Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hardboiled Hero: Author James M. Cain's Legacy Celebrated at Washington College

Chestertown, MD, September 20, 2007 — Perhaps the most famous scribe to emerge from Washington College was pioneering hardboiled author James M. Cain, who along with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler rewrote the rule book on crime fiction, creating a uniquely terse, tough American style that influenced literature, cinema and pop culture in general.

As part of its year-long 225th-anniversary celebration, Washington College commemorates Cain's legacy with lectures and movie screenings from Thursday, October 4, through Monday, October 8.

Born in Annapolis in 1892, James M. Cain grew up in Chestertown where his father, James W. Cain, was president of Washington College from 1903 to 1918. The younger Cain graduated from the College in 1910, made a name for himself in journalism, and became an overnight sensation with the publication of his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, in 1934. A lurid, hard-hitting tale of adultery and murder, Postman was a runaway bestseller and a huge influence on both the crime-fiction genre and Hollywood. It was adapted for film multiple times, as were other Cain novels that poured forth in the ensuing years.

Cain's style continues to inspire new generations of writers and filmmakers. This theme will be explored when the Sophie Kerr Committee presents "The Influence of James Cain's Fiction on the Coen Brothers," a talk by leading film-noir authority R. Barton Palmer, in the Sophie Kerr Room in Miller Library on Thursday, October 4, at 4:30 p.m. Palmer is the author ofHollywood's Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir, a standard in the field. He also is the author of a recent book on the Coen brothers' films and, interestingly, several books about medieval literature.

The filmmaking duo of Joel and Ethan Coen burst onto the scene with their surprise-hit 1984 movie Blood Simple. Audiences were wowed by the film's very James-Cainesque stew of infidelity, crime, duplicity, suspense and plot twists. As a tie-in with Palmer's lecture, the Washington College Film Series will present screenings of Blood Simple at Litrenta Lecture Hall in the John S. Toll Science Center on Friday and Sunday, October 5 and 7, at 7:30 p.m.

The most enduring of all James M. Cain movie adaptations is the 1944 classic Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck as the silver screen's ultimate femme fatale. Directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity is considered by some aficionados to be the purest example of film noir. The Washington College Film Series will present a special screening of this hardboiled masterpiece at Litrenta Lecture Hall on Monday, October 8, at 7:30 p.m. Washington College Dean and Provost Christopher Ames, author of Movies About the Movies: Hollywood Reflected, will provide a brief introductory talk, "James M. Cain: From Washington College to Hollywood." Dean Ames will explore some intriguing connections said to exist between Cain's formative years in Chestertown and his later prose style.

All events in the James M. Cain celebration are free and open to the public.

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