James Mallahan Cain (July 1, 1892 - October 27, 1977) was an American journalist and crime writer. Although Cain himself vehemently opposed labelling, he is usually associated with the hard-boiled school of American crime fiction and seen as one of the creators of the roman noir.
Cain was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland. The son of a prominent teacher and an opera singer, he had inherited his love for music from his mother, but his high hopes of starting a career as a singer himself were thwarted when she told him that his voice was not good enough. After graduating from college in 1917 Cain enlisted in the army and spent the final years of World War I in France writing for an army magazine. Back in the States he continued working as a journalist but later turned to screenplays and finally to fiction.
He made use of his love of music and of the opera in particular in at least two of his novels, Serenade (about an American opera singer who loses his voice and who, after spending part of his life south of the border, re-enters the States illegally with a Mexican prostitute in tow) and Mildred Pierce (where, as part of the subplot, the only daughter of a successful businesswoman trains as a singer).
Critics have pointed out that there is a basic formula pervading most of Caine's fiction. Almost always, with the notable exception of Mildred Pierce, a man falls for a woman -- the femme fatale (see also stock character) -- becomes involved in criminal activity with the woman, and is eventually betrayed by her. Invariably, Caine's novels are about sex, crime and violence.
Cain continued writing up to his death. However, the many novels he published from the late 1940s onward never rivalled his earlier successes. He died an alcoholic, aged 85.
"I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort."
(Cain in the Preface to Double Indemnity)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) (filmed several times; first uncredited version by Luchino Visconti in 1943 entitled Ossessione)
Double Indemnity (1936) (filmed by Billy Wilder in 1944) (see also film noir)
Mildred Pierce (1941) (filmed by Michael Curtiz in 1945)