THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (78) (second viewing: 66)

Directed by: Tay Garnett (1946)

Starring: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Leon Ames

The Pitch: A drifter gets a job at a roadside cafe, but falls for the boss's wife.

Theo Sez: Posterity seems to have assigned this a less-than-prime slot - a bowdlerised addition to a sub-genre already dominated, unimprovably, by DOUBLE INDEMNITY ; in fact, though it's too episodic to really work, it's far richer and more complicated than its reputation might suggest. It starts off tawdry and a little cartoonish - Turner's va-va-voom entrance, Garfield rushing to get rid of the "Man Wanted" sign when he realises this gorgeous blonde comes with the job (then rushing to snatch it out of the fire when he realises she's the boss's wife) - but it uses the couple's cheap, lurid qualities not to make them seem tough but, on the contrary, to underscore what small-timers they really are. They're reluctant murderers - the whole idea of murder seems far too big for them - and, even when they manage not to bungle their attempts, they're caught straight away : the DA sees right through them. The middle section, this naive, rather ordinary couple being effortlessly manipulated by the smooth lawyers who really understand the System, has an almost compassionate quality, a long way from the ruthless tone of neo-noirs like BODY HEAT. The film's implicit point is that, in a world built on money, passion is both destructive and irrelevant : its most telling detail is perhaps that no-one even considers amour fou as a motive for the crime - everyone just assumes they've killed the husband for the insurance money (which they never even knew existed) ; which is also why it makes perfect sense for the penny-pinching husband to be jolly (as played by archetypal tippling vicar Cecil Kellaway) instead of the usual dour sourpuss - in this world, any man who respects money is a man who fits in. It's a rougher film than INDEMNITY, nowhere near as sleek, with lots of different textures jostling for position - harshness and vulnerability, cynicism and pathos ; with a tighter structure and a better ending, it would take pride of place among the most under-rated movies of the 40s. [Second viewing, February 2024: Really can't argue with any of the above - but the film is lumpy, and not sharp enough in dynamics to make up for it. (Example: is the husband subconsciously pushing the couple together, as if secretly knowing she's too good for him? Looks that way, but it's never clear if the film also sees it.) The middle section, with the couple revealed as ridiculously easy prey for the lawyers - who, significantly, make a bet on the outcome; "a world built on money", indeed - is wonderful, and should've been the final section; but there's still half an hour of contortions to go, incl. perfunctory scenes like the brief conversation in the sea - obviously something that was in the book, but the writers should've been much more ruthless about adapting it. MVP Hume Cronyn, smoothest nerd in show business.]