Monday, August 15, 2011

Fools in Love


The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the novel by James M. Cain, written by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, directed by Tay Garnett, starring John Garfield (Frank Chambers), Lana Turner (Cora Smith), Cecil Kellaway (Nick Smith), Hume Cronyn (Arthur Keats), and Leon Ames (DA Sackett) (1946): It took more than a decade for Hollywood to figure out how to adapt James M. Cain's scandalous, banned-in-Boston bestseller about two dumb people who are really, really bad at staging a murder, and even worse at getting away with it.

It's pretty much of a piece with Cain's other two major novels, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce, in depicting how the quest for material comfort and success can drive people to do almost anything, and can poison almost any relationship.

Gone are the sadomasochistic elements in the adulterous relationship between drifter Frank Chambers and young trophy wife Cora Smith (Cora Papadakis in the novel -- the Greekness of Cora's husband has been excised along with the sexual kinkiness). And the ending goes for an upliting 'Crime Does Not Pay' message not entirely supported by the novel, wherein law enforcement can be as creepy and tricky as any criminal.

The Postman Always Rings Twice nonetheless represents one of the high points in the development of American film noir, showing that the American West Coast and its highways and byways can be as menacing as any city landscape. Lana Turner is beautiful and a bit flat as Cora, while Garfield is suitably dumb and lovestruck as her lover Frank. Cecil Kellaway plays Nick as vaguely Irish comic relief, which really neither suits the novel nor the tone of the movie, but there it is. Hume Cronyn does a nice, oily turn as a manipulative defense attorney. Remade far more explicitly and far less effectively with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Recommended.

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