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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice / They Shoot Horses, Don't They? / Thieves Like Us / The Big Clock / ... a Dead Man (Library of America) (Vol 1) Hardcover – September 1, 1997
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Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man also became three movies: No Man of Her Own, with Barbara Stanwyk; the French I Married a Shadow; and the American comedy, Mrs. Winterborne, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Ricki Lake. Edward Anderson's vivid Thieves Like Us was transformed into They Live by Night, Nicholas Ray's first important movie and one of the seminal noir films of the 1940s. It was brilliantly remade in 1974 by the great revisionist director Robert Altman. Kenneth Fearing's The Big Clock was transformed into a marvelous film starring Charles Laughton; 40 years later, the same source, retitled No Way Out, brought Kevin Costner to stardom. William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley was the source for Tyrone Power's best movie; Horace McCoy's experimental They Shoot Horses, Don't They? became one of the seminal films of the 1960s.
These dark, evocative novels, when taken together, are a fascinating study of how words can inspire a magnificent variety of cinematic images and styles.
From Library Journal
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The first story is from James Cain, and it's a whiz-bang of a tale. I had heard of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" before, mainly in reference to the two film versions of the story. This is one dark read. Adultery and murder never seem to mix, and it sure doesn't here, either. Told in first person narration, a drifter gets himself mixed up with a washed up beauty queen who is tired of her Greek husband. The result is classic noir: a conspiracy to murder the poor schmuck and run off together. As usual, the murder brings about tragic consequences. This story has more twists and turns than you can imagine. The ending is especially atmospheric. This is certainly one of the best stories in the book. I always like to see a story where the blackmailer gets a good beating.
Horace McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is next in line. This is another great tale that was made into a film in the 1960's starring Hanoi Jane Fonda and Gig Young. The movie is soul shattering, with depictions of dehumanization in the neighborhood of "Schindler's List." The story is not quite as good, but it still packs a heck of a punch. The story is set in Depression-era America and depicts the horrors of a dance marathon. These marathons were apparently quite popular during the 1930's, until they were ultimately outlawed.Read more ›
It's comforting in a way that these novels, which were considered (and still considered by some) as trash, disposable items of consumption, are collected along with the novels of Melville, James and Hawthorne...."elevated" to high brow lit.
Perhaps the original authors of these masterworks would disagree on the modern critical re-assessment, but to readers like myself, it's just confirmation of something we've known ever since we first discovered them.
Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" was probably the first crime novel I ever really got into, and it's a stunning departure from Agatha Christie-style mysteries. So much happens in this short book (as turns of plot, but also development of character) that it compares favorably to the first half Camus' "The Stranger." The drifter plumbs the depths of his desperation in a brutal attachment to another man's wife: it's not greed or lust that drives him, but a base need for someone to whom he can anchor himself. A raw and amazing experience, unmatched by anything else of Cain's.
McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is impressively vivid. I had no idea these dance-hall marathons took place before reading this story. This circus of exploitation of young and apparently desperate people certainly makes for excellent Noir. One of these benefits of reading these novels is the unearthing of buried episodes in America's past.
"Thieves Like Us" has been reviewed here as the weaker end of the collection, and I have to agree. It's still a very capable story of outlaws; and the stoicism of the young people caught up in the criminal's lives is admirably depicted here. I recommend reading Andersen's novel before the others (it's still definitive Noir), so one can more easily avoid expectations built up by the Cain and McCoy.
"The Big Clock" is interesting in the depiction of power relationships between employer and employee, and the shifting first-person style of telling the story works here.Read more ›
"They Shoot Horses..." was my favorite of the bunch for it's depiction of deperate people doing desperate things to survive in the form of a Dance Marathon. But are they doing this out of deperation (even the winner of the prize money, after months of physical torment , will end up having made less than a dollar a day)? Or becuase there is nothing else to do? What is futile and what is meaningfull, the story seems to be asking.
"Nightmare Alley" brought the Tyrone Power movie back home, only the ending seems more poignant. The author organzies each chapter along the 22 minor arcana of the Tarot, a device used by later authors like Robert Anton Wilson and Umberto Eco.
"The big clock", filmed at least twice with variations on themes, uses a unique writing style of shifting narratives from the main characters' points of view and has an awfully modern motive for the murder (probably a little too modern for that period).
"The Postman.." and "I Married a Dead Man" story were also very dood. The Noir theme of "Crime Does Not Pay" runs through most of theses stories, but when you read them, you realize that it's not as simple as that. In the end, who really wins and loses and does it matter?
I don't think one can do better for reading the greats of American Literature than through the Library of America seri
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the real deal: the birth of noir, classic American crime novels.Published 4 months ago by Howard Grady Brown
LOVED Nightmare Alley. Huge fan of Tyrone Power's portrayal, but the book! One of my fave stories ever. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Jenny Lens
Buy the book. It's a great addition to your library.
This must be in your collection.
The Red Fur Room
A novel based on a true story. Read more
book 1 of 2
crime noir--1930's AND 1940's
!!!!!--P E R F E C T--!!!!!
It is an interesting compilation of crime narratives. I really was surprised by the diversity and the prose it quite excellent.Published on March 21, 2013 by Amy L. Buckley
In 1997, the Library of America published two volumes of American crime novels written in a noir style. Read morePublished on June 25, 2012 by Robin Friedman
I picked this up because I have seen all the movie versions of these novels but never read them. This collection goes all over the map showing noir in different ways. Read morePublished on March 4, 2012 by Wayne M. Malin
I received the book on time and it was in excellent condition, as advertised. I would do business with this seller again.Published on February 17, 2011 by CC