Sunday, March 29, 2015

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946): Starring John Garfield and Lana Turner

Close to ten years ago I listed The Postman Always Rings Twice as my favorite film of the 1940s.  I haven’t changed my mind.  From a period when the Hollywood Code was still in effect, this film pushed the envelope as much as any blockbuster could.

The film stars Lana Turner as Cora Smith and John Garfield as Frank Chambers.  Cora and Frank have an affair while Cora is still married to Nick (Cecil Kellaway).  Then Cora convinces Frank to go along with a successful plot to murder Nick.  While prosecutor, Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames), is fairly certain Cora and Frank are behind the murder, successful lawyering by Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn) keep the pair out of jail – even after the two have decided to turn upon each other.  Cora ends up instead charged with manslaughter and receives probation, and Frank is never charged.  The two then make up. While taking a drive together with Frank at the wheel, they are involved in a car accident resulting in Cora’s death.  Frank ends up on death row for the murder of Cora.

James M. Cain wrote the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934.  In content the novel was somewhat of a shocker when released.  The plot featured adultery, sexuality, murder and two extremely conscienceless protagonists.  Still, we’d have forgotten Cain’s novels without Hollywood.  Cain was a naturalist, and he portrays events in a realistic manner.  However, the characters are forgettable on his pages because Cain didn’t understand how to purvey emotion.  It took movie producers, directors and actors to bring this emotion out.

Tay Garnett directs the 113-minute movie released in 1946.  Outside of assisting on televisions series like The Untouchables and Bonanza, directing this film would be his only true claim to fame.  No other movie he directed has had lasting value.  And as far as The Postman Always Rings Twice is concerned, it had to be a difficult plot to film to direct.  Remember that Hollywood remade the novel for film in 1981 with starring roles going to Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.  But even without concerns of movie censors and with two prominent stars as leads, the remake failed to deliver anything more than an average production.

Garfield and Turner, manage to breathe life into their roles.  What’s surprising about the film is that barely anyone remembers John Garfield anymore – one of the best actors of the 1930s and ‘40s.  Lana Turner, who seems totally unsuited for the role of a devious murderess, probably plays her best role.  Garfield plays a drifter and Turner plays the role of the discontented wife of a man who owned a cheap diner.  The movie is stark and without any reference to riches or glamour.  However, it has lasted because it’s not a typical Hollywood film and had a great cast.

© Robert S. Miller 2015

March 29, 2015