Archive for the ‘James M. Cain’ Category

GildaSo, the other night I watched the noir movie Gilda with Rita Hayworth and a very young Glenn Ford. It was one of the movies mentioned in the book Dani Noir (https://2headstogether.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/dani-noir-by-nova-ren-suma-2/) by Nova Ren Suma. I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Rita Hayworth movie. I could definitely watch more. And Glenn Ford was so young in it. They were both excellent and the on-screen chemistry was palpable. If Rita Hayworth isn’t the ultimate femme fatale, then no one is.

The movie definitely had that ‘noir’ feel to it from the dark, foggy Argentinian dockside beginning to the very end. However, the ending wasn’t noir-ish. I read another review which basically said the same thing–it called the ending a cop-out. I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to see if the movie ending was changed from the original story by E. A. Ellington.

If you are a noir movie fan, a pulp mystery fan, or merely a movie fan, Gilda is one movie that you should see. I’m contemplating adding it to my meager collection, that’s how good it is. Thank you Nova Ren Suma and Dani Noir for putting me on to these classics.

I watched The Postman Always Rings Twice (original great book by J. M. Cain) last night. It stars Lana Turner and John Garfield. ThePostmanUnlike Gilda, the movie setting isn’t dark, although the story is. The ending, however, is as noir-ish as you can get. Amazing. The only thing is: Lana Turner as a blonde doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t know why. As femme fatales go, Rita Hayworth beat her hands down. This is another great movie.

The next on my list is The Lady from Shanghai starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.

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They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross was recommended reading in the back of another pulp mystery book I read. 172 James Ross The Don't Dance Much (Abridged) Signet 052Of course I had to get it. It’s a brooding mystery in the vein of the Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. It’s sparsely written, a lean first-person narrative by James rossabout getting rich quick and murder. Taking place in the south and originally published in 1940, it is filled with what we would call ‘not politically correct’ language and actions of Blacks, so if you’re a PC person, easily offended, I’d say, stay away. However, having grown up in the locale of this book, I’m sure Ross got it right for the times.

Ross’ only novel was apparently well received when published. For instance, Raymond Chandler said, “A sleazy, corrupt but completely believable story of a North Carolina town.” Hey, any book that is set around a North Carolina roadhouse, that features characters with names like Smut Milligan, Catfish Wall, and Badeye Honeycutt and includes moonshining, card and dice games, love triangles around the shapely Lola, bare knuckles brawling, and such figure in regularly, can’t be all bad.

An example of Ross’ writing, describing the luscious Lola one hot day, “She sat down at the counter and I got on the stool back of the cash register. Lola stretched her hands over her head and leaned back. If she had on a brassiere that day it must have already slipped down around her waist.” You can feel the swampy heat in the summer and the shivering cold in the winter. You can see the wheels spinning in Smut’s brain as he tries to scheme. You feel the hopelessness in the characters. I’m sorry, you don’t read writing like this anymore.

Ross has been credited as having invented ‘southern or country noir’. According to the article linked below, Ross stated that he never read James M. Cain before writing They Don’t Dance Much, but the style of writing and the bleakness of the story ring of Cain.

For more information on Ross and his writing, click on the following essay by Anthony Hatcher in the Oxford American: The Southern Magazine of Good Writing. Pulp mystery writing in the 1930s through 1950s is as varied can be. They Don’t Dance Much is another prime example of gritty writing.

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James M. Cain is one of the gods of pulp mysteries, standing alongside Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. His The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity are classics. So, when a never-before published manuscript (hinted at during late in life interviews and biographies) surfaces, it’s a big thing. And I guess, for that reason alone, The Cocktail Waitress is worth the read.

However (and I may be the only one who says this), if you’re looking for a pulp mystery on the level of Cain’s classics, this book isn’t it. Actually, Michael Connelly, in his NY Times Book Review, I think says the same thing.

Joan Medford kicks her drunk husband out of the house one night and he crashes a borrowed car on a culvert, leaving her a penniless widow, hated by her sister-in-law and unable to look after her three year old son, Tad.  The police are suspicious, thinking she might have helped the process. Mentioning to one of the investigating police officers that she desperately needs a job, he suggests the local bar/restaurant, The Garden of Roses. On his recommendation she gets the job as a cocktail waitress and she meets the old, but well-to-do, Earl K. White III, who immediately falls in love with her. She also meets, the young and handsome Tom, with whom there’s a tremendous physical attraction.

What does Joan do? White may be the answer to her financial worries and the means to get Tad back from her sister-in-law (who has been caring for him since Joan doesn’t have the means). But Tom, certainly, will meet her physical needs.

Older man–>younger woman—>younger man is a typical James M. Cain plot, done much better in The Postman Always Rings Twice. I’m not saying there aren’t some great passages and surprises along the way, including the ending (which, while, in my opinion sort of follows, is, again in my opinion, uncalled for). But…

I’ve been inundating myself in mystery stories from The Black Mask and I’ll be honest. There are better stories than The Cocktail Waitress, but again, any pulp/James M. Cain fan will be compelled to read The Cocktail Waitress. It won’t be the death of you, but it certainly won’t keep you riveted.

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Double Indemnity is quite the story. Again, in 80 pages, James M. Cain conveyed all he needed to in order to tell a chilling tale of murder and betrayal. It’s the same old story, murder for insurance, but it’s not the same old story in the way that it’s told. It’s the perfect murder, but it isn’t that perfect.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that not only does Cain know how to tell a tale, he also knows how to create an ending that the readers won’t figure out. In both The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, I never in a million years would have conceived of his endings. Totally creative, totally fitting, totally satisfying, totally chilling. There is a reason why these novelettes are considered classics.

Now for the movie, which I intend to watch. I know I’ve seen it but don’t remember it. Since I remembered Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck played the leads, I wasn’t really picturing anyone else in the parts. What startled me was the Barbara Stanwyck’s character in the book is Phyllis Nirdlinger and in the movie is Phyllis Dietrichson. Tell me what director thought that Dietrichson was a better name than Nirdlinger. MacMurray’s character is Walter Huff in the book and Walter Neff in the movie. I’m sure there’s a story behind these and several other name changes, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine what it would be.

I’m pretty sure I have an old edition like this of The Postman Always Rings Twice floating around my apartment somewhere. I’ll soon be on the search to find it.

To sum up, if you want to know what a real mystery is like, short, sweet and to the point, I whole-heartedly suggest James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity.

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I am truly amazed at what an author can do in 87 pages. The Postman Always Rings Twice has suspense, raw emotion, murder, sex. Cain didn’t have to write 200 pages to get his story told…87 was perfect.

And believe it or not, Lana Turner and John Garfield look exactly like I pictured Cora and Frank to look. Whoever cast the original movie…bravo.

Can’t wait to watch the movie. If you’re a mystery fan or a fan of great writing, read The Postman Always Rings Twice. Have to wait to read Double Indemnity until I finish a middle grade/YA book…Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I have it on good authority that it’s a great read.

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There may be some of you out there who do this, but I’m guessing not too many. I recently acquired this 1988 edition of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Jeopardy. But it’s too nice to read and I really want to read it. It’s got gold edging on the pages. It’s got gold around the front and back covers and it’s got the mock up of newspapers on each side. It appears that the binding hasn’t been cracked.  What’s a reader to do?

I went to my trusty public library and got out this copy, which includes a third novel, Mildred Pierce. Since it’s from the library, you know it’s been read…it looks well read. And I’m reading this copy, so as to preserve my original copy.

I’ll go so far as to say I’ve purchased a book in shrink wrap and haven’t opened it. It was the catalog to Ralph Lauren’s collection of antique cars at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I saw the collection at the museum. I skimmed through the catalog while in the gift shop and bought a pristine one which I haven’t opened (in about 10 years, give or take a few).

I know…weird.  What can I tell you? I plan to do that same thing with my 1899 edition of Thoreau’s Cape Cod. It’s in beautiful condition, so why spoil it? Since I plan to read it on Cape Cod, it’s likely that sand will get on the pages. Why mess up my copy?

So that’s my quirk. What’s yours?


P.S. So far, The Postman Always Rings Twice is quite good. Guess I’ll have to see the movie…the original, not any remakes. Enjoy

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