Seven Shadows – Day Three: THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE
I have a soft spot for The Postman Always Rings Twice – it’s one of the few noirs I’ve ever seen on the big screen, and one of the first I ever saw, many (many) years ago. (For the review of this classic noir, check out Andrew’s entry for Seven Shadows Week over at 1001 Movies I [Apparently] Must See Before I Die.) Along with the great plot, memorable lines, effectively melodramatic score, and superb performances, I love the varied characters in the film – from Frank Chambers (John Garfield), the drifter with the feet that were just “itching to go places,” to the crafty district attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames), to Madge Gorland (Audrey Totter), who was in only one scene, but made an impact as Frank’s Tijuana fling. But my favorite character in Postman is ice-blonde Cora Smith, portrayed by Lana Turner. Here are some of the reasons why!
Cora’s entrance. Our first indication of her imminent appearance is the sound, followed by the sight, of her lipstick rolling toward Frank Chambers. The camera pans across the shadows on the floor until it spies a pair of white, slightly open-toed shoes, pauses for a couple of seconds on the legs, and then offers us the point of view of Frank, who literally takes a breath at the vision before him. So do we, as we finally see Cora, clad in a pair of shorts, midriff top and turban – all white. Frank can scarcely take his eyes off of her as he retrieves the lipstick, asking, “You drop this?” Cora nods pleasantly, examining her reflection in her compact and loftily holds out her hand. But Frank isn’t quite as enthralled as he appeared to be at first, and stands his ground, forcing Cora to cross the room to collect the tube. She does, then returns to the doorway, provides us with a side view as she leisurely applies her lipstick, then tosses Frank one last contemptuous glance before exiting the room and closing the door behind her. It’s one of the greatest entrances in all of noir, for my money.
Cora’s withering glances. Aside from the one she delivered in her first scene, Cora provides us with an even more scornful look in the next. After some verbal sparring with Frank over chairs and paint and whatnot, Cora gets him worked up to the point that he is compelled to grab her by the shoulders and plant one on her. And Cora’s response? She doesn’t say a word. Just wipes Frank’s kiss from her lips and purposefully reapplies her lipstick, intermittently cutting Frank down to size with nothing more than her eyes.
Cora’s wardrobe. Her clothes were the epitome of simplicity – except for two scenes, she was dressed in stark white throughout the film. I don’t know the precise purpose or meaning behind the all-white wear – I’m not deep like that – I just know I loved it. It helped to make Cora the focal point of every scene she was in – and somehow lent itself to whatever sensation she was exuding, whether it was sensuality, loss, evil, determination, fearlessness, redemption, rage, or joy.
Cora’s gumption. Whether she was planning a murder, standing before a judge in a packed courtroom, or holding a gun on a blackmailing adversary, Cora displayed nerves of steel that you simply had to admire.
Cora’s practicality. Cora must have been a Capricorn, because she was one practical sister. Let me count the ways. (1) She married an older man she didn’t love, but who owned his own business, thereby killing two birds with one “I do” – she removed herself from the unwanted attentions from the men who’d chased after her since she was 14 years old, and she acquired solid financial security, to boot. (2) The little changes she wanted to make to improve the business at the diner, like painting the furniture, or buying a neon sign to attract more customers. (3) Her decision to return to the diner after she got a taste of what life would be like with Frank: “It’s back to the hash house for me, and for you, some parking lot where you wear a smock with ‘super service’ on it,” Cora says. “I want to be somebody and if I walk out like this, I’ll lose everything and I’ll never be anybody. Oh, I love you, Frank, and I want you, but not this way. Not starting out like a couple of tramps.” (4) The way she turned her business into a cash cow after Nick’s death, expanding the seating capacity, opening a beer garden and even giving autographs to the curiosity-seekers who flocked to the diner to get a glimpse of her. When she said she wanted to be somebody, she wasn’t just whistlin’ Dixie.
Cora’s way of getting us on her side. She never appeared to be an evil, mercenary, bad-for-no-good-reason dame – in her own words, she just wanted to “amount to something.” She wasn’t man-crazy – didn’t set her cap for Frank and go out of her way to be sexy and alluring (that seemed to come naturally). And she seemed genuinely horrified when Frank first – in jest, of course – suggested that all their problems would be solved if Cora’s husband, Nick (Cecil Kellaway), were to get plastered one night and drive his car off a cliff. Now, don’t get me wrong – Cora picked up on that germ of an idea and ran with it, but there was something about her that made you sympathize rather than despise her – to root for her instead of hate her. (Or is it just me?)
For these reasons – not to mention the fact that she was so gorgeous in some scenes that she seemed to glow – Cora is by far my favorite character in this much-loved film. Although the postman “rang twice” for Cora, she was one character who caught my attention from the very start and held it in a vise-like grip until the bitter, sudden end. The next chance you get, check out The Postman Always Rings Twice and pay special attention to Cora – you only owe it to yourself!
Tune in tomorrow for Seven Shadows, when our movie of the day will be The Killers, starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien. Andrew D. will have a guest review here at Shadows and Satin and I’ll be guesting over at Andrew’s site, 1001 Movies I (Apparently) MUST See Before I Die. Don’t miss it!