The Birth of Noir: James M. Cain's Southern California Nightmare Bus Tour
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Featured review from Peter Fields
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I’ll have to admit, I was a little shaky on how this tour would go at the beginning. There was a rather large birthday party for a young gal on the bus and they seemed to have been “celebrating” from much earlier on. Aside from starting off approximately 10 minutes late (due to the birthday group waiting for late guests) it seemed to begin without a hitch.
My friends and I made the good choice of sitting up front as the birthday group seemed to deviate from the original concept of the tour and began talking and making noise in the back of the bus. I have to say, our host was incredibly good natured and extremely patient with them and reminded them twice that they needed to keep the level down so the rest of us could hear him speak.
The beauty of this tour is that when you ARE one of the chosen that is familiar with the topic, it’s incredible to see a site or building that you know from the films or books and how it’s either sustained or deteriorated over the decades. The host was incredibly informative and interesting and was able to keep the flow going with ease despite the disruptions from the rear of the bus. Aside from the sites of many of the films based on James M. Cain’s books, there were side stories on why certain buildings were used in the background and the reasons behind it. We were given a brief history and reading of the Hayes Code which was HILARIOUS. You can’t make up stuff like this.
At the Glendale Train Station, we rested with complimentary coffee and cake and were treated to a recreation of a scene from the motion picture “Double Indemnity” which filmed at that location. It was so good, it bordered on a Benny Hill skit. Kudos to the two “actors” for the tongue in cheek performance. Everyone loved it.
At that point, the birthday group decided to call it day as the girl of honor had partied a bit too much and needed to retreat. They separated from the tour while the rest of us re-boarded. The tour was much more quiet after that and everyone left on board was able to completely enjoy the DVD clips, information and anecdotes our host shared.
We visited the actual house used in “Mildred Pierce” and many of us noticed how large the palm tree in front now was compared to the shot in the film clip we saw in the bus.
One very cool highlight was that there was a gentleman who happened to be on the tour that currently lives in a former James M. Cain home. He had become friends with Cain’s stepson and our host was gracious to hand him the microphone where upon he shared several stories about his home and the stepson that were both humorous and enlightening. A treat for any Cain fan!
The cherry on the cake was the stop at the Skid Row bar that James Cain would frequent occasionally. We disembarked from the bus and most everyone had a beer and it was incredible to see such an odd and disreputable establishment where an accomplished novelist would enjoy spending time.
My friends and I are already making plans for more tours. It was completely enjoyable.
Esotouric, the eclectic bus adventure company recently named Best Downtown Tour by the Downtown News, presents a tour celebrating the life, work, myths and passions of hard-boiled American novelist James M. Cain and the pivotal role he played in creating the Noir genre.
Southern California 1931: Amongst the burgeoning urban sprawl built atop bulldozed orange groves and the bitter realization that you can’t eat the sunshine, recent emigré James M. Cain found a kernel of truth and his voice, which would eventually distill through his novels, ”The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Mildred Pierce” and “Double Indemnity” and subsequent film adaptations into the unique American genre: Film Noir.
How did this East Coat sophisticate go from managing editor of “The New Yorker” to populist novelist accused of writing dirty books? The tour explores Cain’s L.A. from Hollywood to Glendale and along old Route 66, and includes illuminating visits to Forest Lawn Memorial Park (a Glendale institution and site of the funeral of Mildred Pierce’s “other” daughter, Ray), the Glendale Train Station where the “Double Indemnity” murder plot played out, and the punch line to a Billy Wilder joke so subtle, it’s taken 63 years for anyone to get. The tour will also cover the artisans who transformed Cain’s tales into film, including Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler, Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, each an important contributor to the Film Noir canon.