The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Alays Rings Twice (1946)

Sex and death. Greed and selfishness. Crime and punishment. The film adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is a dark allegory of amorality and its consequences.  As a relentless cosmic avenger, fate ensures that the adulterous lovers who murder the woman’s husband, suffer definite and final retribution for their sins.

Lana Turner and John Garfield are great in the lead roles. Turner’s platinum beauty, and the smouldering animal sexuality of both Turner and Garfield dominate the mise-en-scene.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

A theme of entrapment is played out in a roadside diner.  Cora the beautiful and ambitious young wife is caged in a barren loveless marriage to a much older man, while Frank the drifter who works for them is ensnared in a demonic love for Cora.  This scenario and the doomed fate of the protagonists is established deftly in the first few scenes with the help of an otherwise prosaic ‘Man Wanted’ sign. Director Tay Garnett and cinematographer Sidney Wagner use close-framed shots to express the suffocation of the two lovers, and panoramic elevated ocean beach scenes at dusk to portray the blooming of love and as the backdrop to idyllic respites from their doomed trajectory towards destruction. Their final visit to the beach has a dark foreboding.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

As Mark T. Conrad wrote of the movie: “It has the feeling of disorientation, pessimism, and the rejection of traditional ideas about morality, what’s right and what’s wrong.” And there is no pity or remorse. A classic film noir.

5 thoughts on “The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)”

  1. Superb review, Tony, of a truly classic film noir. This is spot-on and beautifully put: “Director Tay Garnett and cinematographer Sidney Wagner use close-framed shots to express the suffocation of the two lovers, and panoramic elevated ocean beach scenes at dusk to portray the blooming of love and as the backdrop to idyllic respites from their doomed trajectory towards destruction. Their final visit to the beach has a dark foreboding.” I couldn’t agree more.

    My film professor showed a class a colorized version of this, a sin for which I will never forgive him.

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  2. Thanks Alexander. Always a pleasure to have your feedback.

    They STILL have colorized versions? Any remaining copies should have been pulped long ago. And he calls himself a film professor!

    I recall a few years back we had a weekly film feature on a commercial TV station titled The Golden Years of Hollywood, and the distributors kept supplying colorized versions to the presenter. At least he had the decency to tell viewers to turn the color dial on their TV sets back to zero.

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  3. This “dark allegory of amorality and its consequences” and of “entrapment” is indeed as you say in summary “one of the classic film noirs” and surely on many people’s “short lists.” Turner and Garfield give unforgettable, multi-layered performances, and as Conrad aptly contends it’s a film of “pessimism and disorientation” which of course are the trademarks of the genre. Concise, uncluttered capsule that says all that’s needed to promote a revisit to this essential piece.

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  4. Haven’t seen it, but your concise summary effectively presents the film as, indeed, a classic film noir, and a tragic one. Somehow these always seemed especially appealing. Will add it to the list.

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