Last class, we discussed the film version of Cain’s Mildred Pierce. The film is considered one of the top examples of Film Noir, in the same way that the novel is considered one of the top examples of Hardboiled Fiction. However, Hollywood had to improvise quite a few things in the process from the novel to the film (like a murder). That left me wondering, was Mildred Pierce as it was originally written actually noir? To answer this, we need a definitive idea of what noir is. In an attempt to figure this out, I googled the simple question “what is noir”. (When all else fails, Google is there.)
I found this blog, and more specifically, this post. The post, written by a Robert K. Lewis cites many of the authors we have been exploring, including James M. Cain. In a fitting Hardboiled lilt, Lewis provides a few quotes in an effort to put a tagline on an idea; according to Raymond Chandler, “It’s not a fragrant world.”
In the words of Dennis Lehane, “You’ve learned that every good lie is threaded with truth and every accepted truth leaks lies”. By the end of the blog, we’ve heard some quotes and questioned some reality, but have come to no conclusion, as the improvised femme fatal of the story requests a quarter for the jukebox.
And, you know, maybe that is the point of Noir. To say some stuff and question a lot, but not necessarily to focus on the end result. I don’t know if I would say that Noir requires murder. Maybe it’s just that when you get so many emotions and so many bad ass (can I say that here?) people in one novel, something is going to go down, and murder is as good as anything. Red Harvest had a lot of murder, but that didn’t make it any more wrenching and soul searching than Mildred Pierce. Double Indemnity had a lot of shooting, but that didn’t stop us from hating Veda as much as we hated Birnbaum. Although it’s not very noir of me, I think I’ve reached a conclusion to my question. Cain is as Noir as they come, and it probably would have been just as impactful to leave out the murder as it was to include it. So, you know, props to James M. Cain.