Monday, March 28, 2011

Mildred Pierce on HBO, Collecting James M. Cain, Great American Noir/Crime Author

I'm hooked and will continue watching the new HBO mini-series, Mildred Pierce.  While frustrated by the slowish pace of Parts 1 and 2 and wanting that horrible child Veda to die, the teaser of future episodes was enough to capture my attention.  I admit to being a Mildred Pierce virgin.  I don't recall ever seeing the classic 1945 film staring Joan Crawford in her only Oscar winning role and when I noticed the reference to the 1941 novel, Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain in the credits, I figured researching the book and author was in order.  I'm glad I did as Cain is a very collectible, noir/true-crime, American author of the 1930's, 1940's and beyond.  He also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice, a  novel that shocked many when published in 1934 and was the basis for the 1946 film staring Lana Turner and Josh Garfield and Double Indemnity, a novella published in serial format in 1936 and the basis for the 1944 film staring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  I've never researched the books associated with classic film noir before but the wide open ocean that is book collecting offers endless routes and always surprising discoveries!

James M. Cain (1892-1977) was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland,  He was at times a journalist, with support from the great Baltimore man of letters, H.L. Mencken, moved to Southern California in the 1920's and tried his hand at screenwriting, writing novels and short stories.  He was a controversial author, at times considered a master American writer, associated with the true-crime movement and often mentioned along side Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  Cain's life was full of intrigue, broken hearts, multiple marriages, financial success and ruin.  His screenwriting career was not that successful and his journalism career cut short when William Randolf Hearst essentially blackballed him.  Cain was an active author throughout his life but his novels, adapted for the screen, remain his most well known work.

If you are interested in collecting James M. Cain a good place to start would be with Cain:  The Biography of James M. Cain, by Roy Hoopes, Holt, Rinehart, New York, 1982.  A minor investment that will provide a complete bibliography and education about all things Cain.

Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1941.   This is a scarce book with only a few copies of the first edition, first printing available with prices ranging from $300 to $2000, dependant on condition.  The story of a successful business woman and her tragic life story, set during the Great Depression, and her perfectly horrible, narcissistic daughter.  A violator blurb on the film poster from 1945 sums it up well, "The kind of woman most men want-But shouldn't have!"

The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1934.  This is a very expensive and scarce, collectible book, Cain's first published novel.  There are few actual first edition, first printing copies available with the original dust jacket.  A novel of violence, sex and murder, it was banned in Canada and Boston!  There is no Postman in the novel, which was originally titled Bar-B-Que by Cain.  The story of adultery and murder was a popular theme at the time and this novel, his first, was rejected by 13 publishers but became a bestseller at the time of publication and made Cain a literary lion.

Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, first published in serialized form in the magazine, Liberty between February and April, 1936 and first available in book form in Three of A Kind:  Three Short Novels, A Career in C, The Embezzler, and Double Indemnity, by James B. Cain, Alfred Knopf, 1943.  A rare but relatively affordable collection and the first appearance of Double Indemnity in book form.   I have been unable to track down any individual issues of Liberty Magazine with the novella and I imagine these are very hard to find and expensive to acquire.  The classic tale of murder for teh insurance.

Collecting Cain is a challenge.  His novels are great examples of the crime fiction genre of the 1930's and 1940's and those adapted for the big screen universally considered classic.  Since the first edition, first printings of his big three are scarce and expensive if you really want a collection of Cain you may need to go after the other 17 novels he published or build a collection of first edition paperbacks!  I'm just glad I know more about his writing now and hopefully, I'll enjoy the rest of the 2011 Mildred Pierce mini-series.

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