TCM Pick for September: Film Noir
I sometimes like to use my TCM pick of the month to single out a film that’s not exactly in the mainstream – a film like, say, Shield for Murder or Nora Prentiss. But on other occasions, I just can’t help selecting a well-known, often-seen, much-loved film like this month’s goodie – The Postman Always Rings Twice. Airing in the early morning hours of Sunday, September 16th, Postman stars John Garfield and Lana Turner in a steamy classic about a murderous, duplicitous, double-crossing duo. It’s got it all – standout performances not just from Garfield and Turner, but also from a supporting cast that includes Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn, and Leon Ames; a superb story based on the 1934 novel by James M. Cain; a fittingly melodramatic musical score; first-rate cinematography; and a completely satisfying noirish twist at the end.
Cora Smith (Turner) and her husband, Nick (Kellaway) own a roadside diner, but Cora doesn’t have burgers on her mind when she meets drifter Frank Chambers (Garfield). Before long, Cora and Frank are trading recipes, if you know what I mean, and Nick is simply in the way. But getting rid of him turns about to be easier said than done.
There are so many scenes that I love in Postman, some of which I covered here, in a post I wrote about Cora for my Seven Shadows blog event earlier this year. But here’s one I didn’t mention. (And I’m going to try to describe it without giving away too many plot points.) Cora and Frank are placed together in a sort of holding room, at the courthouse during their hearing on the murder of Cora’s husband. Frank sits silently in a wheelchair, bandaged, vulnerable and sheepish. But Cora, in the words of Addison DeWitt (of All About Eve fame), is magnificent. She first makes her presence known by forcefully throwing her jacket into a chair. She stalks from one side of the tiny room to the other like a caged tiger, her arms folded defiantly across her chest. She tosses her mane of platinum blonde hair. Her eyes blaze with fury. And when Frank dares to speak, muttering some weak nonsense about the two of them being “double-crossed” by an attorney, Cora really lets him have it. “I used to say to myself the reason I fell for you was because you were smart. Now I find out that you ARE smart,” Cora spits at him. “Well, listen, Mr. Frank Chambers. When I get through, you’ll find out there’s such a thing as being TOO smart!”
“ Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing a man’s car, that’s larceny.” Frank Chambers (John Garfield)
The role of Cora Smith was Lana Turner’s favorite.
James M. Cain also adapted his novel into a play, but it was not a success – it played only 72 performances at New York’s Lyceum Theater in 1936. Richard Barthelmess played Frank, and Joseph Cotten also had a minor part.
Watch for this goof: In the scene where Cora and Frank return to the diner after their unsuccessful attempt to run away together, check out Nick when he arrives home, drunk. When he walks inside the diner, he has a bent cigarette hanging from his lips, but seconds earlier, before he entered, there was no cigarette.
Postman was directed by Tay Garnett, who was not exactly known for his film noir output. Instead, his best known features were pictures like One Way Passage (1932), China Seas (1935), Bataan (1943), The Valley of Decision (1945), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949).
Noir icon Audrey Totter had one of her earliest roles in the film, appearing in one scene as Madge Gorland, whose thin skirt and hot car seats catch Frank’s eye.
Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange starred in the 1981 remake of the film; of the feature, Lana Turner said: “They are such fools to play around with something that’s still a classic. I’m a little heartsick. Jack Nicholson just isn’t John Garfield. The chemistry we had just crackled. Every facet [was] so perfect.”
Listen to Lana – it’s a classic! If you’ve never seen The Postman Always Rings Twice, you simply must. And if it’s been a while, do yourself a favor and see it again. Remember – it’s airing in the wee hours of Sunday morning, September 16th. Don’t miss it!
You only owe it to yourself.