Monday, January 05, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) is the eighth film reviewed from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2014.

MGM owned the rights to the novel by James M. Cain for over a decade but for most of that time they weren't quite sure what to do with the hot-to-handle story of adultery and murder. Paramount's success with Cain's similarly sordid tale DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) finally convinced MGM to take the plunge.

John Garfield plays Frank, a drifter who takes a job in a Southern California roadside diner. Frank is immediately attracted to Cora (Lana Turner), who is married to the much older owner of the establishment, Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Cora's marriage to Nick is one of those rather inexplicable things which is never satisfactorily explained, but apparently she needed security and saw Nick as the only likely chance for that.

Frank and Cora, after aborting a plan to run away together, decide to bump off Nick. The first attempt fails but is enough to make the local D.A. (Leon Ames) suspicious. The second attempt succeeds, but the D.A. is right there on the scene to arrest Cora. She and Frank, who is injured in the incident, are pitted against one another but eventually Cora's wily defense attorney (Hume Cronyn) gets her probation for manslaughter, and Nick is never even charged. However, Frank and Cora's problems are only beginning.

I'd class THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE as a good though not great movie. It has many memorable elements, most famously Turner's white-clad femme fatale. She and Garfield generate intense sparks, which make a great case for showing less being more.

Ames and Cronyn are particularly engaging as the cagey attorneys on the case, and Audrey Totter shows up for a brief but flashy role as a fling of Frank's when Cora's out of town.

The film's main problem is that it's "The Perils of Pauline" of crime films. Anything that can go wrong for Frank and Cora does go wrong, and the story keeps loading on these problems endlessly, elongating the film to a far-too-slow 113 minutes.

I generally like my crime and noir titles to have a snappier pace, and this one just didn't know when to quit; it was probably trying to be faithful to the book, which I've not read, but it ends up with a "Let's throw everything at them except the kitchen sink" feeling. When Frank and Cora finally get their just desserts I felt like saying "About time!" I felt a brisker pace would have been much more effective in maintaining the story's power.

That stated, it's still an interesting film and as a key crime film of the '40s it's certainly worth seeing.

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE was directed by Tay Garnett. The excellent black and white photography was by Sidney Wagner. Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch wrote the screenplay.

This film is available on DVD. It can also be purchased or rented for streaming via Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

It is the length and uneven pacing that makes this movie a less than favourite for me as well. It is a case of the "bad" outweighing the good. Swell title, charismatic stars and I'm glad I saw it, but it's not one on the revisit list.

1:47 PM  
OpenID islandoflostfilms said...

This is one I own that I haven't actually watched yet. It came in a 4-for-1 TCM Murder Mysteries set. I'd like to see it just for the visuals!

12:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very interested to learn that you had a similar issue with this film, Caftan Woman. I'm in agreement with you, glad I saw it but there are so many films I would revisit before I checked this one out again.

Island of Lost Films, hope you will stop back in and share your thoughts when you get to see it!

Best wishes,

9:04 PM  
Blogger Silver Screenings said...

I agree with you completely, Laura: This film just didn't know when to quit. Alan Reed's re-appearance in the film to blackmail Turner and Garfield feels more like stalling for time than an unexpected plot twist.

I'll say one thing, though – Lana Turner has never looked more beautiful than she does in this film.

12:26 PM  

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