The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn. Directed by Tay Garnett. B&W, 113 minutes.
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter who chances on a rural diner, owned by Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) and his seductive young wife, Cora (Lana Turner). Before Frank can even sit down for his first meal at their diner, Nick has offered him a job.
Nick is blissfully unaware of the sparks between his wife and hired hand, and has no idea the two are having an affair and planning to kill him. Their first attempt fails, but eventually, they try again, and this time they succeed.
It’s up to attorney Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), with his less-than-honorable methods, to keep Cora out of jail. Frank somehow is never suspected, but his worries aren’t over. It’s a troubled road Cora and Frank must continue to travel.
This was considered one of Lana Turner’s best roles, which admittedly is not saying much. Most of her career was marked by so-called “blonde bombshell” parts, requiring less of her than the challenge playing Cora presented. She proved herself capable of a strong dramatic role, however, and gave a genuine performance as the conflicted woman seeking more.
Garfield’s understated presence is a precursor to the method acting that became so popular only a short time after this film was made. There’s no doubt what Frank is thinking at any moment, yet that understanding doesn’t come through words. It is in his expressions and subtle movements that Garfield communicates Frank’s story.
As a member of The Group Theater, a theater collective whose founding members included Lee Strasberg, it’s not surprising Garfield developed the skill to communicate emotion, vulnerability and strength together in the same glance or quiet move. His own rebellious nature comes through in this film as well, adding to the layers of depth for the character of Frank Chambers.
The film was well received by both critics and audiences. The critic for The New York Times wrote, “In its surface aspects, “The Postman” appears no more than a melodramatic tale, another involved demonstration (two hours in length) that crime does not pay. But the artistry of writers and actors have made it much more than that; it is, indeed, a sincere comprehension of an American tragedy. For the yearning of weak and clumsy people for something better than the stagnant lives they live is revealed as the core of the dilemma, and sin is shown to be no way to happiness.”
This is not a perfect movie; it starts out a bit slowly and ends on a melodramatic note somewhat out of tempo with the rest of the film. The courtroom scenes, however, particularly the part of the calculating, suitably amoral attorney played by Hume Cronyn, are gripping.
For fans of film noir, this is a must see, and for fans of classic films in general, this one is worth the watch if for no other reason than the strong performances of the entire cast, as well as the twist in the tale of crime and punishment, a borderline unacceptable plot element for movies of that time.