The Noir File: James M. Cain rings twice

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).


This month, TCM is presenting a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of  six top-notch noir authors.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity.”

This week’s Friday Spotlight features two noir novelists: James M. Cain and the lesser known Jonathan Latimer, a punchy pulp crime novelist who became one of the most prolific and reliable of all noir screenwriters. Latimer’s novels were notable for both hard-boiled suspense and  sharp humor.

Noir icon Cain was a hard-boiled prose master whose unsentimental stories of perverse sexuality and murder are unsurpassed.  A one-time prospective opera singer, journalist, screenwriter and magazine editor as well as a best-selling novelist, Cain didn’t follow the self-destructive path of some of his noir colleagues, like Goodis and Woolrich. But he had one of the darkest visions, and one of the tightest, hardest-edged word-perfect styles of any of them.

Two of his most famous and influential film noirs are on the schedule tonight: Billy Wilder and co-screenwriter Raymond Chandler’s tense and brilliant 1944 adaptation of  Cain’s thriller “Double Indemnity” and Tay Garnett’s glamorous and gritty 1946 movie of another Cain scorcher, “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

John Garfield and Lana Turner in “Postman.”

Together, they make  an incredible double bill. And you can stretch it into a Cain triple feature by catching, right after “Postman,“ Anthony Mann’s 1956 “Serenade.“ Though not part of the noir writers series, it‘s  adapted from another Cain novel, directed by noir master Mann, and it boasts an operatic background.

The best American noir novelists were much admired by French critics and intellectuals, none more than Cain, who was one of the favorite writers of the great existential novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus.

(The films will be introduced and discussed by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Nocturne” (1946, Edwin L. Marin). Cop George Raft investigates night club murder of a songwriter. Standard stuff, well-written by Latimer.

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “They Won’t Believe Me” (1947, Irving Pichel). More Latimer: Robert Young plays a rake, guilty of adultery, but innocent of  murder. Susan Hayward, Jane Greer and Rita Johnson co-star.

11:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m.): “Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). With Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. Reviewed on FNB, December 30, 2010.

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett). With Lana TurnerJohn Garfield and Cecil Kellaway. Reviewed on FNB October 11, 2012.

3:15 a.m. (12: 15 a.m.): “Serenade” (1956, Anthony Mann). Cain was once a singer, with aspirations to opera, and here, one of his novels became a movie vehicle for Mario Lanza – a superb natural tenor, whose own meteoric career and untimely death might make a good film noir. Unusual material for Cain and Mann, but you‘ll want to see it.

Monday, June 24

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Detective Story” (1951, William Wyler). Polished Wyler film of the well-made Sidney Kingsley play about a bad day at the precinct station, with Kirk Douglas leading a first-class ensemble (Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, the amazing young Lee Grant, and Joseph Wiseman), as a brutal, righteous cop on a road to self-destruction.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “The Man With the Golden Arm” (1955, Otto Preminger). With Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker and Kim Novak. Reviewed on FNB November 12, 2010.

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