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Author James M Cain of the Thirties and Forties

Updated on February 8, 2017
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Ms. Venegas has read information for 56 years. She binge reads authors, NatGeo, LA Times daily and embraces the information age.

17 of James M Cain's Books Are Movies

James M. Cain became famous with his first book "The Postman Always Rings Twice" written in 1934. The movies made from his books are the film noir type and the Coen Brothers used the genre in their film called "The Man Who Wasn't There."

Steven King dictated Mr Mercedes to James M Cain. How does a relatively unknown American author still generate attention and admiration? By being short and sweet with writing style. This quote is an illustration.

Some of a Cain book collection
Some of a Cain book collection

..."It Can Be Done."

"Even if it can be done, it's no good."

"It can be done, and it's good."

"Oh, you're telling me what's good."

"Yeah, I'm telling you."

Serenade by James M. Cain 1937

"Just drive" isn't a line from Cain but it is his type of short and sweet to the point, statements that his characters use. It is said that he acquired his dialog style from a bricklayer named Ike he would stop and talk to during his teen years in College. He completed college by the age of eighteen. His father was President of the college.

Many writers are better known, such as Chandler, Steinbeck and Faulkner, but according to William Preston Robertson, Cain has not got his due. Reading his article I had to agree.

In fact, a few people reading this page now, probably have not heard of Cain.

Here is a portion of what Robertson has to say.

"..James M. Cain the writer has got lost. No one would rate Cain a Nobel-worthy man of letters - except maybe Albert Camus, who admitted basing his existentialist work "The Outsider" on the Cain template. Nevertheless, at the very least Cain deserves a seat alongside the other major fiction-writers of his day. He deserves to be taken seriously, not as some kind of a miner hammering out rough ore for the Hollywood refinery, but for what he was: a first-rate writer of fiction."

Read the whole article about James Cain called "Prince of Darkness".

Short But Sweet Bio of Cain

Cain was no layabout. He completed college with a B.A. at the age eighteen and later earned a Masters. After college he tried several jobs including selling insurance, teaching in a college and inspecting roads. In 1917 he landed a newspaper job. These years were spent with drinking, infidelities and finally divorcing and remarrying. He spent many years writing everyday human interest editorials, probably hundreds of short articles.

1931 took him and his second family to Hollywood. In 1934 "The Postman Always Rings Twice", his first novel made him rather famous and he became in high demand as a studio writer.

After "Mildred Pierce" in 1941 his popularity faded, he married again and finally in 1947 married once more settling with Florence McBeth, an opera singer like his mother. They spent the rest of their lives in Maryland and he continued to write, study classical music and lived the retired life. He died in 1977 at 85.

A study and essay on James M. Cain by William Marling,PH.D. Is very good for articles, movies, authors and books about the hard-boiled and film noir genre, including James Cain.

Have you heard of James Cain before reading this?

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Do Not Let the Best of James M Cain Slip By

Since the mini series "Mildred Pierce", book owners have been putting their vintage James M Cain novels up for sale on eBay. Buy them now before those books go in hiding again. Before the release of the HBO series Mildred Pierce, it was very rare to see his books on eBay or old second hand book stores. My son even looked for them one year to surprise me with a Christmas gift, and only one choice was available. I received Past All Dishonor, about a prostitute and the guy who fell for her after the Civil War. I have bought 6 of his used novels for myself since the new miniseries was shown.

Written in the thirties and forties the Cain novels are about people living in those very times. These old novels are entertainment still, underlining why reading and writing are ageless. James M Cain enjoyed writing, developing ideas and using the typewriter to record them, even in his later years, when nobody hardly knew who he was.

He researched all his themes. One gets a true sense of the times when you read his novels and a sense of how progressive of a thinker he was. He wrote about being overweight with a sensitive approach in Galatea; circa 1953.

Mildred Pierce

"Mildred Pierce" is my favorite Cain book. I lived and worked in the Glendale-Pasadena area for forty years and this book put me in another decade and opened up the two cities for me. I was driving the hills and streets in a 1940 sedan. Very good place and character development.

The first film treatment of "Mildred Pierce" with Joan Crawford changed the plot and ending.

Read Mildred Pierce and Other Stories in This Collection

The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and Selected Stories (Everyman's Library Classics)
The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and Selected Stories (Everyman's Library Classics)

The first two stories are about two people following each other into crime. Both involve dead husbands! And both are about double cross! I like Cain's short, clean style that puts you in a scene with no mumbo jumbo. The characters deal with each other pretty fast and clear too.

picture of old book jacket
picture of old book jacket

Who Should Be the New Mildred Pierce?

Someone remake Mildred Pierce

I have wanted a remake since about 1996.

11/0710 I read in the LA Times that Mildred Pierce is being remade into a mini series. A feature movie would not cover all the scenes that are in the book. They can develop the daughter better and put all the scenic vistas that are a part of that era into the movie. Make it about LA and Laguna Beach and Glendale/Pasadena, as well as Mildred.

This is a most anticipated mini series.

03/28/11 Kate Winslet is the new Mildred Pierce. This should be a very good series with this excellent actress. I am very disappointed that it is not shot in Southern California. Half Cain's book is about the Los Angeles area. Mostly, Glendale, Pasadena, San Marino and with scenes in Laguna Beach.

If you want an area to open up for you read his books. He does a good job with all his scenes. One scene Mildred is driving in heavy rain from Pasadena to Glendale. I felt like I was in that car. I had been on Colorado Blvd the road she was driving many times

I like some remakes. The Postman Always Rings Twice with Jessica Lange was good.

I watched the whole Mildred Pierce series in one evening.

Did You Watch the Milred Pierce Miniseries?

Was the new Milred Pierce a thumbs up? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

Are you going to read James M Cain soon?

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A Great Biography for Further Reading

Cain: The Biography of James M. Cain
Cain: The Biography of James M. Cain

I enjoyed this bio because for me Cain can not write anything bad. I did get many new insights for his love of writing. He spent about 15 years writing human interest editorials for a daily newspaper, much like the blogger exists today. He pursued other writing avenues in a natural progression, just as artists do, finally writing "The Postman Always Rings Twice" in his early forties.


This list is near and dear to me. I even enjoy rereading the information that these links lead to. I hope you browse the offerings in the link list above and find them of interest.

Share your stories, sightings, thoughts, rants, and raves about James Cain.

© 2008 Sherry Venegas


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    anonymous 5 years ago

    You taught me something today! I have seen Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice. I didn't know that any of the three were based on a book...much less knowing anything about the author. Thanks for the lens.

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    kimmanleyort 6 years ago

    Wonderfully written and I love your titles and sub-titles. ** Blessed **

    I had not heard of James Cain but have seen The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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    julieannbrady 6 years ago

    Well, I got to tell you that I never really heard of him -- but will be making more TIME in my life in the not too distant future and I'll try to check him out!

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    James Jordan 7 years ago from Burbank, CA

    I love film noir. Many night watching the late night theater snacking on cookies and milk!

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    Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

    Sounds very interesting. I will have to check out his books. 5*

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