Tuesday, March 9, 2010
From a Personal Film Library 6
He was one of those hard boiled writers who were invariably in our back pockets. The paperback revolution of the late thirties brought edification and entertainment at an affordable price. And it brought us Cornell Woolrich, W.R. Burnett, and James M. Cain.
We were working class boys and we knew about Woolrich long before Truffaut did, and about Burnett long before the academics. And when we talked about Cain it was about The Moth, or The Butterfly, about Double Indemnity, or the offbeat Serenade. And, of course, we read about that postman who always rang twice: Cain’s oblique take on the Appointment in Samarra theme. Postman was published the year I was born.
“They threw me off the hay truck about noon” has led to four filmed manifestations; I have seen three. The Visconti, Garnett and Rafelson versions are well known. Segments of Pierre Chenal’s elusive Le Dernier Tournant (1939) appear on You Tube, but without subtitles. In 1936, Postman rang once on Broadway, ran for 72 performances and left town. (Richard Barthelmess as Frank Chambers could not have helped.)
But Cain wore other hats, one of which was that of a human interest writer for The New York World. He contributed to diverse publications throughout his life and wrote about people, about animals and about food. The James M. Cain Cookbook provides a sampling. I guess you could say he taught Mildred Pierce how to cook.