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Raymond Chandler's 'Double Indemnity' cameo

July 15, 2009 |  2:09 pm

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For more than 50 years, Raymond Chandler sat unnoticed in a hallway in "Double Indemnity," neglected by film fans and readers alike. But the Guardian has reported that earlier this year, two careful watchers -- one American, one French -- each discovered what they thought to be Raymond Chandler making a secret cameo.

"It's just unmistakeably him. I'd lay money on it," says Judith Freeman, author of "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved."

While researching her Chandler biography, Freeman never once saw mention of the appearance in Chandler's papers, not at the Bodleian Library in Oxford or at UCLA. "Believe me, I really combed over both archives," she said. But she watched the film again. "And sure enough, by damn, there he was, and in my mind there is absolutely no question that it's Chandler."

Chandler had a notoriously prickly relationship with Billy Wilder; while the two were adapting James M. Cain's novel for the screen, Chandler wrote a memo complaining about the director to studio honchos. But, Freeman notes, "Chandler rather enjoyed the shooting of the film, being on the set."  Perhaps his cameo appearance shows that the author and director eventually patched things up.

What would be the reason for slipping Chandler, the screenwriter, into the film? Cameo appearances go back to the silent film era; Alfred Hitchcock's first was in his 1927 film "The Lodger." That same year, Elinor Glyn -- a novelist-turned-screenwriter with a knack for publicity -- made an appearance in "It," which she wrote. So writers made it on screen.

But Glyn's walk-through was trumpeted by the film's interstitial titles. Chandler's was a secret for decades.

We will probably never know whose idea it was it to put Chandler in front of the camera, or if it took a few drinks to get him in the mood. And no one has successfully deciphered the cover of what he's reading, which would be nice to know too.

According to the Guardian, this is only the second known appearance of Raymond Chandler on film. And it's been right there, all this time.

Sounds like a good noir plot.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Screen capture from "Double Indemnity." Credit: Universal Pictures

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