Double Indemnity (1935)
Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels
I know all their tricks, I lie awake nights thinking
up tricks, so I'll be ready for them when they
Walter Huff is just your run-of-the-mill insurance salesman, maybe a slightly sharper operator than most, until the day he stops by the Nirdlinger place to renew a policy and meets the new Mrs. Nirdlinger, Phyllis. She takes an unusual interest in the details of her husband's coverage, even needling Walter about the possibility of switching to the Automobile Club :
She talked along, and there was nothing I could do
but go along with it. But you sell as many
But all of a sudden she looked at me, and I felt
a chill creep straight up my back and into the roots
Walter is just stupid enough, because he thinks he's so smart, that he helps Phyllis plan the perfect crime; together they'll murder her husband and make it look like an accident so they can claim the double indemnity payment on his insurance policy, a policy that they'll purchase without his knowledge. But in order to get away with it they'll have to fool the company's paranoid claims man :
Keyes is head of the Claim Department, and the most
tiresome man to do business with in the whole
Walter has just enough sense to know how long the odds are, but he's hooked :
I live in a bungalow in the Los Feliz hills.
Daytime, I keep a Filipino house boy, but he don't sleep
So he's in it 'til the bitter end, but the biggest problem, bigger even than Keyes, is that he and Phyllis will have to trust one another completely. They can't afford to question each other's loyalty or motives at all, because :
That's all it takes, one drop of fear, to curdle love into hate.
And, of course, since this is James M. Cain, there's not just one drop, there's a veritable deluge.
No one has ever written noir better than Cain. It's easy to see why he was so influential, particularly on the French existentialists (see Orrin's review of The Stranger by Camus). But they seem to have missed one very important, and quintessentially American, point. These tales are starkly moralistic. For all that the characters may behave amorally, as soon as as they take that step over the edge we know that a sure and brutal reckoning awaits. There's something positively Puritanical about the whole genre, where satisfying your basest desires brings down a nearly cosmic justice upon your head. I like that.
-WIKIPEDIA: James M. Cain
-ENTRY: James M. Cain: American novelist (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
-FILMOGRAPHY: James M. Cain (IMDB)
-ARTICLE: James M Cain: lost story by ‘poet of the tabloid murder’ discovered in Congress library: Strand Magazine will publish Blackmail, a tale of a blind Korean war veteran, found by New York editor Andrew Gulli (Martin Pengelly, 26 May 2023, Guardian)
-ESSAY: Prince of Darkness James M Cain's hard-boiled novels of greed, lust and murder made for perfect film noir. (William Preston Robertson, 12 Apr 2001, Guardian)
Book-related and General Links:
-ESSAY: The Highest Achievement of American Film Noir: Stanwyck, MacMurray, and Robinson at their best in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (David Lehman, November 6, 2021, American Scholar)
-FILM REVIEW: Revisit: Double Indemnity (David Harris, Spectrum Culture)
- -James M(allahan) Cain (1892-1977)(kirjasto)
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "james m. cain"
-James M. Cain (Hard Boiled Maryland)
-Cain, James M.: 1892 - 1977 (EducETH)
-James M. Cain (noir)
-REVIEW : Mystery Guide - Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
-REVIEW : of Crime Novels Volume I: American Noir of the 1930's and 40's and Volume II: American Noir of the 1950's The Library of America (Walter Kirn, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of THE BABY IN THE ICEBOX And Other Short Fiction. By James M. Cain (Joe Flaherty, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of CAIN By Roy Hoopes (Nora Johnson, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : Feb 3, 1983 Luc Sante: Was Cain Able?, NY Review of Books
Cain by Roy Hoopes
Good Review of the Book
- Aug-09-2005, 21:03
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