Wednesday, August 19, 2015
POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, THE (1981)
(March 1981, U.S.)
I've often repeated (and will continue to repeat) my ongoing distaste for Hollywood remakes, particularly during this recent century. However, in as much as I generally condemn them, I've also been quick to point out those that are great exceptions. As a general rule, those I've enjoyed the most have been remakes of classic black and white films (and some color ones, too) from Hollywood's golden age (the specific decade that would be defined by that is up to one's individual taste, I suppose). Some of my favorites have included KING KONG (1976), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), THE THING (1982), SCARFACE (1983), THE FLY (1986) and RANSOM (1996). In all of these specific titles, the remakes are updated to the present day, as well as the social culture of the time. As another general rule, I've never favored remakes that take place in the same era as the original film that fail to actually "remake" itself in any way...until Bob Rafelson's 1981 version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. Although the story still maintains the same historical era as the original 1934 novel, it does remake itself in a very specific and even necessary manner - SEX!!!
So without unnecessarily repeating myself, the plot of this film is virtually unchanged from the original (see my last post if you forgot). The roles previously sported by John Garfield and Lana Turner are now revamped by Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. The only main difference between this adaptation and the original novel and film is the ending. Originally, Frank Chambers is ironically convicted of killing Cora Smith, since her death truly is caused in an auto accident. This version simply ends the story with her death and Frank weeping over her body. Still, that's hardly relevant when you consider why one would actually take the time to watch and appreciate this version. Consider the era of the 1940s and the strong censorship that reigned heavily over the entire Hollywood film making community. It's evident from the beginning that Frank and Cora are hot for each other, but times being as they were so long ago, audiences were not about to get any real idea of just how hot things were between these two ill-fated lovers. Now we cut to the beginning of the 1980s - censorship is far more relaxed now and there's even been a small trend in Hollywood films to feature big name stars in films that are considered softcore porn - case in point, Marlon Brando in LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1973) and Malcom McDowell and Peter O'Toole in CALIGULA (1979). It's not at all difficult to understand and appreciate the frustration fans and film makers of the original film must have had in not getting the full satisfaction of getting even just a small taste of the forbidden passion between our two anti-heroes! Through some rather impressive cinematography that effectively captures the era of the Great Depression, we witness a time that we've seen before and are likely to associate with another time of human innocence. Not quite, it would seem. History's eras of the past know no boundaries when it comes to the savage desires of a man and a woman who just want to fuck each other! From almost the exact moment that Frank and Cora see each other, the sexual yearning is evident. When it finally happens in what has come to be a rather infamous scene in the restaurant kitchen, the moment is practically an act of rape, though Cora doesn't seem to mind it at all. She's stuck in a worthless marriage to a straight-laced Greek man she doesn't love and longs for nothing more than a good, hard fuck on the wooden table! And while this is still an R-rated film, look closely and you'll see some physical parts of Jessica Lange you might never have seen before! The point of all this being, one needs to remember that along with murder, deception and betrayal, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is truly a story of deep sexual attraction during a time where such acts were considered unspeakable. Did James M. Cain write his novel so explicitly? I don't know, because I haven't read the book. Original film director Tay Garnett holds back because the power-that-be of Hollywood society won't permit him to do what he'd really like to! Bob Rafelson, on the other hand, seems to know just what we want and why it's necessary to finally give it to us after so many decades.
I have to take a moment to truly appreciate Jessica Lange in the character of Cora. When considering the year 1981, I actually find it challenging to imagine any other woman in such a femme fatale role that was truly meant for a seductive and sexually-charged blonde (what other blonde of the time comes to mind?). And during a time in between KING KONG (1976) and TOOTSIE (1982), when virtually all of Lange's parts were rather forgettable, her role in an homage to the legendary Lana Turner may have been just what she needed to keep her career afloat. Just take a look, for a moment, at this photo from the above-mentioned kitchen scene...
Although it's not a sexually-explicit image, study Jessica's face and legs well! One can clearly recognize a sense of rage, frustration and desperation atop a wooden table - not just for a good lay, mind you, but also the longing to escape a life that keeps a woman who desires to be free trapped in a world of loveless isolation and boredom! Yes, it's that sort of mundane existence that just might be solved by a good, hard fuck next to a couple of loafs of bread! Yet even beyond the obvious sexual content of her character and the humor that I clearly take in it, there's another particular moment in the film that manages to stick with me. During a lunch sequence when the restaurant is filled with hungry little boy scouts, Frank is forced to make an abundance of egg salad sandwiches and slice numerous pieces of apple pie by himself while Cora is out. When she returns to discover the mayhem taking place, her first reaction is to smile with glee and giddiness. While many may overlook such a quick facial reaction, I interpret much in her character. Despite Cora's sexual and marital frustrations, despite her cold heart that would allow her to murder her husband and betray her lover, she remains, at heart, a simple woman who longs for the joy of bearing and raising a child with the right man. Her husband is not the right man and we must follow along with her life to discover if Frank is the right man. Indeed, he just might have been.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Cora Smith: "I'm getting tired of what's right and wrong."
Frank Chambers: "They hang people for that, Cora!"