Double Indemnity (novel)

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Double Indemnity
Cover of the first separate edition (Avon Books)
Author James M. Cain
Country United States
Language English
Genre Hardboiled, psychological thriller, psychological horror
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

Double Indemnity is an influential 1943 crime novel, written by American journalist-turned-novelist James M. Cain. It was first published in serial form in Liberty magazine in 1936 and then was one of "three long short tales" in the collection Three of a Kind.[1] The novel later served as the basis for the classic film of the same name in 1944, adapted for the screen by the novelist Raymond Chandler and directed by Billy Wilder.

Plot summary[edit]

Walter Huff, an Insurance agent, falls for the married Phyllis Nirdlinger, who consults him about accident insurance for her husband. In spite of his instinctual decency, and intrigued by the challenge of committing the perfect murder, Walter is seduced into helping the femme fatale kill her husband for the insurance money.


The novel was made for film in 1944. Double Indemnity was directed by Billy Wilder (Chandler collaborated on the screenplay) and starred Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.[2] In the adaptation, Wilder and Chandler changed the names of the main characters: Walter Huff became Walter Neff, and Phyllis Nirdlinger became Phyllis Dietrichson.[3]

A stage adaptation by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, directed by Kurt Beattie, opened at ACT Theatre in Seattle on October 27, 2011.[4] The same production moved to the San Jose Repertory Theatre and opened on January 18, 2012.


Cain based the novella on a 1927 murder perpetrated by a married woman in Queens, New York, and her lover, whose trial he attended while working as a journalist in New York.[5] In that crime, Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to kill her husband, Albert, after having him take out a big insurance policy with a double indemnity clause.[6] The murderers were quickly identified, arrested and convicted. The front page photo of Snyder's execution in the electric chair at Sing Sing has been called the most famous news photo of the 1920s.[7]


  1. ^ "Books: Dingy Storyteller". Time. 24 May 1943. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Irwin, John T. (2006). Unless the Threat of Death is Behind Them: Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir, p. 242. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  4. ^ ACT Theatre production history. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  5. ^ "Shadows of Suspense". Double Indemnity Universal Legacy Series DVD. Universal Studios. 2006. 
  6. ^ While the story certainly used the Snyder case as a framework, it lacked an important ingredient of the Double Indemnity structure: the "inside-guy accomplice" to the murder—the Walter Huff character. Cain later recalled this key innovation stemmed from a conversation he had years earlier with reporter Arthur Krock about Krock's days at the Louisville Courier-Journal. An ad for ladies' underwear was typeset to read: IF THESE SIZES ARE TOO BIG, TAKE A TUCK IN THEM. But when the paper hit the street, the T in tuck had been changed to an F. A furious Krock reset the ad for the next edition and demanded an explanation on how it happened. After two days of bullying the printer, the man finally confessed, "you do nothing your whole life but watch for something like that happening, so as to head it off, and then, Mr. Krock, you catch yourself watching for chances to do it". Cain also recalled another conversation he had with insurance men in Los Angeles while verifying facts for Postman. Said one, "[People] think this stuff all comes from the police. That’s wrong. All the big crime mysteries in this country are locked up in insurance company files, and the writer that gets wise to that... is going to make himself rich." And thus was born Neff, who jumped the tracks after fifteen years playing it straight in the insurance business. Armed now with a sense of his hero-gone-wrong, Cain sat down to begin writing the story in 1934. Hoopes (1982), Cain.
  7. ^ Gallo, Bill (2005). "When 'Dem Bums' Were Kings." New York Daily News, October 4, 2005.