From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 13 Nov 2002

James Cain is one of those authors that critics love to hate. Edmund Wilson, in his infamous "Boys in the Back Room" essay, called him a poet of tabloid murder and accused him of using cheap Hollywood tricks. Joyce Carol Oates, in an essay in Madden's TOUGH GUY WRITERS OF THE THIRTIES, called his writing sleazy and vulgar. Frohock, belatedly sensing the drift of critical opinion, deleted the chapter on Cain from the second edition of his THE NOVEL OF VIOLENCE IN AMERICA and stated in the introduction that everything Cain wrote was trash. Shaw, in THE MODERN AMERICAN NOVEL OF VIOLENCE, did little more than damn him with faint praise. Even Raymond Chandler got on the bandwagon, calling Cain "a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking." This did not stop Chandler from writing the screenplay for DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

James Cain, born in 1892 in Annapolis, got his Masters degree from Washington College in 1917. During World War I he editted an army newspaper in France. After the war he worked for a couple Baltimore newspapers and then became a Professor of Journalism at St. John's College in 1923. In 1924 Mencken helped him get an editorial position for the New York World under Walter Lippmann, and in 1928 he published his story "Pastorale" in Mencken's American Mercury. After a brief stint on the staff of the New Yorker in 1931, Cain moved to Southern California, where he alternated between writing novels and movie scripts. His most famous novel, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, came out in 1934. DOUBLE INDEMNITY came out in 1936. Both these books were turned into highly acclaimed films. In 1970 he was awarded the title of Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. With mixed success, he continued to write up until his death in 1977. A few other notable titles were MILDRED PIERCE, THE MOTH, and SERENADE.
  In THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, Frank Chambers is booted out of the back of a truck and he walks off the highway into a southern California diner and into Cora's life. Although she's not extraordinarily beautiful, he is drawn to her from the first moment. The fact that she's married is only a minor concern. Cora, desperate to break free from a miserable marriage, is equally attracted to Frank and in the midst of a hot and steamy love affair they plot her husband's murder.

Cain's POSTMAN is a powerful combination of alienation, desperation, sex, and violence, told in a clean, driving, straightforward style. His use of dialogue parallels Hemingway, and is just as good. From early in his writing career he was identified with the Black Mask hardboiled school, and he denied and resented this, saying that he had not read twenty pages of Hammett. Indeed, although it's hard to miss the tough and colloquial element of the hardboiled style, Cain's POSTMAN has a nurtured atmosphere of sweat, fear, and desperation, and became a cornerstone in the birth of a new genre, noir.


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