Getting permission to make “Double Indemnity” may have been an uphill battle, but director Billy Wilder was intent on seeing his vision fully realized. Stanwyck was his first choice for the role of Phyllis, a housewife who convinces an insurance agent to murder her husband and collect his money. According to Stanwyck herself in author Kevin Lally’s historical account “Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder,” the exchange between herself and the director went as follows:
“I said ‘I love the script and I love you, but I am a little afraid after all these years of playing heroines to go into an out-and-out killer.’ And Mr. Wilder — and rightly so — looked at me and he said ‘Well, are you a mouse or an actress?’ And I said ‘Well, I hope I’m an actress.’ He said ‘Then do the part.’ And I did and I’m very grateful to him.”
Film historian Eddie Muller explains in an interview with NPR that, despite the film’s struggles in getting to the screen, the fact that Stanwyck starred in “Double Indemnity” was a major milestone for film noir and helped evolve moral complexity in American cinema. After years of playing moral paragons and fun romantic-comedy leads, Barabara Stanwyck added the role of the femme fatale to her many faces.