Friday, March 8, 2013

The Best Movies I Have Never Seen Before: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Directed by: Tay Garnett.
Written by: Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch based on the novel by James M. Cain.
Starring: Lana Turner (Cora Smith), John Garfield (Frank Chambers), Cecil Kellaway (Nick Smith), Hume Cronyn (Arthur Keats), Leon Ames (Kyle Sackett), Audrey Totter (Madge Gorland), Alan Reed (Ezra Liam Kennedy), Jeff York (Blair).

I often find older movies sexier than newer ones, despite the obvious disadvantage that in older movies, you really couldn’t show very much. As a case in point, I show you 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which is a movie dripping with lust and sexuality, despite the fact that there is no nudity in it. Now, I haven’t seen the 1981 remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, which apparently was full of nudity, but I bet you I would agree with what I have heard about it – that despite the more graphic nature of the film, it still doesn’t compare with the sexuality on display in the original. Few movies have.

The film stars the great John Garfield as Frank Chambers, a drifter who happens upon a gas station/restaurant and gets offered a job by the older owner, Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Frank figures this is as good as place as any to stay for a little while before moving on. Than he sees Nick’s wife - Cora (Lana Turner) – and his life will never be the same. These two characters are attracted to each other at their basest levels almost from the moment they first lock eyes, and as they circle each other and flirt, you can feel that tension between them that becomes almost as unbearable for the audience as it does for the characters. When the husband is for a while, they give into their desires. Frank wants Cora to run away with him. But she wants security and money – she has put too much time into Nick to walk away with nothing. But if something were to happen to Nick, she could have everything she wants – money and Frank. But things that seem so easy when you’re planning them, have a way of going wrong when it comes time to actually do the deed – as Cora and Frank find out.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic film noir that has all the necessary agreements. John Garfield is excellent as Frank, who may be a drifter, and a little bit of a lowlife, but who would never become a murderer if he had not met Cora. Turner makes an excellent femme fatale, drawing her everyman co-star down into the depths of depravity with her. Poor Cecil Kellaway is in fine form as the naïve, drunken husband who cannot see what is right in front of his face. And the great Hume Cronyn, who shows up late as a lawyer, has never been sleazier.

And yet, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a little bit different than many film noirs. I felt for the characters a little bit more this time around. Cora is a femme fatale for sure, and yet she is a human one. She is a woman who has been looked at as a sex object by every man she has met since she was 15. She latched onto a seemingly nice, stable guy and has discovered that even that won’t bring her peace. With Frank, for the first time, she feels love. And yet, she cannot go back to being poor. And Garfield, as the dupe, makes his character more love struck than most noir leading men. Even as the plot disintegrates around them, and they are brought into court and the lovers turn on each other, he cannot help but love Cora.

The film was directed with style by Tay Garnett, and based on the great James M. Cain’s novel. Cuts were made because the movie was considered too sexual for 1946, and yet the final cut is still dripping with lust. You feel that tension, that connection right until the final frames of the movie. The Postman Always Rings Twice is great noir.

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