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James M. Cain

James Mallahan Cain was born in Annapolis in 1892. His father was an educator and his mother an opera singer.

Cain held down a series of jobs once he received his Masters in 1917. He was a clerk, then a meat-packer, a singer and a teacher. Then World War 1 came along and whilst he was in the army, he became the editor of the 79th Division newspaper, Lorraine Cross, in France.

When the war was over Cain took up journalism, working for the Baltimore American and Baltimore Sun. Then in 1923-24 he became the Professor of Journalism at St. John’s College in Annapolis. In 1928, Cain had his first story, Pastorale, published in American Mercury. However, he was not happy in the numerous positions he obtained and decided to move out to Hollywood in 1932.

It certainly wasn’t a fast track to Hollywood for Cain. Between 1932 and 1947 he wrote for films, but without much success. It was during this period that he was said to have found solace in drink.

In 1946, Cain’s novel from 1934, The Postman Always Rings Twice was made into a film starring Lana Turner. Cain thought Lana’s portrayal of Cora was even better than he had ever hoped. Much of the eroticism from the book was left out of the film and was only put back in with the 1981 re-make starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Even now, this novel is still being enacted. Val Kilmer is appearing in the latest production in London’s West End at the moment.

Cain’s next cinematic hit was with Double Indemnity, which, like Postman, was loosely based on a true crime. Billy Wilder, who hired Raymond Chandler to write the screenplay, directed Double Indemnity. This film starred Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

Cain only had three hits with his novels. The third one seemed to be the most successful one of all by winning it’s leading lady an Oscar for her performance. This movie was Mildred Pierce and won its star, Joan Crawford many plaudits for her role as the wealthy career woman who is manipulated by her daughter, ex-husband and her partner.

James M. Cain wrote many other novels outside of the crime genre. They include Butterfly, a story of incest, and historical novels like Past All Dishonour and Mignon. However, Cain always stated that his personal favourite of all the books he ever wrote, was The Moth.

The Mystery Writers of America awarded the Grand Master Award to Cain in 1970.

James M. Cain died on 27th October 1977 in the place he had made his home, Hyattsville, Maryland.

Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice

Frank Chambers is a man who is a waster. He is one of those people who is not only content to waste his own life, but the lives of those around him.

One day he stumbles into a café after having been thrown off a truck that he had stowed away on the night before. American Greek, Nick Papadakis, and his wife, Cora, run this bar. Nick offers Frank a position doing odd jobs around the place, which Frank, for the time being, accepts. It becomes apparent to him very quickly that Nick’s wife, Cora, is not happy with him. Soon their passion takes over their rationality and they find themselves in the midst of a very hot affair, snatching moments whenever The Greek has gone out. Soon they begin to think of ways to get rid of him in order to begin a life together.

The reader can quickly tell within pages of this book that it is all going to go horribly wrong. The only thing that links Frank and Cora is their passion. Nothing else. He is a wanderer and a total loser. Cora wants to make something of herself. You see that whilst Nick is in hospital after their first attempt on his life. Frank tries to take Cora on the road to a new life. She is not interested in just bumming about on the road, not knowing where the next roof will be to shelter under. Frank takes to the road without her and ends up doing a few tricks and earning himself $250.00. However, with a character like Frank’s, he doesn’t hold on to that money for very long. Soon he is trying to wheedle his way back in to Nick and Cora’s life.

This is a very slim novel, but within it’s 116 pages it paints a very illuminating picture of life during the depression. You do feel slightly sorry for Nick. He isn’t physically abusive towards his wife, in fact he has given her a very good living during a period of such despair. Ultimately, this novel is about passion and, although by today’s standard it is quite timid, you can see why people were shocked. The book was, in fact, banned in Boston and Canada.

I have not read any other James M. Cain books but I certainly will. I liked his gritty style of writing. You can spot the mark of a great writer when they can put down exactly what they want to say in such a few pages.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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