Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn't have the money and I didn't have the woman.”
One of the great Noir lines of all time. Cain wrote it. Raymond Chandler used it in the movie. I could stop my review right here because that line sums up the movie perfectly.
But I can't. I love writing about books.
Walter Huff met a woman. A married woman, a woman Huff would be willing to turn himself inside out if that would insure her love. Her name is Phyllis and she has a thought, not even a plan, just a thought of what she would like to do about her husband.
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck
Much has been made of Phyllis being a femme fatale, maybe even one of the most viperous examples in history. It has been a while since I've seen the movie and maybe Stanwyck does portray Phyllis much more deviously manipulative than what I found the book Phyllis to be. Now I'm not saying she is an angel I'm just saying she ran into a guy that even surprised himself with what he was willing to do with the hope of getting the girl.
Huff has made a career out of reading people and when he meets Phyllis she asks him a handful of suggestive questions and the guy is already formulating a full blown plan for insurance fraud. He has been in the insurance game for a long time and he knows about every angle ever thought up by anyone to try and pull one over on an insurance company. He is uniquely qualified to formulate the perfect scam.
I don't like insurance. Life insurance they are betting I live. I'm betting I die. It is kind of crazy if you give it much thought. Car insurance they are betting I don't get in an accident. I'm betting that I do. The industry has convinced us to bet against ourselves and pay for the privilege. And yet, even though I'm aware of the situation, I pay thousands of dollars of insurance premiums every year to insure one disaster doesn't sink the ship. Walter Huff would love stopping by to see me.
Huff is so intent on the details of this insurance rip-off that he never learns much about Phyllis. He doesn't even really seem to care about why she would be interested in killing her husband. She is the bunny and he is the greyhound running around the track. There is no hesitation about Huff. He leaps at the chance to help Phyllis get the insurance money. I'm not sure what was more important to him pulling off the perfect swindle (my vote)or winning the girl.
James M. Cain
Crisp, wonderful writing with pitch perfect dialogue. My recommendation is read the book and then watch the movie, a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. At least 18 films have been made from James M. Cain novels and stories. Besides this novel he wrote two other novels that are not only considered noir fiction classics, but also translated well to film, The Postman Always Rings Twiceand Mildred Pierce. In college I took a film and novel class and Mildred Pierce was one of the books/movies on the syllabus. One of the most enjoyable classes I ever took. I love the combination of two different art forms. I generally like the book better because there is usually more depth to the characters and more subplots can be incorporated into the flow of the novel. Film is restricted by length, but when they get it right they really get it right. I try, as best I can, to judge books and movies from books on separate scales. Even a movie that butchers the original source material can be a great movie. In the case of James M. Cain because he wrote such great dialogue Hollywood did not have to deviate far from his original intentions. Highly recommended!
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