a name you probably won't.

Don't forget to look for Raymond Chandler (1888 - 1959) sitting in the hallway at the insurance office as Neff walks past. It was the only cameo filmed for Chandler, who is renowned as a novelist and wrote the screen play for Double Indemnity. He's the one reading a paperback.

And finally, there is the Dictaphone. It plays a key role in this movie, and as our younger generation starts watching film noir, we can only hope they learn something about history and how things worked in the early half of the 20th Century. Neff uses multiple cylinders to record his story, and these can be seen in the final few shots when Keyes confronts him in his office. If some youngster asks what that thing is, please fill them in. A Dictaphone is way cooler than an iPhone.

I have spoken before about how Bit Parts help to make great movies. In the case of Double Indemnity, it appears that the Bit Actors played second fiddle to the incredible story. I just watched the film a few weeks ago, and I was struggling to remember who played which part. This movie belongs in the 100 Best Movies list, and I am glad it was selected by Library of Congress to be in the National Film Registry.


  1. Fortunio Bonanova also shows up in "Going My Way" as the conductor at the Met. What an interesting and unique 1944 double bill for fans of bit players.

  2. Thanks, Caftan. Paramount had the contract on so many great actors and actresses. They just used them wherever they fit. And those two movies are both worth writing about.

    MovieFanFare just picked up on this post, so I re-wrote it for them, including all the bits I linked to in the post above, made into one longer post. Look for it next week at


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