Liz Smith: “Double Indemnity”, Political Correctness, Johnny Carson

“Double Indemnity” … What Political Correctness Has Wrought … Johnny Carson … Dick Cavett and the truly great Robert Mitchum.

“I THINK you’re rotten.”

“I think you’re swell — so long as I’m not your husband.”

“Get out of here.”

“You bet I’ll get out of here, baby. I’ll get out but quick.”

Liz Smith: "Double Indemnity", Political Correctness, Johnny Carson SO went the back and forth between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder’s great noir film about sex crime, and punishment, “Double Indemnity.”

I watched this again the other night, and found that as much as I had remembered about the basic plot and the sizzle between Stanwyck and MacMurray, I’d forgotten things — important things, such as Stanwyck’s step-daughter, Lola. (Played by Jean Heather.) And it struck me that the innocent Lola had the real femme fatale name. Stanwyck’s wicked woman was called Phyllis Dietrichson, a name that conjures up a formidable matron or a Plain Jane. Hardly Barbara’s peroxide looker with the ankle bracelet, and the tight sweaters, talking tough out of the side of her mouth, or whispering lies to the besotted insurance salesman, who happens to drop by.

What is so striking about the film is the musk of sex that envelops it, without anything more than a bare shoulder being revealed. Stanwyck was no great beauty, but she had a lithe, tight body and a face that could convince any man she was up for anything, anywhere, anytime. And if she killed you, it would still have been worth it!

I’d also forgotten the power of the scene between the murderous couple in the supermarket, as their plot begins to unravel.

Who ever knew canned goods could be a backdrop for such unrelenting evil? Stanwyck removes her sunglasses to reveal dead, cold eyes over the peas and carrots. But her mouth is glistening. “I only wanted him dead,” she says of her late unlamented husband, “You did it. We’re in this together, Walter, all the way.”

Well, I was in all the way with “Double Indemnity” right to the deadly, cynical end.

I didn’t see any of the new releases this weekend, so I was stuck with an oldie. I don’t think I missed a thing.


“IN THIS society we have been trained to be politically correct. Political correctness is bullshit. If I ask you a question right now, the first thing that comes to your mind is the truth. But we’ve all been trained to breathe, digest the question, and manipulate the answer.”

Liz Smith: "Double Indemnity", Political Correctness, Johnny Carson No, that’s not Donald Trump. It is actress Taraji P. Henson, talking about her now-famous character, “Cookie,” on TV’s “Empire.”

I, too, am weary of political correctness, the downright fear of speaking one’s mind. I think there should be some attempts at good taste and sensitivity, but if those qualities are not available, so what? The offended party or institution should be fully equipped to reply. More than fully equipped — what with today’s social media, which lures supposed adults into embarrassing “Twitter feuds.”

Political pundits ask less and less, as each day passes: “Why is Donald Trump is so popular at the moment?” Why? Because he is in the moment, that’s why.

Many people still don’t care to be in Donald’s broad stroke moment, but his high-voltage put-downs, simplistic “solutions” and even the childish self-reinforcement of his ego, score big.

No conversation with Donald excludes his own vaunted opinion of himself, mentions of his wealth, high education and superiority over all other humans. It’s kind of crazy, but you can’t look away.

The insistence on political correctness has played a big part in Donald’s rise (thank you, my fellow liberals!) And the entire political process — both parties — corrupt, evasive and owned by lobbyists, can take even more responsibility.


GOOD NEWS for fans of more genteel and subtler nighttime chat shows — the Antenna TV network is bringing back full hour-long episodes of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” The episodes won’t run in order. The programming team will handpick episodes. But it’ll be all Carson, no guest hosts. (Sorry,Joan Rivers fans.) Johnny Carson returns to television on January 1st.

Liz Smith: "Double Indemnity", Political Correctness, Johnny Carson


SPEAKING of talk shows where people really talked, I caught a 1970 Dick Cavett chat with Robert Mitchum, on Turner Classic Movies. (It was Robert Mitchum Night on TCM.) Mitchum, who walked out with a drink in his hand, was so appealing, in the most distantly erudite, bored, candid, lazy way — eyes at perpetual half-mast. The famous actor was pleasant and cooperative, but Cavett had to really work for what he got. (The star, who was promoting “Ryan’s Daughter” seemed to indicate with every sigh and half smile: “Oh, I know why I have to do this, but don’t we all think it’s terribly silly?”)

I had the feeling Cavett needed a shot of Mitchum’s Scotch when it was all over!

I HAD three encounters with Mitchum which are just about my favorite “star sightings” ever. I stood in line right behind him to get into the back door for VIPs attending the Academy Åwards.

Later, when I actually met him, I reminded him of this occasion and that he was with his wife. He said, “Liz, I have never attended the Oscars in my life!”

Then, on the air interviewing him in person on WNBC’s “Live at Five” — this sardonic and intelligent man said something so funny that it resulted in a fabulous photo I have treasured ever since.  It is included in the pictures in my memoir “Natural Blonde.”

Liz Smith, Robert Mitchum

I wish only that my fevered brain could recall what Mitchum said. He was really a star — smart and sardonic, one for the Hollywood history books. He made well over 100 films, many classics, many just for the payday. He died in 1997.


Read Liz Smith daily at New York Social Diary.

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