Double Indemnity & Unfaithfully Yours

Double Indemnity (1944)

It’s just like the first time I came here, isn’t it? We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.

In this captivating film noir (directed by Billy Wilder) successful insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a goner from the moment he sees Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) standing above her stairs wearing only a towel while on a house call.  They are very attracted to each other and carry on a strong flirtation.  But the clever and sultry housewife is thinking of taking out an insurance policy on her husband (without his knowledge) and murdering him.  Though Walter knows this is wrong, he quickly agrees to help Phyllis so that she’ll be free to marry him. 

While Phyllis betrays her husband, Walter betrays his boss and close friend, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson in a rare good guy character role).  Stanwyck told Wilder that she was afraid to take on the role of an out-and-out killer, but was later very glad about her decision.  MacMurray, who thought he couldn’t handle the role, got the chance to show his acting chops.   He’s mostly known for lightweight, Disney roles.  As one IMDB commentator wrote: He is consumed by his passion and he will do anything because of what he perceives will be the reward for doing the crime. Walter Neff was perhaps Mr. MacMurray’s best creation. He is completely believable and vulnerable.

I highly recommend this film because it has an interesting premise, terrific dialogue, and the the two leads have great chemistry together.  The only thing I didn’t like about it- the platinum blonde wig worn by Stanwyck.   

Body Heat (1981) starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner is a reworking of Double Indemnity set in the tropical heat of Florida.  Hurt plays Ned Racine, a small-time, slacker lawyer who quickly falls head over heels in lust with mysterious Matty Walker (Turner), a beautiful young woman married to an older man (played by Richard Crenna).  Ned agrees to help Matty kill her husband, thinking that she reciprocates his love.  But Matty’s only goal is to be rich.


Unfaithfully Yours (1948)

As with Stanwyck, you really can’t go wrong with Rex Harrison!  He was smart, funny, charming, and had a big screen presence.  This screwball black comedy film had me laughing out loud (during many scenes).  But it also has some dark elements and great classical music, too.  Harrison plays a famous British orchestra conductor/nobleman, Sir Alfred de Carter.  Linda Darnell plays his much-younger wife, Daphne.  They seem to have a very lovey-dovey relationship at the opening of the film. 

While he was away, Alfred asked his brother-in-law August to “look after” his wife (in case she was bored/lonely).  But the dimwitted August misunderstood and had a private detective follow Daphne.  Alfred flies off the handle when he hears this: I give you my solemn word, August: if I don’t regain control of myself in a few minutes, concert or no concert, I’ll take this candelabrum and beat that walnut you use for a head into a nutburger, I believe they’re called!

Othello (Folger Theater)

Ahh, Othello, one of my favorite characters created by the Bard!  He’s right up there with Hamlet.  He’s the ultimate outsider-insider: an African (Moor; former Muslim who converted to Christianity) in world of whites (Venice, Italy) who commands respect for his military victories.  Then he marries a white girl (the noblewoman Desdemona) and all hell breaks loose.  Well, it’s not quite that simple…

He is a contradictory man- a great speaker who is also capable of great violence.  Othello is a military man who sees things in black and white (this has a double meaning), unlike Iago, who deals in shades of gray.  Being such, he sees killing Desdemona as an act of justice.  My favorite professor said that though he was a skilled warrior, Othello probably had very little experience with love.  He relies too much on Iago’s judgment, because he knows more about the ways of white women.

The current production at the Folger is pretty good, with creative and gorgeous sets, costumes, and music.   The action, including swordplay, was exciting.   For the isle of Cyprus, Middle Eastern clothes and belly dancing is probably not accurate though.  I went to a preview show last Sunday.  The matinee audience was mainly elderly and college-aged, aside for a few who were around my age.

There were a couple of scenes where I got lost in the drama- good to have!  Back in high school and college, I saw Othello (played by Owiso Odera) as more heroic/larger than life; this play cut him a bit down to size.  He wasn’t such a big presence; Iago (Ian Merrill Peakes, who was in Henry VIII last year) was the star and better actor.  Merril Peakes spoke the language with ease and conviction.  Othello, who’s slight accent seemed to drift in and out, spoke the lines, but was not quite there when it came to feeling the words. Othello’s first crucial scene (in front of the Duke of Venice and other important nobles) was not as strong as I’d have liked.  But he did have good chemistry with Iago in their one-on-one scenes.

Emilia (Karen Peakes; also wife of Ian Merrill Peakes) did a great job; her character has some great lines.  Emilia is cynical, experienced, and wise- a contrast to the naive Desdemona.  The actress who played Desdemona got better throughout the play, but was too much of a lightweight.  She was too bubbly in her depiction, which created a tone that I didn’t think was fitting for a very young woman who had recently been disowned by her father.  Rodrigo (Luis Butelli; also in Henry VIII) was the spurned suitor who followed Desdemona to Cyprus.  He provided the comic relief without being over the top.  Cassio was the naive, young lieutenant who fell from Othello’s favor because he couldn’t handle alcohol.

As pointed out above, this production emphasized religion and violence (Othello has these bursts, escalating as we go on).  Othello wore a noticeable gold cross around his neck.  In early scenes, the soldiers, including Cassio,  wore outfits like the Knights Templar- chain mail and white tunics with large red crosses.  (I don’t know if that is accurate, but think it’s possible.)  Also, characters often crossed themselves when they were fearful, worried, etc.

More cute items

Items from top:

1.  iPod Nano Holder in Damask, Black & White by RogueTheory (see Etsy site)

2. Coach Kristin Leather Hobo in Pale Pink (also from eBay; can be worn as a hobo or satchel; for next Spring/Summer!)

3. Medium Open Top Long Handle Canvas Tote Bag from Lands End (can carry a LOT of things!)

National Book Festival

Reading an excerpt from his YA book

Alexie tells a story from his childhood.

Alexie talks about his childhood illness.

Sign in front of Alexie's signing tent

I recently went to the Nat’l Book Festival held annually here in DC.  It’s a FREE event and suitable for ALL ages.  I heard several authors speak, including Sherman Alexie, one of my favorite authors.  He has overcome a LOT in his life to become a success: illness, alcoholism and many deaths in the family, absentee father, and poverty being some of the issues.  Alexie’s desire for something better lead him to a HS (off the reservation) in a lower-middle class white town.   He was the ONLY Indian student at that time.  “I don’t know how it happened, but there were four PhDs teaching there.”  He is a GREAT speaker and VERY funny!  He also wrote the screenplays for Smoke Signals and The Business of Fancydancing. 

Being a BIG fan, I knew some of the anecdotes and jokes he told.  Alexie came to my high school in 1996 (before he was well-known).   I learned that the doc who performed surgery on him (when he was an infant w/ an enlarged brain) was a Greek Muslim man.  “I know some people are nervous about that kind of stuff… but not me.  I’m like ‘Go Allah!'” he exclaimed.  I bought his most recent book of poems and short stories, War Dances, which he autographed.   It was PRETTY exciting for me (even more than when I met Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Divakaruni)!


Very big crowd came to hear David McCullough

I also heard David McCullough speak; he got a BIG crowd.  “Thank you for making history come alive,” a young grad student commented to the author.  He is JUST as humble, gentlemanly, and well-spoken as you’ve seen on TV.  Like Alexie, he spoke re: the importance of teachers and librarians.  Much of his research was done in the Library of Congress, not Paris!  After his talk, there was a live 1 hr. CSPAN 2 interview session where the famous historian took Qs from crowd, callers, and emails.  McCullough’s latest book is The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.  Basically, it’s about several young/ambitious/pioneering 19th century Americans (including Mark Twain) who traveled to France to further their education.  I still need to make time to read his book on John Adams.  (The HBO series was AWESOME, so do check that out!)