Thursday, August 13, 2015
POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, THE (1946)
(May 1946, U.S.)
Although considered a drama film noir classic in it's own right, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE shares many-too-many similarities (if not direct duplications) with DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) and its immoral taboos. Ill-fated lovers, a murdered husband, an insurance policy, one or more double crossings and two dead ill-fated lovers at the end of the film. One can't help but wonder with so many story rip-offs, what exactly makes this film stand out on its own? I suppose the circumstances and chemistry between stars John Garfield and Lana Turner are enough to separate one film from another, if you like.
Drifter Frank Chambers (Garfield) stops at a rural California diner for a meal and ends up taking a job there. The diner is operated by a beautiful young woman, Cora Smith (Turner), and her older husband, Nick (played by Cecil Kellaway). The deadly attraction between the two of them is immediate from the moment she steps through the doorway with her long, tanned legs and her white pumps onto the screen to greet him and the inevitable love affair is not too far behind. If a woman's physical persona can truly speak for anything, one can immediately tell that Cora is not a happy woman with her current life situation and would do nearly anything to find a way out. Thought not greedily seeking wealth from any next-of-kin claim, Cora eagerly wants her husband out of the way so she can make the diner her own and make something more significant out of her own life, seemingly with or without Frank. Still, lovers being what they are in film noir, the two of them plot to murder her husband. The first attempt is a failure, only temporarily landing the husband in the hospital. The second attempt is almost totally cliché, in that they rig the husband's car to make it look like he perished in a deadly accident, which does succeed. Still, nothing's ever that simple in such a love tangle! Enter the local district attorney who's hell-bent on exposing the two lovers. It's here now, unlike DOUBLE INDEMNITY, that things continue beyond the traditional backstabbing and double crossing and two dead bodies. A public trial ensues and its only through lack of physical evidence and very clever plea bargaining that Frank and Cora are able to go free, though their relationship now appears to be damaged due to each other's betrayal of the other.
Okay, so you'd think the film would end there, yes? Not so. Frank and Cora eventually patch up their relationship and plan for a future together. But just as they seem to be prepared to live the Hollywood so-called "happily ever after" conclusion, Cora dies in a car crash while Frank is driving. Although it was truly an accident, the circumstances seem suspicious enough that Frank is accused of having staged the deadly crash. He's ultimately convicted of murdering Cora and is sentenced to death (oh, the irony of it all!). But even as it seems that Frank will die for a crime he didn't commit, new evidence manages to (conveniently) surface which actually does incriminate him in the murder of Cora's husband. Justice is (seemingly) served in the end, but by that time, as a film viewer, we may find ourselves quite disappointed in that despite being a couple of real immoral stinkers, we secretly wished for Frank and Cora to make it in the end. Looks like the only togetherness the two of them will find shall be on the "other side", whatever that might be.
In most any film noir story, the characters are almost expected to follow specific guidelines of virtues and flaws. John Garfield playing the confused drifter unwillingly stepping into a fatal trap and Lana Turner playing the cheap, yet ambitious blonde willing to submit her life's aspirations to the lowest level of crime is done with great effectiveness. It's fine work by two gifted actors of the era that defined itself, among others ways, as a Golden age of Hollywood when the dark shadows of crime, deception and sexual attraction were what made film noir such a treasured piece of American cinema, even if the stories do tend to repeatedly follow the same formulas. Does that mean that "copy-catting" works? I suppose that's up to film fan and their own personal perceptions or originality. Then again, maybe sometimes it's best not to think so damn much and just enjoy the picture!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Chambers: "You know, there's something about this that's like, well it's like you're expecting a letter that you're just crazy to get, and you're hanging around the front door for fear you might not hear him ring. You never realize that he always rings twice."
Okay, to be perfectly honest, this is not my absolute favorite line, but I do greatly appreciate that it attempts to explain what the damn title of this film means!