Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Frank (John Garfield), an affable drifter, ambles into a lunchroom on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Surrounded by fragrant orange groves, the place is quiet and isolated. There’s a “Man Wanted” sign outside, so he approaches the owner, Nick (Cecil Kellaway), about the job. After some pleasant chitchat — the boss seems like a nice guy — the drifter is left alone at the counter. A second later, out of the corner of his eye he sees a woman’s lipstick* rolling towards him.
The camera tracks along the floor, ending at Cora’s legs (Lana Turner), her foot making the slightest movement as she fully presents herself. We cut to him, astonished at her beauty, so moved his breath is visibly taken away. She frames herself in a doorway, like a queen in her turban, but there’s a note of hesitation, of neediness.
He walks over, picks up her bait, “You drop this?”
“Mmm-mmm, thanks,” she says, turning away from him, smiling vapidly, and holding out her hand. You’re coming to me, buddy.
Not taking his eyes off of her, he slouches back on the counter. Sure, he’s never seen a dame like her in his life, but he’ll be damned if he’s gonna do some broad’s bidding. No, sweetheart, you’re coming to me.
She’s taken aback. She’s used to pushing her sweet, doddering husband around.
He’s still standing there, waiting.
So far, director Tay Garnett has photographed the actors in medium shot so we can take in their full body language, so we can observe Cora’s imperiousness and Frank’s stubborn confidence. Now, he cuts to Turner’s first close-up as her facade of indifference melts, her determination and lust inflamed. It’s been a while since a man could handle her, since she’s had a real challenge.
Cut back to a long shot, Frank still holding out his hand, still waiting for her. With a smirk she concedes defeat and walks over to him. “Thanks,” she says dismissively, while taking her lipstick and immediately turning away from him.
She walks back to the doorway, primps herself, and gives him another look. She glances over her shoulder, her eyes flashing with contempt. You may have won this round buddy, but we’ve only just started. She shuts the door in his face.
He knows he’s cooked.
- The DVD I watched only had one extra, “The John Garfield Story,” a one-hour TCM documentary that I enjoyed. Fun facts: Garfield was Elia Kazan’s first choice for the stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire (Garfield turned him down) and, according to Patricia Neal, Hemingway’s favorite movie adaptation of any of his works was THE BREAKING POINT.
- Lana Turner said Cora Smith was her favorite role.
- The Postman Always Rings Twice has been adapted into a movie a remarkable seven times: LE DERNIER TOURNANT (France, 1939), OSSESSIONE (Italy, 1943), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (United States, 1946), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (with a screenplay by David Mamet, United States, 1981), PASSION (Hungary, 1998), SWING MY SWING HIGH, MY DARLING (Malaysia, 2004), and JERICHOW (Germany, 2008).
- Michael Blowhard on James M. Cain.
*According to Wikipedia, when Cain’s novel was first published in 1934 its lurid depiction of rough sex between Frank and Cora caused a bit of a scandal, resulting in the book being banned in Boston. In the novel the first meeting between Frank and Cora is uneventful. However, here’s what happens when they have sex for the first time:
I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers…”Bite me! Bite me!”
I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.
Hemmed in by the Hays Code, there was no way screenwriters Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch could get such a scene into the film. I wonder, though, if Cain’s scene, with Cora’s red lips, was the inspiration for the lipstick business in the movie.