BBC Radio 4, 4 February 2011
This two-handed Afternoon Play depicted the relationship between
Billy Wilder (Adrian Scarborough), and Raymond Chandler (Patrick Stewart), as they worked on the screenplay for James M. Cain's
Double Indemnity in 1944. In Wyatt's view they resembled an irresistible force meeting an immovable object:
Wilder an Austrian emigre in his mid-thirties with a penchant for women (a different one each night if possible), and a peculiar
habit of wearing his hat indoors and brandishing a riding-crop as he worked. Twenty years Wilder's senior, Stewart's Chandler
was at heart a shy person, shunning the party circuit and leading a quiet life at home in Pacific Palissades with his wife
Cissie. He was also an alcoholic repeatedly trying and failing to quit: the experience of working with Wilder put him straight
back on the bottle.
Told in a series of parallel monologues from Chandler and Wilder's differing points
of view, Double Jeopardy showed how the screenplay evolved slowly and painfully in an atmosphere of perpetual conflict.
Neither man could stand one another's company: Wilder resented Chandler's unsociability, while Chandler found it well-nigh
impossible to work in an environment where the phone kept ringing, with one of Wilder's floozies enquiring whether the director
would be free that night. There were frequent contretemps: one one occasion Chandler walked out, and was only persuaded to
return to the Paramount lot by the thought of the $750-a-week salary he was receiving for working on the project. Nonetheless
the collaboration survived, on account of Wilder's directorial flair, coupled with Chandler's extraordinary gift for finding
the mot juste. The result was a cinematic classic, which although not receiving due recognition at the 1944 Oscars
(the best film award went to Leo McCarey's Going My Way), has nonetheless become one of the defining films of the
film noir era.
Claire Grove's production encouraged performances veering towards the stereotypical.
Scarborough's Wilder was an excitable Teuton, full of strangulated vowels (vocally reminiscent of Guy Siner's Lt. Gruber in
the 1980s sitcom 'Allo! 'Allo!), contrasted with Stewart's phlegmatic Chandler, his Los Angeles twang overlaid
with an English public school gentility. Double Jeopardy was highly entertaining, but I did suspect that we were
being given another example of the BBC's representation of Chandler (reinforced throughout the Radio 4
season of adaptations of his works) as a British public-school educated American with a unique penchant for capturing