Friday, March 24, 2006

Three Flavor of James M.Cain

James M.Cain (1892-1977) American journalist, screenwriter, and novelist - identified with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and others as a central member of hard-boiled school of crime fiction. However, Cain's own opinion was "I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise". Three of Cain's novels - THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1934), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1936), and MILDRED PIERCE (1941) - were also made into classics of the American screen.

His most important works, among them The Postman Always Rings Twice (originally entitled Bar-B-Que), were adapted for the screen by other writers.... The story depicted a California drifter, Frank Chambers, who falls in love with Cora Papadakis, the fatal wife of a diner owner.... Except for the shape, she really wasn't any ravaging beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips struck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her." Frank and Cora murder the husband and make his death look like accident.
Lana Turner played Cora in Tay Garnett's film version of the book from 1946. The screenplay was written by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch. Cain was impressed with Turner's performance, saying it was even finer than he had expected

Double Indemnity, a tale of an adulterous couple who try to commit the perfect insurance murder, appeared in abridged form as an eight-part serial in Liberty (1936) magazine.... It was a curious observation, putting into words - vivid, rememberable words - a principle that when a character is too smart, convenient to the author's purposes, everything begins getting awfully slack in the story, and slick.

Fred MacMurray is an insurance salesman seduced by Barbara Stanwyck into killing her husband.... Richard Gaines plays an insurance company executive, whom Robinson dresses down in one of many taut scenes. The film is told in flashback, by MacMurray, who gets to watch Robinson work the case .Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Stanwyck, director/co-writer Billy Wilder, B&W Cinematography, Music and Sound.

Cain's novel Mildred Pierce was also filmed, and won an Oscar for Joan Crawford in her role as a career woman. Cain's book centered on a ambitious woman, who loses her wealth through the intrigues of her ex-husband, her partner, and selfish daughter. The story is told in a third-person narration, but Cain later confessed that it did not suit him - his book did not have the right bite. The protagonist is portrayed mostly in sympathetic light in spite of her hard character. The movie adaptation from 1945, directed by Michael Curtiz, is considered essentially a film noire piece "where it's a woman, Crawford, rather than a man, who is led by a greedy, manipulative, evil femme fatale - in this case, the woman's daughter, Blyth - down a fatalistic path of deception, money for greedy people, murder, and doom (only here an optimistic ending is added)." (Danny Peary in Guide for the Film Fanatic, 1986)

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