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Movie Critique – The Postman Always Rings Twice

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A solid murder mystery with some equally powerful stars sharing some intense sexual chemistry only add to the mystery.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1946 American fil noir based on the 1934 novel of the same name by James M. Cain. The film has Lana Turner, John Garfield,  Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn, Leon Ames, and Audrey Totter among others. 

Directed by Tay Garnett and produced by Carey Wilson; musical score was by George Bassman and Erich Zeisi. This is the third film that has been made based on the book, but the first being released with the same name as the novel. Screenplay was by Harry Ruskin and Nicen Busch.

Frank Chambers (portrayed by John Garfield), a drifter, takes up a job at a rural diner / service station owned by Nick Smith (portrayed Cecil Kellaway) and his wife Cora (portrayed by Lana Turner). Before he realizes what is happening with his life, Frank is embroiled in a concoction filled with extra-marital affair, murder, and an elaborate road of deception and twisted turns.

Garfield and Turner had a severe sexual tension on the set between them which clearly reflected in the chemistry between their roles as Frank and Cora. Although they did have a brief affair, they remained best of the friends. No wonder Turner calls this her favorite role.

Turner shines as a femme fatale who wouldn’t mind slicing someone with a knife while kissing you to heavens. I would have imagined Barbara Stanwyck in this role, but Turner assumed her position as the wayward wife very neatly. 

Garfield plays the drifter turned obsessed lover effectively. Equally balancing the waywardness of Turner with his obsession, he reminded me of Orson Welles for some reason a lot. Garfield didn’t disappoint us at all.

Kellaway's Nick made a good effort to blend in with the waywardness and obsessiveness so obviously seen. However, his character seems to be so clueless about the affair going on between Frank and Cora, when it was so very clear to anyone who had eyes to see. 

And one should not forget Hume Cronyn's Arthur Keats, the defense lawyer. Oh smooth as silk, he shreds the case apart so cleverly that even Frank and Cora with all their wit and charm fall in his trap. Cool as cucumber have I ever seen a defense attorney can be. 

The film apart from giving extra marital affair and murder to the audience, also gives tongue-involved kissing scene between Garfield and Turner; a certain shock to the viewers in the 1940s. This was MGM's bold move to take up such a tawdry story against their norms. The success of Double Indemnity in 1944, again based on a Cain novel, prompted MGM to take this huge change in their style. And thus gave them a financially successful movie of that year.

Turner wears all white and skimpy form-fitting dresses for the entire film except for three scenes, contrary to her femme fatale role - inherently as evil as black her characters shows pure white externally. The three times she wears all black are - with a knife in the kitchen contemplating suicide; at the train station when she is returning back; and when hailing for a taxicab to leave Frank. Ironically these were the only times Cora was ever truthful inside out. 

The opening and closing credits are shown over the hardcover of the original book the movie was based on. The plot-line is also told in narrative form relating a happened story in John Garfield's character Frank Chambers' voice.

A solid murder mystery with some equally powerful stars sharing some intense sexual chemistry only add to the mystery. Another film noir successfully presented to the audience giving them romance, betrayal, mystery and murder, all packed into one.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The earlier two adaptations of the novel were -  Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turning) in France in 1939 and Ossessione (Obsession) in Italy in 1943. 

b. The novel was adapted to a play in 1936 with Richard Barthelmess as Frank, Mary Philips as Cora and Joseph Greenwald as Nick in the star cast.

c. There was a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie by Screen Guild Theater, on June 16 1947 with Lana Turner and John Garfield reprising their roles.

d. The 1926 novel Payment Deferred by C. S. Forester also explores a similar theme as this novel. Payment Deferred was made to film in 1932 with the same title.

e. In 1981 a remake of the film was released with the same name as the title with Jack Nicholson as Frank Chambers, Jessica Lange as Cora Papadakis and John Colicos as Nick Papadakis.

f. Notice the Confederate one dollar bill in the open cash register tray. By the time this movie was released, this currency was practically worthless. Yet, we see it in the film being used. 

g. Nick is hospitalized in Blair General Hospital, a location MGM used for their 1961 TV Series Dr. Kildare.

h. Checkout the license plate of the new car Frank buys. Pretty funny!

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Checkout the crew reflection in the side paneling of the car as Frank gets out of the car.

b. 14 minutes into the movie, in a scene where Frank and Cora are supposed to look serious and dance to a rumba record, but Turner's face breaks up into a huge smile. Perhaps Garfield cracked a joke or something since his back is to the camera, we cannot say. However, the following scene they are sobered up and serious. 

c. When Frank and Cora leave the diner and are walking on the road, Cora falls into a ditch on her bum, almost hit by a car. The scenes after has the dirt patches on her clothes at various locations in various scenes. 

d. Nick comes drunk without a cigarette. But the next scene when he enters the diner he has a lit cigarette in his mouth. 

e. The directional sign in this scene when Nick, Cora and Frank are driving off says Malibu Lake. It should be spelled as Malibou Lake.

f. After he marries Cora, Frank removes his tie and throws it on the desk. But the very next scene at the train station he is wearing it again.


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