THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) – Murder in the lust degree


The following is my entry in my SEX! (now that I have your attention) BLOGATHON, devoted to movies that avoid graphic depictions of sex by suggesting it through dialogue and imagery. Click on the banner above to read bloggers’ critiques on a wide variety of such movies!

An American poster for the movie (left) beside its more risque French version.

An American poster for the movie (left) beside its more risque French version.

A famous line from Casablanca goes, “The problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” The Postman Always Rings Twice is a luridly perfect dramatization of that theme.

The movie concerns Frank (John Garfield), a drifter who happens upon a modest cafe off the beaten California track. The cafe is run by Nick (Cecil Kellaway), an affable old man content to drink his leisure time away. Far less satisfied with this blase lifestyle is Nick’s young wife Cora (Lana Turner), who first meets Frank while wearing as little clothing as the 1946 censors would allow.

How little? This little.

How little? This little.

As happens in this kind of story, Nick and Cora begin at odds with each other, fall deep into lust, and then plot to do away with the unfortunate third party in the story. Do they succeed? It depends on your definition of success. And anyway, that’s not really what Postman is all about.

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The crux of the story occurs when Leon Ames and Hume Cronyn enter the movie as dueling attorneys. They both know their clients are guilty of something — even if they can’t really prove it — and their clients’ lives amount to so little, one attorney literally bets his client’s life against the other.

Ames and Cronyn.

Ames and Cronyn.

Postman is ostensibly about lust — especially as personified by Turner, thinly veiled in every sense. But in the end it’s about the inevitability of fate. Nick and Cora might be able to fool mere mortals, but by movie’s end, the gods have a few surprises for them.

This is film noir at its finest, full of lurking shadows and expressionist images. And it’s beautifully acted. Turner’s later attempts at depth failed, but when it comes to pouty lust, she has no peer. The finest turn, however, is by Hume Cronyn as one of the oily lawyers who proves that, as Cora should have learned, it’s not about the money. (Also look for Cronyn’s crony, played by Alan Reed, who later gained cartoon immortality as the voice of Fred Flintstone.)
Due to the 1940’s Production Code (read, micromanaging censors), it took Postman 12 years to make it from novel to movie. (Perhaps the movie’s biggest surprise is that it was produced by squeaky-clean M-G-M, which bought the rights to James M. Cain’s original novel and then feared to film it because of its daring themes. The studio finally went ahead with the movie after noting the success of the similarly themed Double Indemnity, also based on a novel by Cain. Nevertheless, M-G-M studio head Louis B. Mayer despised the movie, to no one’s surprise.)

Yet in terms of sexiness (and life lessons), this movie is miles ahead of the more graphic 1981 remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Keep a handkerchief handy as you sweat over the original sweater girl and the hopeless, hapless plight of her and her erstwhile lover.

All right, Lana, show's over. Zip it back up.

All right, Lana, show’s over. Zip it back up.

5 responses to “THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) – Murder in the lust degree

  1. No doubt, one of the most memorable coming out of Hollywood at that time. Loved Hume Cronyn ( “When I say I’m handling it, I’m handling it,” ) and Leon Ames ( “Laddie,” ). Lana Turner makes an unforgettable entrance and the game is afoot with John Garfield a willing and doomed participant. Have you ever seen its Italian counter-part: “Ossessione”?? Good start to this blogathon. Look forward to reading more…

    Liked by 1 person

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