Before Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled L.A. detective Philip Marlowe and his vivid literary prose caught the public's attention, before Billy Wilder's towering position as one of Hollywood's greatest writer-directors, there was a James M. Cain novel titled, "Double Indemnity."
The true story of how Chandler and Wilder made movie history with the book's screen adaptation in a collaboration that would launch not only their respective iconic careers, but the dark and edgy genre of American film noir, is the subject of playwright Mike Bencivenga's first-rate new comedy, "Billy & Ray," expertly crafted and well-cast in its world premiere run at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.
It's an oil-and-water mix when tormented, down-and-out author Chandler (Shaun O'Hagan) and crude, lewd and brilliant Wilder (Kevin Blake) team up to adapt Cain's novel for the screen. Wilder is asked by Paramount producer Joe Sistrom (sympathetic Anthony Starke) to see what he can do with Cain's novel. Wilder's regular co-writer, however, wants nothing to do with it. Impressed with Chandler's stylish prose in short crime stories published in a popular pulp magazine, Wilder recruits him for the project, although he and secretary Helen (smart, wise-cracking Ali Spuck) are taken aback to find the author ascetic and dour, even prudish in person.