The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Postman Always Rings Twice is a stunning achievement that will live forever.
Reviewed by Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., Dec. 29, 2000
D: Tay Garnett (1946); with Lana Turner, John
Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn.
"I could never belong to only one man -- I belong to all men," says Lana Turner in The Prodigal. Lana never lets you (or herself) forget that she is the ultimate sex goddess -- but in Postman, at least, she rarely forgets that she's playing a character and not herself. 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 fuck-me pumps, as the camera travels up her tanned legs, she becomes a character so enticingly beautiful and insidiously evil that the audience is riveted. It is a noir tale of lust, betrayal, and murder that, along with Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity (all by James Cain -- are we sensing a pattern here?), remains one of the few truly important women's roles in film noir. Turner wears white, head-to-toe, throughout the film -- hot, stark, tawdry white -- and is anything but virginal. But it is a nice counterpoint to the double-crossing and noir feel. Cora is a dame who wants out, but killing her husband (Kellaway) was never really part of her plan. Then along comes Frank (Garfield), a drifter with itchy feet who beats Cora at her own game of seduction and manipulation. With a plot hinging on twists and turns that might not have worked as well with less electricity than Turner and Garfield generate, Postman sizzles and flares with crackling tension, laying waste to the 1981 version with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. Though criticized for compromising the sexual nature of the story to appease the censors, the envelope gets pushed just far enough to make the film one of the hottest of the least graphic variety. Postman is a stunning achievement that will live forever.