“With my brains and your looks, we could go places.”
The Postman Always Rings Twice is usually always mentioned as one of the greatest Film Noirs. There is a very good reason since it has so many of the incredible elements that go into making a Noir. The best thing for me is finding pity for the characters because they see their lives as so horrible they take drastic measures to change it and for this you root for them no matter what their dastardly deeds are. This Film Noir has everything I love about the genre.
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter. He says that he has an itch in his feet that he can never help but scratch that makes him move around a lot. On one stretch of road Frank hitches a ride with a man who is the DA of the county. Frank sees a help wanted sign in front of a roadside stop called Twin Oaks. The owner of the dive Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) gives Frank the job.
In the voiceover Frank tells that he should have walked away the moment he stepped into the house. Standing in the doorway is Nick’s gorgeous young wife Cora (Lana Turner) dressed in all white applying lipstick. Frank is immediately taken by Cora and she cannot help but want this younger man after constantly being around her much older husband. As time goes on, neither can stand the sexual tension anymore. Frank takes Cora in his arms and kisses her. Cora seems unfazed by the kiss and nonchalantly replies her lipstick. One hot night they go down to the beach for a swim and when they return they kiss again this time Cora returns the kiss with great passion.
Frank and Cora decide to runaway together. But after some miles of walking Cora does not want to live her life as a tramp she wants to return to Twin Oaks to make something out of it, through the dive she wants to become somebody. They get home just in time before Nick does since he was away for a few days. Nick sees the bags and automatically thinks that Frank is stealing from them. Cora saves him though telling her husband Frank was thinking about taking off again and she gave him the suitcase since he did not have the money for one. And she also convinces Nick to give her lover a three dollar pay raise in the process. Not long after Cora comes up with a plan to kill Nick and make it look like an accident. The plan almost works out until a cat knocks the power out. Nick survives but the DA Frank had ridden with knows something is not right with the situation.
Before Cora can come back to Twin Oaks with Nick, Frank leaves and finds work in a wholesale food factory. He takes the job in hopes of running into Cora who usually gets the food for the dive. Nick is the one who unfortunately finds him and brings him back to Twin Oaks. That night when they return to Cora, Nick tells them both that he is selling the dive and he and Cora are moving to Canada with his sister in his old home and he wants Cora to help take care of his sister who has become a cripple. This is most definitely not the life Cora wants she is still young she does not want to be taking care of a woman she hardly knows. Again she and Frank set in motion a plan to kill Nick. This time though Nick dies but Frank almost does too and the DA was following them the whole time.
The DA tries to get Frank and Cora to play against each other and so does Cora’s lawyer. It almost works and Cora makes a confession to bring Frank down but luckily for the both of them the lawyer had one of his cronies take the confession and keep it. The lawyer gets Cora’s sentence down to manslaughter with probation since the DA’s case is all circumstantial. To make each other miserable Cora and Frank stay together and even get married to save face for the dive.
Frank and Cora do finally begin to love each other again but sadly it comes too late since they both have to pay for their sins.
So the first half of The Postman Always Rings Twice is incredible I was hooked but after the trial in the second half the film to me fell apart. I knew Cora and Frank had to pay for their sins but it took a while and the momentum of the first half was not there anymore. Really that is the only flaw I found with the entire film but the first half completely makes up for it.
Lana Turner as Cora Smith is now one of my favorite femme-fatales. The way we are introduced is the camera panning from her legs to her face as she is applying lipstick seductively in the doorway. She finally has her chance to look pretty for another man and a young man compared to her husband at that. Turner had the look for a femme-fatale her eyes said so much. To sum up Lana Turner as Cora Smith I could not have put it better than this write up by critic Stephan MacMillan Moser:
"It is perhaps her finest work—from a body of work that includes very few truly stellar performances. She was a star, and not necessarily an actress, and because of that, so much of her work does not stand the test of time. She is best remembered for the spate of films like Peyton Place and Madame X that traded on her personal tragedies, but Postman, which predates all that, is a stunner—a cruel and desperate and gritty James Cain vehicle that sorely tests Lana's skills. But she succeeds marvelously, and from the first glimpse of her standing in the doorway in her white pumps, as the camera travels up her tanned legs, she becomes a character so enticingly beautiful and insidiously evil that the audience is riveted."
James Garfield was alright. He had the attitude for the character but to me he did not have the look. Garfield was not very handsome and I felt that if Frank Chambers had been played by a better looking actor I would have believed the story a bit more. But on the other hand I guess with Cora’s situation of having married an older man it did not matter if Frank was handsome or not he was younger than what she was used to.
One reviewer on IMDB wrote something along the lines of how someone like Claude Rains could have Ingrid Bergman marry him in Notorious and the audience could accept that and believe that. But with Cecil Kellaway being married to a woman like Lana Turner is completely unbelievable. Although Cora does explain why she married Nick it still does not make a difference to me. Again if an actor along the lines of a Claude Rains type had been cast as Nick the story would have been a bit more believable.
The Postman Always Rings Twice is one of the greatest Film Noirs ever made and is certainly one of my favorites. All the performances are top notch and the direction is perfection. After viewing The Postman Always Rings Twice there is no denying or questioning why this is one of the best films of the Noir genre ever made.