Seventy years ago, Fred MacMurray wasn’t allowed to warn Barbara Stanwyck not to leave any fingerprints behind when they killed her husband, because the day’s censors were afraid of teaching audiences how to get away with murder. James M. Cain’s torrid novel had been declared too hot for Hollywood by the Production Code Administration for a decade. It took all of Billy Wilder’s talents to get the project past the censors—mainly by casting it as a morality tale. Even then, the characters were considered so venal he had to fight to find marquee names to play them. When Stanwyck refused the role, he challenged her with “Are you an actress or a mouse?” She accepted the challenge, giving one of her best performances as Phyllis Dietrichson, the seductive murderess par excellence. MacMurray broke from years of typecasting as an affable good guy to make insurance man Walter Neff one of the screen’s most memorably cynical anti-heroes. Together with Wilder, they set the stage for the films noir that would flourish in the post-war years.
70th anniversary world premiere of the complete restoration from the original pre-print film elements and presented in collaboration with Universal Studios.
Dir. Billy Wilder