Saturday, March 3, 2007

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New Ed edition (March 24, 2005)
  • ISBN-10: 0752864270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752864273
  • I finished this book on Mar. 2
Okay, so this another one by James M. Cain, the author of The Postman Always Rings Twice. I had been pretty impressed by that one, so I was looking forward to this one, having seen the 1944 movie version and loving it.
So this one is written as a confession, like Lolita, or Postman, but you don't know it until the end. It's narrated by Walter Huff, a wayward insurance salesman, who speaks in that 40's kind of manly man talk that has now become cliched. Huff goes on a routine call to renew an existing customer's auto insurance and meets his wife. Right away she's offering him tea and asking about accidental insurance. This sets off about a billion flags in Huff's head, but he decides it's a good idea to continue seeing her. Soon, they're planning the husbands' murder, with Huff trying to go for the maximum insurance payout, double indemnity. Apparently people were nervous about trains in the 40s (the way they are about planes now) but statistically very few accidents actually happened on trains. (This is akin to that you're more likely to die in a car crash then in a plane adage, I guess). So, most insurance policies offer double payout on a train accident because people think they're getting a deal, and they so rarely have to pay out for it.
The thing that's odd about this is how fast Huff is willing to become a murderer. It's like one chapter in and he's kissing this dame and then, boom, let's kill him. Weird to me. There's not even wanton sex acts, like in Postman so you can't argue that it's that making him crazy. Anywho, they stage an elaborate train accident and of course hi jinks ensue. Turns out that our femme fatale is not the kind of girl we think she is (of course) and that the pretty young daughter is more charming than we thought.
I have to say that all in all, I actually like the movie better. The book is actually chilling in some scenes, mostly due to Barbara Stanwyck's incredible performance. Because I have a crush on here, here's more pictures, of her, here and here, and one from the movie with her and Huff from the movie. I thought the book was suspenseful and enjoyable, but I'm not in love with the ending, which was slightly different in the movie. The movie ending was changed to reflect both characters getting their just desserts, due to the production code of the time.
All in all, a good read, but I would recommend the book version of Postman before I'd recommend this one. If you're really interested, I believe you can get both books published together with another of Cain's popular pulp novels, Mildred Pierce, and have a good old triple feature. Mildred Pierce was also made into a movie with Joan Crawford.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Cain's books are amazing, but yes, Double Indemnity is a better movie than it is a book.
Have you read Mildred Pierce? As far as Cain's novels go, I think it's the real standout. I love the other two you mentioned, but Mildred Pierce is unbelievable. The movie version was good, but it barely hints at how brilliant that book is.