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Spotlight section: James M. Cain

Tucked in to a corner of the back wall in the Murder/Mystery/Suspense room, you'll find another of our new Spotlight rental sections.† Here's section curator Mark on films inspired by the work of author James M. Cain.--madamecrow James M. Cainís film career almost seems to have come out of the bitter irony in one of his novels. Successful writer comes to Hollywood, toils for 17 years with little to no success or satisfaction, goes home to Maryland and unwittingly becomes the granddaddy of a film genre. It has been suggested that our entire Murder/Mystery/Suspense section could have come from a Cain plot Ė poor schmuck falls for evil woman, gets double crossed by her, and instead of walking away, follows her to his doom. Cain wrote for the pulps, and published crime fiction in long form, but instead of whodunits and detective novels, he wrote stories of fallen men and woman and the obsessions that entrap them. His direct relationship with Hollywood didnít amount to much Ė additional dialogue credits for Blockade and Algiers, and a screenplay credit for Gypsy Wildcat, but the films adapted from his novels are legendary in the noir canon. The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce are all classics from noirís golden era, and other great directors took a stab at Cain when the opportunity presented itself. Luchino Visconti adapted Postman without ever obtaining the rights, and Ossessione remained unseen outside of Italy for 33 years. Allan Dwan turned Loveís Lovely Counterfeit into a dazzling, tawdry Technicolor shocker called Slightly Scarlet with the help of cinematographer John Alton and stars John Payne & Rhonda Fleming. Anthony Mann adapted Serenade with mixed results, Matt Cimber cast Pia Zadora in the incestuous, supremely trashy Butterfly, and both John Stahl and Douglas Sirk had a go-round with Cainís The Root Of His Evil in adapting When Tomorrow Comes and Interlude, respectively. Even Bob Rafelson and David Mamet took a stab at Cain in the second adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice. But the Coen brothers channeled Cain as no one had before with their debut feature Blood Simple. In it, they adapted Cainís cynicism, dark humor, irony, and wickedness and turned out the most compelling neo noir since Chinatown, but they didnít stop there. Seventeen years later, they took three Cain novellas (Career In C Major, The Embezzler, and Double Indemnity) and brilliantly morphed them into The Man Who Wasnít There. Cainís IMDb credits donít include either Coen film, but theyíll be the first to tell you how indebted to him they are. And now, quite notably, another talented filmmaker has taken a stab at Cain. Todd Haynes has adapted Mildred Pierce into a five-part HBO miniseries thatís receiving spectacular reviews. Itís not at Scarecrow yet, but in the meantime, please enjoy the otherwise rich cinematic bounty that James M. Cain has bestowed upon us.

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