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Drifter Frank Chambers applies for a job at a road side café belonging to
Nick Smith, only to fall under the spell of Nick's wife Cora. He falls into
desire which leads to deceit and eventually murder. Too late he falls in
love but by then things have gone too far. He tells his story to us with
the hindsight of a condemned man.
A classic bit of noir light. Based on Cain's sexual novel this underplays the explicit references but turns the subtle stuff way up - the film opens with a `Man Wanted' sign, while Cora is so well played that there's no doubt what she's offering. Without the explicit sex of the remake this story is a lot freer to be interesting rather than explicit. The court case and the mistrust between the lovers is as good as the early desire giving rise to murder.
Lana Turner is excellent as the femme fatale, she is smouldering and very, very desirable. Garfield is also excellent as the man trapped in her web. The two are the very center of the film and are both superb. If the film has any weakness then it may be that modern audiences need more than very subtle stuff, but that's probably our problem rather than the film's.
Overall this is very enjoyable, it has a great sense of mood and builds well to the inevitable conclusion.
Lana Turner and John Garfield generate sparks in this excellent crime thriller. Turner plays Cora Smith, a restless young waitress married to a much-older man who runs the roadside diner. Garfield plays Frank Chambers, a drifter who turns up at the diner and is captivated by Cora. Cecil Kellaway is great as Cora's naive husband Nick, whose main concern is the diner. The fact that it is filmed in black and white helps create the suspenseful atmosphere and highlight Cora's striking cream outfits. This is far superior to the 1981 remake, for although it was made under a strict production code, it smolders with desire and tension and is an unforgettable classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Postman Always Rings Twice is simply the best film noir ever done.
Lana Turner, who got billing above John Garfield in this movie, and deservedly so, is stunning as Cora, the most alluring woman I've ever seen on screen, the quintessential femme fatale. John Garfield gives a bravura performance as Frank Chambers, the drifter, who can't keep his hands off another man's wife. The story is by James M. Cain, whose Double Indemnity is another memorable film noir adapted for the screen. Cain's stories are a mix of lust and crime and deceit and double-dealing.
But, this movie belongs to Lana Turner from the moment we and Frank the drifter first see her to that fateful moment .. and I won't say when that moment arrives .. when Frank's and Cora's dreams and schemes are forever dashed. Frank says several times in the movie, "I just wanted to look at her..I just wanted to see her..It was horrible to be away from her.." and Frank wasn't the only one who had those feelings.
That first time we meet Cora is simply one of the most erotic, powerful scenes ever filmed. Frank is sitting at the restaurant counter, Cora's husband, Nick, has gone to see a customer, and we see a tube of lipstick rolling on the floor. The camera follows Frank's gaze from the lipstick, to the path it took on the floor, to its owner and the reason it fell to the floor. The camera stops - as Frank's gaze does - on Cora's shapely legs, shown in all their splendor from mid-thigh to heel, because Cora is wearing shorts. We see Cora's face, and then Frank's, and we can literally see Frank's breath being taken away. Ours, too.
It doesn't take long before nature takes its course with Frank and Cora, but that creates the problem of what to do with Nick? First, they simply decide to leave him, but that doesn't work, because of the three of then, Nick is the only one with money. There is a botched murder attempt which Nick recovers from. Nick isn't the brightest bulb in the array since he never realizes that his wife and the drifter he hired just tried to kill him. Some parts of this first attempt are masterfully done, and some aren't. Frank and Cora's sexual tension builds, along with the fear that they'll be found out for what they tried to do.
They succeed in killing Nick on their second attempt, but are soon caught. These aren't master criminals, you see. Cora and Nick are played against each other by the Prosecutor, and we soon see them for their true selves, as they turn on one another. Hume Cronyn plays Cora's attorney here in a role evocative of Billy Flynn in Chicago some 55 years later. This defense attorney has it all under control. He manages to razzle-dazzle the prosecution - and the court, and get both Frank and Cora off! Cronyn is so good here he nearly steals the movie!
It's not necessary to say more about the story. We know in a film noir universe that evil schemes never succeed. Frank and Cora will never get away with Nick's murder. Even though they are free, things soon begin to unravel for them. Their relationship is undermined by all the deceit and legal manuevering of the prosecuting attorney and Cora's lawyer. Neither trusts the other. Things go from bad to worse, and ultimately both Frank and Cora pay for killing Nick.
This movie is not perfect. There are some plot points that do not hold: Nick's stupidity, the sudden discovery of the life insurance policy, a stupid housecat, and others. It is tedious in spots, especially the middle.
The botched first murder attempt is not essential, the legal wrangling takes too long, and the tension that builds between Frank and Cora after they are free takes too long to build. Frank has a dalliance with a waitress that either should have been cut or expanded. But, for all its faults it is quintessential film noir. Frank and Cora for all their good looks are rotten at their core, and that's why we love them. We love the movie because in the end they get what they deserve: justice triumphs over hormones and greed. 9 out of 10.
A footnote: the newly released DVD has a bonus feature on the life of John Garfield. He died in 1952 at the age of 39, a victim of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Garfield was a prominent target, whom the committee sought to discredit and destroy, in an attempt to gain credibility with the American people. How very sad that so many lives could be shattered with such implacable malice emanating from Congress itself. Let us pray it never happens again.
I was not expecting a classic film noir along the lines of "Double
Indemnity" or "Out of the Past" when I put this movie in, and for awhile,
thought I might have been wrong. Maybe the cover was too cheesy, I'm not
sure, but I didn't have extra high hopes for this movie. Then my mood
brightened when it actually started to become very entertaining. I wasn't
being blown away, but I did start to enjoy the film noir 101 plot. The
reviewer who noted MGM's dramatic lighting of Turner is right, it's
ridiculous, but it does come with the territory I guess. Other than that,
things seemed to be moving in place very smoothly.
Then an odd thing happened. The movie refused to end. It wasn't that the pace was slow, it moved speedily. Something was always happening, and there was plenty of suspense/overblown MGM music blaring out of the speakers at any given moment. But the plot was way too top-heavy. They get caught doing the murder. Okay, time for trial, some final irony, then the movie's over. But it's not! It just kept going. New subplots turned up, bribes, plot twists, double crosses, it just kept happening and happening. It was too much. I was literally standing up sweating by the final scene, wanting it to end so much. The problem was, nothing of any substance was given to the events that kept happening. It was like the screenwriters noted "okay, this happened in the book, but we have to trim it a bit, so we'll make a small 2 minute scene including it in the movie" and suddenly the movie is full of these large occurrences given very brief sketched out screen time. Garfield runs off for a weekend in Tijuana with some random women? What just happened? Things just grew too implausible. I realize that complaining the movie went on too long and claiming that not enough screen time was given to all the events in the second half is hypocritical, but there must have been ways to flesh things out. I haven't read the book, but I suspect it's much better than the movie, just based on other reviewer's comments.
During the final embarassing "what does God make of all this" speech to the priest (hey, I thought film noirs where supposed to be existential!), I happened to look at the video case and glance at the title. Realizing it hadn't been referenced in the movie yet I stared at the screen and muttered "out with it" and in return got some over-reaching ramblings concerning how "he always rings twice, always rings twice" ext. Yikes.
I have to say though, the movie had some very good irony and employed a load of classic film noir tricks (the final outcome must have influenced the Coen Brothers with "The Man Who Wasn't There"), but I can't help believing the book must have been a lot better. I'd chalk this one up for noir completists and Golden Age MGM enthusiasts only.
Funny, the comment there about the title - it's the strangest part of
the adaptation because at least it IS mentioned in the film, but
nowhere in the book. It's an absolute mystery to me how this title made
it through intact when great titles like "Farewell My Lovely" were
dumbed down to "Murder My Sweet" for the sake of Hollywood audiences.
James M. Cain originally submitted the story to Alfred Knopf with the
title "BBQ" (which makes sense in context) and was asked to change it;
he considered "Black Puma" and "The Devil's Checkbook" before settling
on the mystifying title by which the novel and both adaptations are
Anyway, I like the film and think it's a great straight adaptation of the book, though the dialogue in the beginning seems a bit hurried (for the sake of the quick establishment of character and story) - the book does a better job of painting the hobo/gypsy lifestyle Frank embraces, and I think it's pretty central to the eventual conflict between him and Cora, so it's a shame it wasn't better depicted in the film.
Lana Turner is good, but probably just a bit mis-cast - she's a little too "glamorous" for Cora, which is also established immediately in the famous opening shot of her legs and lipstick (in contrast to the book, where she was introduced in an apron, working hard for the business like she always says she wants to.)
One note for femme-fatale buffs: Cora and Nick in the film are surnamed "Smith," which in the book was Cora's maiden name. (Nick in the book was Greek - "Papadakis") Is this a statement on marriage in general, or perhaps a desire to eliminate the racial implications in what happens? Seems unlikely; it is what it is, for smarter people than me to unravel.
"So long mister, thanks for the ride!"
The original book published in 1934 by James M. Cain (author of "Double
Indemnity") was a gritty unsentimental story of a low-class drifter and
bum, Frank, who is taken in by a German immigrant, Nick, who owns a
roadside café and his beautiful wife, Cora, who turns out to be much
darker on the inside than the facade of her pure white skin. Cora, we
learn, is dissatisfied with her life married to this older immigrant
and the drifter becomes her catalyst to change her situation. The movie
adaption of twelve years later is a slightly sentimentalized version of
Cain's noir classic. That said, the movie still holds its own as a noir
tale of betrayal and murder, but doesn't quite have the edge of Billy
Wilder's adaption of "Double Indemnity".
Still, the movie works very well under its own terms, particularly because of the outstanding chemistry between the leads John Garfield and Lana Turner. In fact, the star of the show is really Turner who turns in a tour-de-force performance. Turner continually shows us the many faces of her character Cora Smith who is sometimes weak and vulnerable and other times resolute and stubborn, even unsympathetic, and yet oozing with unrealized sexuality. We gather that Cora is no ordinary woman, or at least not the soft sentimental Doris Day type. More like a cross between Eva Peron and Madonna. Sometimes hard and mean and other times sweet and feminine, she is the complex epitome of the Cain femme fatale of this era. She remains enigmatic from beginning to end which is I think what Cain would have wanted. Garfield, in probably the role of his career, is equally superb, at first rejecting the murder scheme and then later embracing it. Although lacking the enigmatic complexity of Cora, Frank is equally ambiguous and ambivalent to his life choices, and Garfield well conveys the multi-sidedness of Frank.
The story concerns a young man looking for work, finds a roadside café up a few hours north of Los Angeles, probably up the 101 freeway, and becomes the hired help. He is employed by Nick, a simple German-stock older-than-middle-age man, who simply wants to make enough money to be comfortable and occasionally play his little guitar. His wife, Cora, is about 40 years younger and wants to make something of their café instead of just eking out a meager living. But fleeing with Nick and beginning from ground zero is not what she wants. She would like to have the café and make something of it. And when the hired help Frank falls for her, she realizes he is the perfect means to get both of them out of their hellish existence.
A fine example of 1940's film noir with many of the stylistic considerations, such as the camera panning from feet-to-face when we first meet the woman Cora, the many unexpected twists and turns, and of course the dark desires of the leads. Every series of scenes leaves you guessing as to what will happen next. A couple of scenes were contrived that were superfluous to the book. Unfortunately, the film suffers slightly because of the stringent ethics codes that started to be imposed on films of that time. Probably film noir offerings suffered more than most because of their probing the darker sides of human nature. However, Postman still ranks as classic film noir.
Lana Turner and John Garfield are great in this classic tale of deception and murder and its hard to imagine that another actress, save Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford, could have played the role of the wayward wife as well as did Turner. Cecil Kellaway has a thankless role and it's hard to believe that he was as clueless as he was about the fires burning around him as Turner and Garfield carry on their affair. Kellaway seems more preoccupied with pinching pennies than noticing how his young, attractive wife is bursting with sexual energy. Turner is as beautiful as ever but she and Kellaway don't make a credible married couple. Hume Cronyn is good as the smug attorney but the courtroom drama is a bit of a letdown. Garfield brings a restless energy to his role and matches Turner's smoldering sexuality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a child in the 1970s, I cringed whenever I viewed a television soap
opera that my mother insisted on watching. Every soap opera I ever,
involuntarily, watched was shockingly bad.
"The Postman Always Rings Twice" is like a forerunner for those horrible soap operas. The innumerable plot turns are often unbelievably absurd, the dialogue is very shallow, the characters are stupid, and everything is melodramatic. The fact that the Lana Turner character is one of the hottest movie characters I've ever seen can't save "Postman."
The first half of this 1946 movie deserves a 5 or a 6. I often love movies that focus on a few characters, but I just wasn't interested in this film's three main characters. Turner's marriage to an unattractive small-time restaurant owner old enough to be her Dad is not credible. It certainly wasn't Cecil Kellaway's brains that appealed to her because he is oblivious to an affair that occurs right under his nose. Turner and John Garfield's behavior around Kellaway is abnormal.
More importantly, the affair between Garfield and Turner which begins when he attacks her is uninteresting. They say nothing to each other about their hopes and dreams, nothing in depth about their love for each other, nothing intelligent, and nothing that reveals who they are. I know virtually nothing about their backgrounds and there is little character development.
Despite the flaws, the plot is interesting enough that I can understand why people like the first half of "Postman." The second half of "Postman," however, just flabbergasted me. The stupid plot turns include:
* The district attorney who prosecuted Turner for killing Kellaway was the closest thing to a WITNESS to the murder because he was the FIRST one who saw the crashed car.
* After witnessing and prosecuting the murder, the D.A. decides to let Turner off on a prison-free manslaughter charge after a 30-second conversation with the defense attorney.
* Several minutes earlier, the defense attorney ignored Turner's objections and entered guilty pleas for murdering Kellaway and trying to murder Garfield.
* Shortly before the two guilty pleas, the D.A. and defense attorney bet on whether Turner will be found guilty of murder in front of the other suspect.
* After the guilty pleas, Turner and Garfield are placed in the same room in a courthouse and are allowed to move freely although she has just plead guilty to trying to kill him and he has signed a complaint saying he witnessed her murdering Kellaway.
* In the room, Turner implicates Garfield in the Kellaway murder in a confession that is made right in front of him and typed by someone impersonating an officer of the court.
* After trying to put each other in jail for life, Garfield and Turner decided to live with each other.
* The community is so unbothered that a convicted killer is serving no jail time that it flocks to her restaurant to solicit her autograph, but it is outraged that two unmarried people live together. Thus, Garfield and Turner marry.
* The impersonator tries to extort Garfield and Turner for the paper with the confession he typed although they certainly knew he could have made copies of the paper.
* The police suspected Garfield and Turner of an earlier attempt on Kellaway's life, but they stopped probing because he recovered. Essentially, they negligently allowed Kellaway to be murdered.
There are other plot twists. They occur approximately every 30 seconds. I kept getting the impression that the writers were aware a plot twist was illogical so they wrote another one to try to explain the previous one. With each plot twist, they dug themselves into a deeper hole.
This movie is so stupid that I'm probably being generous in giving it a 3.
This film has all the ingredients of classic noir without actually
being a very good movie.
The biggest problem I had with the film was that the characters are an unconvincing blend of naivety and cunning. One minute they're suckered by an old man running a burger bar, the next they're foiling a blackmail plot hatched by corrupt lawmen and wielding guns like they're hardened gangsters.
The ending is equally unconvincing, with the protagonist happily latching onto his death sentence as some kind of salvation that gives him moral certainty in the amoral noir world he's been floundering in. It's as if this is a noir made by people who were anti-noir.
Noir will always involve a clash between innocence and experience but it's not convincingly handled here. It isn't the first noir I'd make that complaint against, either - things like SHadow of a Doubt and Night of the Hunter have a similar unreal atmosphere.
In my opinion the best noir is both believable and hellish; like The Third Man, Double Indemnity, Notorious or Chinatown.
The good atmosphere and Lana Turner's memorable role make this a
film-noir classic worth seeing. The story starts out to be relatively
simple, allowing the cast and the atmosphere to carry it, and then
heads through a series of twists and turns, picking up the pace as it
John Garfield and the supporting cast are solid, but it is Turner who really stands out and grabs the attention anytime she is on-screen. It's nothing against Garfield to say that in comparison he is almost just along for the ride, yet he does a creditable job and makes his character believable. The supporting cast helps out as well, with Cecil Kellaway on-target as Turner's oblivious husband, and Hume Cronyn likewise in good form as a conscience-free lawyer.
The story pulls you in slowly, and then has some good turns as it picks up steam towards the middle. There may be a couple of too-convenient plot developments, but otherwise it is well-written.
This classic version is quite a bit better than the early 1980s remake, which required little imagination to make or to watch. Turner's character and performance, in particular (aided by good camera work), demonstrate that the suggestive can be quite a bit more effective and memorable than the explicit.
"The Postman Always Rings Twice" has just about everything you could ask for in a film-noir. It's probably just a cut below the best of the genre, and still one of the movies that most fans of film-noir would not want to miss.
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