“Double Indemnity” Outward Opening Door Not So Rare

So the other day I was watching one of my favorite movies, “Double Indemnity” –Billy Wilder’s seminal 1944 film noir starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck– and it made me acutely aware of how unsafe my apartment building is.

About 70 minutes into the movie, Barton Keyes, played by Edward G. Robinson, pays Walter Neff a visit at his apartment in Hollywood.

During their conversation of the titular situation, Phyllis Dietrichson tip-toes up to Neff’s apartment and puts her ear on the door to hear the two men talking about her. As Keyes leaves the apartment, Dietrichson, with little time, hides behind the door as it opens outward into the hallway.

The femme fatale manages to notify Neff of her presence by tugging on the door handle as he bids his boss farewell. The swelling music and tension add to the situation of the two opposing forces coming very close together for the time in the film. It makes for a great piece of cinema.

However, there’s a catch. In the United States it’s against the law to have a door open outward into a hallway like in the movie. IMDb cites it as a movie mistake, as do dozens of other sites and pages. Because the scene was most likely filmed on a soundstage, the set was probably designed around this tenuous scene.  I still remember watching this movie for the first time with a friend who commented on the oddity outward-opening door. Since then, I’ve always noticed it.

However, my apartment door in Korea, as do all my friends’, opens outward just like in “Double Indemnity.” In fact, there’s only about 18 inches between the wall on the opposite side of the hallway and the door when opened.

So, if there ever was a fire on the top floor hallway I’d surely be doomed. It’d be just like “Backdraft.” Or, if some jerk decides to barricade my door shut, it would be impossible for me to get out. Not all that safe. I’m sort of reminded of the 2003 Daegu Subway Fire in which close to 200 people died because of improper safety procedures. It would likely take another large-scale incident such as that before a safer system would be implemented.

The best reason I could find for such designing doors in such a way is the norm of removing shoes in a landing immediately inside the door. If a door opened inward it would shuffle all the shoes around. I guess that makes sense.

Another reason, which is without citation and on Yahoo! Answers of all places (which is hardly an arbiter of credible information), describes that in Japan, which also has outward opening doors, people do not want an outside element of the home intruding inside the home.  “The door is simply imposing itself upon the room it would be entering if it opened inward.”

So. That’s the best reason I could come up with. Not all that exciting is it? All I can really say is that it’s a quirk (or safety hazard) I never really noticed about Korea until I rewatched this film. And 10 months in, there are likely a lot of things that are fairly odd that I have become somewhat immune to. My trip back to the U.S. may put me into a bit of shock.

Comments? Rants? Raves?

A brief snippet of the scene can be seen in its original theatrical trailer at around 1:25:

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